Trump might be unstoppable: People do stupid things when they're afraid, that's why his base is growing

Donald Trump's support extends well beyond angry men on the far right — and his reach is growing

Published January 8, 2016 4:44PM (EST)

Donald Trump (AP)
Donald Trump (AP)

The myth that Donald Trump's support base in the Republican Party is deep but narrow is slowly collapsing. Poll after poll, month after month, it's becoming painfully obvious that it's not just right-wing extremists supporting Trump's candidacy. It turns out Trump's coalition is both deep and broad, and perhaps unstoppable.

Politico reviewed public polling data and interviewed prominent GOP pollsters about Trump's popularity, and the results were interesting, although not surprising:

“The uncomfortable truth, for the pundits and fellow Republicans who turned their noses up at Trump, is that his appeal has spread over seven months so far beyond a rabble-rousing, anti-establishment rump to encompass the very elements of the American electorate the GOP has been eager to reach. And while it's no majority, it's a bigger group than anything the rest of the fragmented Republican field has galvanized.”

Non-college-educated white men form Trump's base, but his support extends well beyond that group. “His coalition is not all angry working white males,” said one Republican pollster. “It's all stripes. It's a pretty big coalition. And among other demographics where he's doing worse, he's still leading or in the two two.”

There is a silent majority in this country that stands with Donald Trump, and that majority is more diverse (politically speaking) than most of us imagine. As the New York Times reported, a recent survey of 11,000 self-identified Republicans shows that Trump's coalition includes 29 percent of registed Republicans, 43 percent of registered Democrats who vote in Republican primaries (these are people in Appalachia, the Midwest and the South who remained registered Democrats but left the party years ago), and 36 percent of registered independents.

A Republican strategist explained Trump's reach well to Politico:

“Essentially, the old base of the Democratic Party, non-college whites in the Midwest and Appalachia, have been cut loose and are floating like an iceberg in the middle of the electorate. And they've glommed onto the Republicans because it's a two-party system. But they have no affection for the Republican Party as an institution. Now they form a key piece of the Trump puzzle.”

It's no mystery at this point: Trump's silent majority consists mostly of anxious white people who resent the establishment and are fearful of immigration and modernity. These anxieties are sufficiently deep that they've united xenophobic right-wingers, pro-choice Republicans, conservative Democrats, and independents. Voters aren't wrong to worry about terrorism or jobs being shipped overseas or even our broken immigration system, but if they think Trump is the answer, they clearly don't understand what's happening.

They're just pissed off and need a boogeyman, and Trump is pointing the way.

It appears white people are doing white people have often done when things go wrong: blame brown people. Trump's gift is that he has no limits or shame, no moral imperative apart from self-promotion. He's happy to fan the flames if it keeps his circus rolling another day or two. People do stupid things when they're afraid. And there's just no other way to say it, voting for Donald Trump is a very stupid thing to do. But times are tough and Trump is the perfect candidate to exploit that.

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By Sean Illing

Sean Illing is a USAF veteran who previously taught philosophy and politics at Loyola and LSU. He is currently Salon's politics writer. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Read his blog here. Email at

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