There were a lot of surprises in 2020, but I’d put the vastly reduced salience of immigration in this election v. ’18 and ’20 on the list. Immigration wasn’t even mentioned in the first debate, and the exit poll didn’t bother to ask about it, either— Nate Cohn (@Nate_Cohn) December 13, 2020
Huey Long announces his plans to run for President under a third party he was building, just a couple months before he was assassinated ? pic.twitter.com/jxanc17DKX— Dictator Sadie Long ??????? (@GoodGirlSadie) December 13, 2020
George Hawley and Richard Hanania are back in National Review to tell us what really mattered in determining how we vote. It was culture war issues, not economic populism.
“If there is one lesson conservatives claim to have learned from the last few election cycles, it is that the Democrats are the party of elites. In both 2016 and 2020, President Trump performed well among voters, especially non-Hispanic white voters, without a college degree. This has led to some speculation that a class-based realignment is underway. As Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) recently put it, “The future of the [Republican] party is based on a multiethnic, multiracial, working-class coalition.” Senator Ted Cruz (R., Texas) went further, suggesting that a working-class realignment wasn’t just a goal but had already occurred, claiming that the Democrats had become “the party of the rich.”
If such a realignment occurs, it will vindicate the work of national populist thinkers who have spent the last four years arguing that the American center–right needs to reconsider its priorities, replacing traditional economic conservatism with Trumpian populism. This perspective contends that Trump won in 2016 precisely because he broke with traditional Republican talking points on the economy, promoting protectionism and infrastructure investments rather than tax cuts and deregulation. …
In our recent report for the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology, we considered the explanations for President Trump’s success in 2016. We found the claim that economic populism explains that election to be implausible. Cultural concerns, not economic interests or policy preferences, were the real dividing line in 2016, and remain so today. …”
Hawley and Hanania reach this conclusion by setting up a false dichotomy. Either moderate Trump voters were motivated by culture war issues like immigration or economics.
As the archives of this website show, I supported Donald Trump in 2016 because his message resonated with me on both immigration and economics. Hillary Clinton was the candidate of Wall Street. Donald Trump self-financed his own campaign and ran against globalization and open borders. A big part of his appeal to me was that he had an economic populist message on issues like trade, entitlements and infrastructure. When Politico called me in 2016 to ask why I was supporting Donald Trump in order to portray me as a “white supremacist,” I said that I was concerned about his position on taxes.
“Brad Griffin, publisher of the white nationalist blog Occidental Dissent, is among Trump’s skeptics. “Do we honestly believe that he’s going to block all the Muslims and deport all the illegals?” he said. “I think he’s doing a lot of this just to signal to people that he’s on their side.”
Griffin said that he was most enthusiastic about Trump’s candidacy this summer, but that his fervor has cooled since seeing details of the businessman’s tax and trade policies, which hew more closely to mainstream Republican positions than he had hoped.
Griffin said his white nationalist circles remain divided.
“There are people who are really excited about Trump and are true believers and there are people who believe Trump is just a politician. He’s brought attention to a lot of our issues, but those were our issues 20 years ago.”
I said this to multiple reporters who interviewed me about Trump in 2015 and 2016. This was the only time that I can remember when my views were actually reported.
It took me less than a month after Trump won the 2016 election to start souring on him. I had soured on him before he was even inaugurated because he had hired Gary Cohn, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, to head the National Economic Council. He also nominated Andrew Puzder, the CEO of Hardee’s, to be his Secretary of Labor. It was this combined with the fact that Trump had announced that Paul Ryan’s agenda on health care and tax cuts were his top priorities that caused me to break with him in 2017. I was increasingly critical of Trump until I broke with him completely after the Syria strike in April 2017. In hindsight, I broke with Trump over economics and foreign policy very early on and never supported him again.
In the 2016 election, I publicly stated and told reporters that my top five reasons for supporting Trump were trade, immigration, foreign policy, political correctness and campaign finance. I liked Trump on the basis of these issues because I disliked mainstream conservatism. It wasn’t the man himself or his celebrity personality cult or shit like the controversy over Obama’s birth certificate that appealed to me. It was always his positions on the issues. When he failed to deliver on those issues, I moved away from him.
I wasn’t alone in this respect:
A substantial number of Trump voters are moderates who are simultaneously economic populists and immigration restrictionists. They are “cross-pressured” voters. In the 2018 midterms, Republicans lost the House of Representatives because those voters swung toward the Democrats.
White populism has its own “three-legged stool.” Those three legs are White identity, economic populism and opposition to social liberalism. In the 2016 election, Trump hit all three notes and decisively beat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election by winning the Populist vote 3-to-1. Mitt Romney, however, did not have the same appeal or message and only won Populists 2-to-1 in the 2012 election. Similarly, Donald Trump ran a more traditional Republican campaign in 2020 and performed much more poorly with White Independents and moderate voters while he performed much better with upper middle class Republicans.
White populists are not going to vote as a bloc for the GOP on the basis of cheap culture war rhetoric like evangelicals. These same voters backed Obama over Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in 2012. They swung against the GOP in 2018 and against Trump in the 2020 election. The 2020 election illustrated that not even Trump could win only with conservatives and that the Republicans have maxed out with those voters. There aren’t enough voters who only care about culture war issues to elect a Republican president.
I’ve written about the last five elections from a White populist perspective on this blog:
2010 – For the first time, I voted for the GOP in the Tea Party Revolution only to be disappointed when the party failed to deliver on immigration
2012 – I supported Ron Paul in the primary and voted for the Constitution Party candidate as a protest vote in the general election.
2014 – I didn’t vote in this election
2016 – I strongly backed Trump in this election. This was the first time I had ever strongly backed a Republican presidential candidate
2018 – I was disaffected and sat out the election
2020 – I didn’t vote in this election
I’ve never voted on the basis of “white supremacy,” dog whistles or cheap culture war rhetoric. I have always had complex views on identity and culture, economics and foreign policy. I supported Ron Paul twice and broke with Trump on the basis of foreign policy. I didn’t vote against Obama in either the 2008 or 2012 elections. The fact that Obama was black mattered less to me than the fact that John McCain was a warmongering neocon and Mitt Romney was a cutthroat corporate CEO.