For many, “That’s How You Got Trump” has become the standard reply to dismiss criticism of the President from the left or the anti-Trump right. Indeed, any skepticism of the idea that harsh criticism of Trump is How You Got Trump is also deemed How You Got Trump.
But was a revulsion against condescension from the elites in the MSM, DC or Hollywood or wherever really How We Got Trump? Is a failure to listen to Trump supporters How We Got Trump?
Salena Zito, noted chronicler of Trump supporters, spoke to thousands on the campaign trail. But in her dispatches from places like Brooke County, WV, or Charleroi or Youngstown or Moon Township in PA, Trump supporters are rarely quoted as referring to the MSM or elites in DC or Hollywood (a political scientist took issue with National Review’s Kevin Williamson). Rather, they seem concerned about the economy and jobs (particularly ‘brown energy’ jobs), trade, immigration, and the preservation of their local communities.
During the campaign, an open-ended Pew poll of Trump supporters found the main reasons people backed him were: (a) he wasn’t Hillary Clinton; (b) he was a change agent; (c) his policy positions; (d) his “tell it like it is” personality; and (e) his support for the American people and their values.
And for all the talk about the MSM not seeking out the opinions of Trump supporters, outlets like The Atlantic (more than once), the Washington Post, The Guardian, the BBC, and the New York Times did. The NYT also solicited comments from Trump supporters on a few occasions after the election. And the portrait of Trump voters and their reasons remains pretty consistent.
To be sure, some of Trump’s supporters booed the press at his rallies when he encouraged them to do so. But in general, they seem more interested in the fate of the local metal fabrication shop, the burden of filling out paperwork to operate their small businesses, or a general sense of stagnation than they care about what Katy Tur, Don Lemon or Joss Whedon are saying about them.
When you consider How We Got Trump, consider that he flipped a swath of voters who previously voted for Obama once or twice. That’s a voter profile which is not particularly ideological and thus not particularly motivated by a revulsion for Glenn Thrush or Meryl Streep.
These crucial Trump voters seem far more concerned with the perceived (lack of) performance of elites than the condescension of elites.
Of course, there are Trump voters who are bothered by the bias of Acela media and Hollywood blather. But most of them are likely conservatives who would have voted for the GOP nominee in any event.
And herein lies a risk for conservatives. Many on the right were blindsided by the Trump phenomenon because they did not understand that the core Trump supporter is really not like them in a number of ways. They projected their own strong ideological bent onto rank-and-file Republicans beyond what years of data supported. (I say “they” here because it’s been depressingly clear to me for some time.)
Now that Trump is President, the danger is that conservatives seeking common ground to support him will again project their biases onto core Trump supporters, while ironically lecturing his skeptics and critics about being in a bubble. They also ironically feed the stereotype that Trump supporters whine and wallow in victimhood at the hands of Ben Smith and Samantha Bee.
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PPS: On Feb. 13, Margaret Sullivan of the WaPo visited Trump-friendly Luzerne County in PA. During the campaign, Trump led supporters in razzing the media in Wilkes-Barre. It does not seem to have affected the media consumption habits of the locals. Moreover, the middle-aged folks interviewed seem to have the same basic media habits as Gen Xers and Boomers generally.