Donald Trump's self-hating base: He doesn't care about the white working class — so why do they love him?

After big wins in three states last night, it's worth taking a look at how Donald Trump keeps his voters happy

By Heather Digby Parton


Published March 9, 2016 1:00PM (EST)


Once again, just as everyone was ready to declare him yesterday's news, Donald Trump scored wins last night in Mississippi, Michigan and Hawaii, and if the media's ecstatic attention to his every word in his insufferable "victory press conference" is any indication, he's back in the saddle in a big way.

Trump spared the nation any more talk about his "big hands," but he did brag about everything else, obviously feeling much more energized than he was in his desultory press conference last Saturday night. He strutted and preened, showed off all his brands, boasted about his golf swing and proclaimed himself the obvious winner of the general election by virtue of his vast property holdings around the country. It was one of his most confident performances -- and that's saying something.

His appeal remains quite broad across the Republican electorate, but much of the chatter afterwards was focused on his alleged affinity with Michigan's white working class which was taken as a sign that he had a unique path to victory in the fall. There's no doubt that Trump does very well among that group and it's worth taking a look at why that is. After all, a megalomaniacal billionaire blowhard seems like an unlikely working class hero.

Nate Silver laid out an interesting analysis earlier this week of six cohorts of the American electorate and how they tend to vote. (It's from within a larger piece about how Michael Bloomberg would have taken more votes from Democrats than Republicans and thus likely insured a Trump victory.)

The model, which is built on data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, divides the American electorate into six roughly equal groups:

African-Americans (12 percent of voting population): extremely Democratic-leaning.

Hispanic, Asian, “other” and mixed races (14 percent): Also strongly Democratic leaning, especially in recent elections.

White evangelicals (23 percent): Strongly Republican.

White cosmopolitans (20 percent): These are white, non-evangelical voters who favor both gay marriage and a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who entered the country illegally. They’re a highly Democratic-leaning group, mostly concentrated in urban areas and college towns.

White “picket fence” voters (15 percent): These are whites who are neither evangelicals nor cosmopolitans, but have high socioeconomic status as indicated by income, education levels, home ownership and other factors. This is a largely suburban, center-right group who went for Mitt Romney over Barack Obama about 2 to 1 in the previous election.

White working-class voters (16 percent): Whites who are neither evangelicals norcosmopolitans, and have lower socioeconomic status. Once a good group for Democrats, they now vote Republican about 2 to 1.

This shows the two coalitions pretty clearly. The Democrats are a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, urban coalition with a few suburbanites and a few members of the white working class. The Republican coalition is made up entirely of evangelical, suburban and working class white people.

What's striking about this is that while Republicans have certainly taken up the cause of the Christian Right, the other two GOP cohorts have not materially benefited from Republican policies. There may be a few upper middle class whites who like those big tax cuts, but Republicans have offered very little in the way of economic benefits to the middle class suburbanites. Obviously, they get their votes for other reasons.

But what can you say about the working class? They have not only been brutalized by the changes brought about by globalization; the Republicans have gone out of their way to make things worse. Not that Democrats have solved their problems by any means, but they do support workplace safety, environmental rules, raising the minimum wage, universal health care, child tax credits among many other benefits for working people. Republicans promise to reverse all those things and more. Yet many of these people vote for them anyway. It's the perennial question: What's the matter with the working class whites?

Perhaps, like so much else in American life, we simply have to observe that the working class in America is no longer majority white. Retail workers and food service and hospitality and a lot of other working class jobs are held by people of color, many of them women, and they do vote for the party that at least tries to make a material difference in their lives. As it turns out, Democrats are still the party of the working class; it's just not all that white anymore. And that's why the white working class rejects them. They do not want to be a member of that particular club if it's allowing those "other" people to be in it. Nonetheless, even though they are despised by these voters, Democrats still keep pushing for policies that will make their lives better.

But these voters are instead turning to Donald Trump, who promises to deport millions and "make America great again." Some people think that it's not his authoritarian racism and xenophobia that draws them but rather it's because he promises to "renegotiate trade deals." And maybe some of them are. But they should listen to what he's really saying.

We're going to make America great again — we're going to did it the old-fashioned way. We're going to beat China, Japan, beat Mexico at trade.

We're going to beat all of these countries that are taking so much of our money away from us on a daily basis. It's not going to happen anymore. We have the greatest people in the world. We have political hacks negotiating our deals for billions and billions and billions of dollars. Not going to happen anymore. We're going to use the finest business people in the world. We are going to do something so good and so fast and so strong and the world is going to respect us again, believe me.

He's going to use "the finest business people in the world" to make these trade deals. And all those working stiffs who have heard nonsense about "job creators" all these years apparently still think this will accrue to their benefit. Trump rarely talks about jobs. And he rarely talks about wages. But when he does, it should alarm working people. In an early debate he was honest about what he felt needed to be done:

"Our taxes are too high. Our wages are too high. We have to compete with other countries."

He repeated it two days later on Fox News:

"Whether it's taxes or wages, if they're too high we're not going to be able to compete with other countries."

He has since walked it back,  but when you look at the totality of his "economic plan," there is little doubt that the priority for him is not workers; it's making business profitable for American companies. And those two unfiltered comments make it quite clear what he thinks is necessary for that to happen: more worker exploitation.

It's environmental exploitation as well. Here's one of Trump's standard talking points:

China is building in the South China Sea massive military bases. Right? Why? They’re not supposed to. They have no respect for Obama or our country. They’re not supposed to be doing that. And you could get them to stop just by saying “We’re not doing business with you anymore.” Their whole economy would – you don’t have to go to war. It’s economics. The whole country would collapse in two seconds. Believe me. We have such power and we don’t know it.

But they’re building massive – now, they had little islands. They put the biggest escavators, not Caterpillars. I think they’re using Komatsu from Japan…They have these massive escavators, and I said to a friend of mine who’s Chinese from China – very rich guy, very successful guy, paid me a fortune for an apartment so I happen to like him, okay? – I said jokingly “How long did it take them to do these massive islands they’re building right out of the sea? Boom, those shovels go in, take out everything. How long did it take you to get the environmental impact statements?” He laughed. He said, “What are you kidding me? Nothing.” They say “We will build there.” About two seconds later, you have escavators digging.

Setting aside the inanity of claiming that "we" (apparently meaning the government) could commandeer all of American business to declare they would not do business in China until it shows America some "respect," clearly part of what Trump is talking about when he says he'll make America great again is eliminating environmental protections for the benefit of corporations.

I'm skeptical that most of these voters are really moved by Trump's trade policies, their xenophobia is cultural not economic. This Trump voter from Texas  explains what's really bothering them:

Where we live, those people down there are so fed up, they don’t know what do. We go into Wal-Mart and they’re speaking Spanish. And we turn around, my husband and I, and say, ‘We’re in China!’

But to the extent that any of these white working class folks truly are looking for someone who will end globalization and free trade agreements, they'd better watch their wallets if Trump is the guy doing the negotiations. He may know something about "the art of the deal" but his goal is to help business not workers. And that's no different than anything Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan or any other Republican has ever wanted to do.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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