Politics & Policy

Donald Trump Is Not the First Left-Wing Bogeyman, and He Certainly Won’t Be the Last

Protest signs in Washington, D.C., July 9, 2015. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

I must confess that I’m not all that interested in the battle over Donald Trump. First, it’s July 2015. That means the only people paying attention to electoral politics are the political junkies — and political junkies are outnumbered 2 to 1 by Taylor Swift fans. Sure, Trump’s celebrity guarantees him a bit more attention than normal, but we should really save the conversation about What He Means until, say, he finishes in the top three in the Iowa caucuses. Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann ultimately had little effect on the 2012 outcome. Their “moments” occurred later in the process, and they ascended higher than Trump has so far. Trump may ultimately do better. He may not. Only time — and Trump — will tell.

The real reason the Trump debate is uninteresting is the simple fact that if we weren’t dealing with hysterical outrage over his words about Mexican immigrants, we’d be dealing with hysterical outrage about some other public figure who said something — real or imagined — that once again “proves” that Republicans are horrible people who despise African-Americans, Latinos, and single women. The Democrats can’t win in 2016 without their so-called “coalition of the ascendant,” and that monolith is held together by the necessary margins only so long as each minority group can remain convinced that Republicans hate them.

Note that I said “by the necessary margins.” I’m under no illusions that any of the core Democratic constituencies are secretly conservative — ready to join the Tea Party but for Democratic demagoguery. It is true, however, that the Democrats’ key voting blocs are less liberal than the numbers would suggest. Take the black vote, for example. On even the most hot-button issues, African Americans are less politically monolithic than one might expect. According to some polls, a majority of African-Americans support voter ID. In some jurisdictions, black support for school choice — anathema to teachers’ unions — is overwhelming. And African-Americans have even voted to end affirmative action at rates that far surpass their support for Republican presidential candidates.

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America’s black population — like every American population — is incredibly diverse, with voters who are wealthy and poor, religious and atheist, native-born and immigrant. Their interests, ideas, and experiences differ to the same extent that white or Latino interests, ideas, and experiences differ. All other things being equal, that diversity should lead to a much greater level of support for Republican candidates.

The Left — working through the Democratic party, pop culture, and the academy — relentlessly hammers home a single message: Conservatives hate you.

But all other things are not equal. The Left — working through the Democratic party, pop culture, and the academy — relentlessly hammers home a single message: Conservatives hate you. They’re racist and sexist. And the only reason why they’re not explicitly racist and sexist is that it would turn off too many white voters. So they speak in “dog whistles” — using terms like “welfare reform” or “law and order.” But if you watch them closely enough, then the façade cracks, and some conservatives show the true colors of the movement.

Take Todd Akin, for example. How does a single Missouri senate candidate become a national symbol of sexist repression? When he fits the narrative of the man who accidentally said what conservatives supposedly “really believe.” But what if a candidate — like George W. Bush — works diligently to reach out to black voters? Well then, it’s time to run ads claiming that he was racist for failing to sign hate-crimes legislation, using the imagery of a horrific, racially motivated murder to tar him with one of America’s most brutal crimes. Never mind that even without hate-crimes laws the lead perpetrators of that awful crime were sentenced to die — George W. Bush was still racist.

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During the Obama administration even innocuous criticisms — such as the notion that he plays too much golf — became racialized, and there is now an unshakeable conviction among some that Obama has been treated worse than any other president, simply because he’s black. His immediate Democratic predecessor, the impeached Bill Clinton, may disagree.

The pattern with Trump is thus depressingly familiar. A Republican makes a controversial public statement, popular culture and its corporate adjuncts respond with the kind of hysteria reserved only for conservatives, and the battle lines are drawn: You either disown the statements, or you’re racist. But conservatives can’t win this game. As with the Confederate flag debate, it’s “heads I win, tails you lose.” Disown Trump, and the Left doesn’t give you credit for tolerance. Regardless of your motives, you’re still the enemy — you can just be shamed. Defend him or act indifferent, and you’re the kind of shameless racist who proves America is growing more hostile to blacks every day.

#related#As a political tactic, it’s undoubtedly effective. The Democrats enjoy the benefits of a consolidated base, where their challenge is less persuasion than turnout. If they get the right demographics to the polls in the right numbers, they win. And if they can turn out their base while infuriating and dividing their enemies on the right, all the better. Some conservatives are sick to death of all the apologies and rally to Trump. Others are sick to death of comments from conservative bomb-throwers and even angrier at their supporters. They just want to leave all that behind and for once — just once — fight it out over the issues. But that’s impossible. Take 2012, for example: No conservative in living memory has sought to ban contraceptives, yet contraceptive access became a key issue in the race. Facts don’t matter when there’s a base to mobilize.

Such tactics may be effective, but they’re not foolproof. As Charlie Cook points out at The Atlantic, “If the Republican nominee were to do just 3 points better across all five segments of the electorate in 2016 — a goal many GOP candidates easily surpassed in 2014 — he or she would win seven more states, and 305 electoral votes.” In other words, the political Left’s core strategy teeters on a knife’s edge — a tiny push the other way, and the entire edifice crumbles. So look for l’affaire Trump to be just the beginning. By August this little dust-up will mostly likely be forgotten, and the outrage machine will move on. After all, the Democrats are a mere three points from a devastating defeat, and the only thing that can save them now is fear itself.

— David French is an attorney and a staff writer at National Review.

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