In the days after President Trump's historic victory, many critics — including those on Hillary Clinton's team — accused his campaign of running on a platform that played to one of America's worst (and oldest) sins: racism.
At Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government postmortem session after the election, top operatives from both campaigns confronted one another during a particularly heated session:
“If providing a platform for white supremacists makes me a brilliant tactician, I am proud to have lost,” Clinton's communications director Jennifer Palmieri said. “I would rather lose than win the way you guys did.”
Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager, fumed: “Do you think I ran a campaign where white supremacists had a platform?”
“You did, Kellyanne. You did,” interjected Palmieri, who choked up at various points of the session.
Conway went on to defend her work as the first woman to manage a winning presidential campaign by saying Trump had something Clinton did not: “a decent message for white working-class voters.”
Trump did speak often about economics in a way that appealed to white working-class voters, including by promising to cut down on government spending.
But the Trump White House has failed to consistently deliver on that. And in fact, the latest example of the Trump administration breaking new ground in government spending is what may have been the most expensive commute to a football game in presidential history.
Vice President Pence left Las Vegas on Sunday to briefly attend an Indianapolis Colts football game against the San Francisco 49ers, the team where the NFL protests against racism and police violence originated.
But instead of enjoying the game, Pence left after the anthem, reportedly offended by players kneeling through the anthem to protest what they consider racial injustice. The former Indiana governor then preceded to travel to California for a fundraiser.
Now for those geography whizzes keeping up with the economics, the easiest way to get to California from Nevada, a state it borders, is not by going to Indiana. That means that Pence boarded a plane that cost the federal government about $43,000 an hour to operate, and the visit presumably required that the Colts do all that it takes to accommodate a vice president coming to their stadium, just to walk out before the first play of the game.
Now, one would think that economically anxious voters who got behind Pence and Trump would be protesting their leaders' spending so much of their hard-earned money on something so trivial.
But that's not what's happening. And one of the reasons is probably because economic anxiety and cultural anxiety are not mutually exclusive among white working-class voters.
When asked which is more common — that government help tends to go to irresponsible people who do not deserve it or that it doesn’t reach people in need — rural Americans are more likely than others to say they think people are abusing the system. And across all areas, those who believe irresponsible people get undeserved government benefits are more likely than others to think that racial minorities receive unfair privileges.
In response to this poll question — “Which of these do you think is the bigger problem in this country: blacks and Hispanics losing out because of preferences for whites, or whites losing out because of preferences for blacks and Hispanics?” — rural whites are 14 points less likely than urban whites to say they are more concerned about blacks and Hispanics losing out.
Other results beyond race showed that when it comes to immigration, religion and other traditional values, many of Trump's supporters resented the direction that liberals, urban residents and people of color were taking the country.
“The way you hear people talking, the viewpoints that they have on certain matters, it leans toward a pretty liberal opinion,” Bethany Hanna, a homemaker in Saint Albans, W.Va., said about the Americans living in urban areas that she encounters when doing missions with her church. “Some of it’s an entitlement thing. They say ‘that’s not fair,’ or ‘I deserve this,’ that kind of thing.”
And criticizing NFL players — whether walking out as Pence did or reducing their identities to being “millionaire athletes” — who speak out about the unfairness of racial discrimination in America and mistreatment of people of color by law enforcement, plays into Trump supporters' worst views of people of color living in urban centers.
For an administration headed by a president who is experiencing some of the lowest approval ratings in history, appealing to the cultural anxieties of many of the people who voted for him is an easy win.
In a recent CNN poll, nearly half of Americans — 49 percent — disagreed with NFL players protesting during the national anthem, continuing a long history of Americans disapproving of civil rights protests. The Washington Post previously reported that the vast majority of Americans — 60 percent — had “unfavorable” feelings about the March on Washington.
But the question remains: A win for whom?
For a president whose approval rating is only 10 percent with black Americans — the group most supportive of the protest — Pence walking out on Americans asking him to hear their pleas for justice doesn't seem like a step closer to the unity that Trump promised in his inauguration speech.