Yoni Appelbaum writes that Trump voters are disproportionately less likely to be involved in religious or any other voluntary organizations. Appelbaum thinks it will be tough for Trump to win with a core constituency that has so little experience of working within voluntary groups. That might be true, but the nature or Trump’s support might also explain why so many conventional politicians overlooked the existence of such a large, disaffected constituency.
Appelbaum’s column is consistent with something I wrote a while back. The reason business interests and (to a much lesser degree) religious conservatives have so much influence in Republican politics isn’t money. How much did all of that donor money help Jeb Bush?
The business lobbies and religious conservatives have social capital, and social capital is about relationships. Local chambers of commerce and church organizations can bring in politicians to discuss issues. The politicians hear about the concerns of the business owners and church members. The politicians can adjust their political strategy accordingly. The politicians also get some insight into the shared values and idioms of these groups.
People who are civically disengaged don’t hold business luncheons or church suppers. The lack of formal organizations means it is tough for politicians to get a sense of what disengaged people think. These disengaged voters are in the blind spot of the right’s politicians. Ironically Trump, with his background in the entertainment mass media, had a better sense of what these voters were thinking that the politicians who have spent decades going all over the country talking to civic groups.
The most obvious case of this disconnect was Scott Walker. Walker did fine when the priorities of right-populist wage-earners overlapped with those of his more affluent suburban base. But Walker flopped when he ran for president and tried to make a play for Trump’s immigration restrictionist voters. It wasn’t that Walker was too good to sell out to these voters. He wanted to sell out. He tried to sell out. But like with Trump and pro-lifers, Walker didn’t know the idiom.
Reaching those civically disengaged voters is a problem without an obvious solution, but getting a better understanding of those voters should be a priority. It calls for in-depth survey research and extensive small-group interviewing. This could be done by either partisan organizations like the RNC or by ideological groups like the ones funded by the Koch brothers. The more the merrier.
But instead of that, you have politicians and intellectuals hoping that they can use public relations razzle dazzle to win over this group. That is the real hope of a Ryan Miracle at the Cleveland convention. They hope that selling Ryan as exciting, unifying, and optimistic will get the disaffected to shrug and go along. That is a bad bet.
h/t Ramesh Ponnuru