Donald Trump may be on the cusp of winning Iowa, so an anti-Trump Super PAC is taking drastic measures: It is bombarding Iowa mailboxes with “The Donald Trump Voter Guide,” a slickly produced glossy booklet that is meant to warn conservative voters that Trump is (gasp!!!) not really one of them.
The booklet is funded by the Our Principles PAC, and as reporter Philip Rucker puts it, the mailer “documents three decades of Trump’s apostasies from the conservative movement,” and as such is “a last-ditch effort to undercut the front-runner’s support with Iowa Republicans.”
And so, this booklet is a useful, if partial, guide to many of the things that GOP primary voters are supposed to hate about Trump. Here are some of the items in this guide to Trump’s apostasy:
1) Trump has criticized Ronald Reagan. Not once, but at least twice!
2) Trump used “illegal immigrants” to build Trump Tower and has said positive things about legalization. (This actually could leave a mark. But note that the idea is that conservatives are supposed to think Trump wouldn’t actually be as tough on illegal immigrants as he claims, i.e., it is a negative that he might not actually be committed to things like proactive mass deportations.)
3) Trump has given money to Democrats like the Clintons and Chuck Schumer, and has on occasion criticized the GOP as “crazy right.” Perhaps painting Trump as insufficiently committed to Republicanism and conservatism could matter, but Trump is running against the GOP, and indeed against our entire political system, and many of his supporters don’t appear all that ideologically motivated or even that committed to partisanship.
4) Trump has said positive things about the Obama stimulus (federal spending on jobs), and about single payer (government-guaranteed health care). In other words, he’s really a Big Government Liberal at heart!
“Donald Trump is a lot of things…a consistent conservative is not one of them,” the mailer warns darkly. To which many Trump supporters may respond with a shrug.
How is it possible that someone with so many heresies in his past could be in a position to win more support in conservative Iowa — and have more support among GOP voters nationally — than any other GOP candidate? Maybe voters really are ignorant of his positions. Or maybe, if he does win Iowa and more, perhaps it will means that a lot of Republican voters don’t care about these things as much as they are supposed to.
Philip Klein has a good piece in which he carefully categorizes the various Republican voter groups and concludes that the persistence of Trumpism suggests the party may be far more divided than we thought. Here’s his description of what is driving Trump’s voters:
Trump supporters aren’t particularly ideological. They are frustrated because they think America is in decline economically, culturally and militarily, threatened by other nations on the world stage and by foreigners here at home. They don’t care about economic arguments in favor of free trade or constitutional arguments for executive restraint. They don’t bat an eye when Trump touts the importance of government seizures of private property for non-public use or the virtues of single-payer healthcare….
Trump supporters would be fine with more government spending, on, say, infrastructure, haven’t particularly paid much attention to fights about the chairmanship of congressional committees, and would probably be fine doubling corporate Export-Import bank subsidies if Trump told them it would help crush China.
Another way to say this might be: Republican voters supporting Trump actually think government should be able to play a constructive role in making the economy work for them. In other words, they perhaps feel minimal attachment to the idea that free markets are the be-all-and-end-all solution or to the idea that their leaders’ primary role should be to restrain and roll back government — to beat back the growth of the regulatory and welfare state — because so doing will unshackle the pent up forces that could otherwise lift the fortunes of working and middle class Americans.
Remember, Trump isn’t claiming, as Reagan did, that “government is the problem.” He’s claiming that the stupid morons running our government are the problem, or that the corrupt bureaucrats running the government are the problem, because they’re basically cheating you, by making government work for illegals and major corporations, and making it easier for China to eat out of American workers’ lunch buckets. He’s basically saying he’ll break the system over his knee and make it work for you again. Many conservatives, of course, are deeply troubled by Trump’s virulent xenophobia, strongman tendencies, and reckless disregard for constitutional niceties. But they also understandably see it as a threat to conservatism that Trump seems to be revealing that many GOP voters don’t appear to care a whit about idealized notions of free markets and limited government.