Donald Trump won in 2016 because he convinced enough people in the right states for an electoral victory that he alone spoke for them. He told the “forgotten men and women” that elites sneered at them and put the interests of illegal immigrants, China and criminals (remember the fictional crime wave he dreamed up?) above his voters.
His appeal was not unique. Autocrats around the globe present themselves as the true interpreters of the people; their opponents are thereby cast as liars (fake news) or enemies of the people.
Trump, among his other woes, made the error after he was elected of ignoring the needs of his base, just what he had skewered elites for doing. President Trump championed tax cuts for the rich, tried to cut Medicaid, and puts farmers and consumers at risk with the threat of tariffs. He may fancy himself as transmitting the will of the people, but his connection is staticky.
The latest evidence of Trump’s disconnect comes from a Quinnipiac University poll, which finds:
A trade war with China would be bad for the U.S. economy, American voters say 68 – 22 percent in a Quinnipiac University National Poll released today. Every party, gender, education, age and racial group says a trade war would be bad. …
American voters oppose 57 – 40 percent building a wall along the border with Mexico. …
American voters say 77 – 18 percent, including 59 – 35 percent among Republicans, that undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children – the so-called Dreamers – should be allowed to stay in the U.S. and eventually apply for citizenship. Support for Dreamers is strong in every listed group. Voters disapprove 57 – 35 percent of the way Trump is handling the dreamers and say all parties in Washington are exploiting this issue.
More broadly, Americans are not buying into his demonization of illegal immigrants: “Undocumented immigrants do not take jobs from American citizens, voters say 59 – 37 percent. Undocumented immigrants are not more likely than American citizens to commit crimes, voters say 71 – 22 percent.” (That said, Americans do support sending National Guard forces to help at the border.)
Trump doesn’t speak for the country as a whole when it comes to guns, either. Americans back tougher gun laws, 56 percent to 39 percent.
Another poll suggests Trump doesn’t even speak for the reddest part of America. An NBC News-SurveyMonkey poll finds Trump is underwater in the South: 51 percent disapprove, 48 percent approve. Trump’s immigration views don’t attract support in the Deep South:
69 percent in the South think migrants should be given a chance at attaining legal status, while 28 percent said they should be deported. In the states polled individually —Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee — at least six-in-10 adults said they favored giving migrants a chance to attain legal status before deportation.
Southerners have also discovered there are more important things than cutting taxes. The poll finds: “On education, 57 percent of Southerners — including as high as 60 percent in Mississippi — said they would pay higher taxes to improve public schools, compared to 55 percent of all Americans. The numbers were virtually identical when it came to taxes for infrastructure spending, with 62 percent of Mississippians agreeing.”
How then can a populist president like Trump maintain the notion that he and he alone is the voice of the people? He can’t, at least for very long. He might be the voice for Sean Hannity (and vice versa), but, I hate to break it to the Trumpkins, Hannity isn’t America. And here, I think, is where the Trump nativist, protectionist brand of populism breaks down: Americans just don’t agree with its main tenets. We as a rule are not hateful, don’t fear the world and don’t want government to shrivel up.
It’s hard to be the populist cult leader who delegitimizes opponents when your base shrinks to a fraction of a minority party. The forgotten men and women aren’t forgotten, but they may be ready to kick Trump to the curb.