There are three questions which I don’t think that people are sufficiently distinguishing between, and I think distinguishing between them will make discourse about the election much clearer. They are:
- What are the characteristics of Trump’s base, his most fervent supporters?
- What are the characteristics of the average Trump voter?
- What are the characteristics of the people who pushed Trump over the edge, the ones that caused him to win?
I’m not sure anyone really knows the answer to #3 yet. I expect in a couple months Nate Silver will write a blog post about it and then I will have the answer. However, I think that it’s unlikely that #3 will provide any earth-shaking revelations for the average political junkie, as opposed to advice like “try to choose candidates people like” and “campaign in Wisconsin.”
Either way, the outcome of this election is embarrassing to both Republicans and Democrats. For Republicans, in an election in which they had every structural advantage, they barely eked out a win against a woman who’s been the right-wing Public Enemy #1 for twenty-five years. For Democrats, they lost to Donald Trump.
As for #2: the average Trump voter is the same as the average Republican voter in any other election. Given Trump’s record unfavorables, they probably weren’t super-enthusiastic about Trump (any more than people on the Democrat side were, as a whole, super-enthusiastic about Hillary). However, they probably didn’t want to waste their vote on a third party. Trump had some good policies, and probably the Republican elite will be able to help him in spite of his incompetence. And they despise Hillary; many Republicans would vote for a paper-bag puppet over Hillary Clinton. So they held their noses and voted for the lesser of two evils.
(A post I can’t find told Democrats to imagine choosing between Kanye West and Dick Cheney, which I think is accurate. [ETA: it’s here, thanks Amelia and Linch.])
With regards to how they could vote for Trump in spite of his repeated sexual assaults: think about your support for Bill Clinton. There you go. That isn’t even hard to understand.
With regards to #1: I believe that the evidence suggests that Trump’s base is motivated by ethnocentrism and white identity politics.
I think it is a problem that Republican voters who care about white identity politics seem willing to elect incompetent people. While identity politics also plays a role in the Democratic nominating process, at least identity-politics-motivated voters on the left seem to favor qualified centrists with a slight penchant for war crimes. I do not know how to get identity-politics-motivated voters on the right to share this preference; I think this is mostly a project for moderate Republicans, because I’m pretty sure Trump’s base is not going to listen to me.
I believe that reducing ethnocentrism is a good idea in general, but I’m not sure how tractable it is, particularly in the next four years. I suspect one possible strategy might be for centrist Republicans to play more explicitly to white identity politics while overall having fairly moderate views, in the same way that Obama played to black identity politics while overall having fairly moderate views. As long as we have white identity politics– which, again, I’m not sure how easy it is to eliminate in general, much less within one presidential term– it’s important to reduce the harm it might cause.
While Trump’s base is fairly upset about anti-racist and feminist activism, I do not think that changing anti-racist and feminist activism is necessarily a good way to get Trump voters not to vote for Trump. I think that Trump’s base’s primary objection to people like me is not to our tone but to our beliefs. No matter how politely we respectively speak, Trump voters object to the presence of large numbers of immigrants, and I object to people deporting my friends, sometimes to places where they’re in danger. These are incompatible goals, and they are likely to be quite angry at me about them (as well as I at them).