It isn't too often that I get a blog post out of the dead-tree Midland Daily News, but they ran an interesting Ross Douthat piece on The Donald. He, like most of the chattering classes, didn't quite see him doing anywhere near as well as he has. Here's the money 'graph-
Now if I wanted to avoid giving Trump his due, I could claim that I didn’t underestimate him, I misread everyone else — from the voters supporting him despite his demagoguery to the right-wing entertainers willing to forgive his ideological deviations.
That's close to where I'm at. It was clear that there was a market for Trump's nativist rhetoric, but the idea that he had a quarter of the GOP electorate in his pocket didn't quite register at first. That's possibly because Trump's backers skew downscale and don't hang out in the same circles as the commentariat, who can fall prey to the "no one I know is backing him" syndrome.
To some extant, Trump voters are the children of Reagan Democrats, uneasy with cultural liberalism and taken by American exceptionalism even if they don't have exceptionalism in their vocabulary. The Traditionalist Right is what I tagged them in last week's post.
One interesting Kevin Drum piece posits the idea that Trump is the vehicle for anti-PC anger of blue-collar folks who don't know what the polite way to say something is anymore. Trump is anything but polite and fires away, playing the political shock-jock who says the things the groundings want to say but don't want to get into trouble for saying.
For folks who marinate in center-right media and get delivered a string of PC horror stories, Trump is a logical vehicle. Douthat gives Rush and company both barrels for backing up Trump despite is lack of conservatism in economics and sexual issues, but that is in large part due to that anti-PC spirit, backing folks who run afoul of the Correctness Police even when they don't deserve it. We saw that in the Charlie Hebdo case where tacky left-libertarians who mock religion in general get turned into conservative heroes when they mock Islam and get assassinated (or buttbuttinated, as this piece notes) for their trouble.
Blue-collar traditionalists don't have a natural home in either party. The usual mix of pro-business policies and social conservationism don't resonate overly well, but plays to patriotism and traditional culture do, especially when multiculturalism and hostility to traditional values become coins of the realm.
Politicians who aren't of the modern left can wrap themselves in security, the flag and apple pie; that works in any number of places if done well. It's part of Putin's shtick (which might be a reason Trump relates to him) and has been part of the Republican playbook for at least a half-century with the Nixonian Southern Strategy being the most notable starting point. Add a pinch of Lee Greenwood as a garnish and serve warm.
Nativists parties have gained in popularity in Europe. The National Front had the most first-round votes in the last French elections and a nativist Alternative for Germany is poised to get seats in the next elections, throwing a monkey-wrench into the normal German coalition calculations. A nativist and anti-EU UK Independence Party got 13% of the vote in last year's election but only one MP to show for it.
The UKIP example points out the problem in plurality-take-all ("First past the post" as the poli-sci literature calls it) elections; third parties don't do well unless they can rise to the point of getting to 35-40% (less in a fractured field) and winning a plurality. Thus, the 30% or so of the primary vote that Trump is getting at present might only translate to 15-20% of the general-election vote if he were to run on a American Greatness Party ticket. In a proportional-representation system, it would be in the hunt to be a junior partner of a mainstream Republican Party in a coalition government; Prime Minister Trump might be a feasible prospect in that alternative universe.
However, 20% won't win a three-way race. Ross Perot got 19% in his 1992 run and got zero electors. George Wallace got 14% but carried five southern states in his 1968 third-party run; it helps to concentrate your vote if you want to convert a modest percentage into seats. Trump seems to be more Perot than Wallace, although quite a few Trump supporters might have had their grandparents vote for Wallace.
Thus, it would seem unlikely that a third-party run for Trump would be fruitful. The best Trump could reasonably hope to do is to punish the Republicans for not nominating him, as he would draw mostly from Republican-leaning voters. At best, Trump might be able to win a few states unless he somehow managed to get a large swath of Democratic-leaning voters along with those blue-collar traditionalists who lean Republican.
That bloc is part of the Republican coalition; it's not popular at a suburban cocktail party, but it's hard to win without them. It doesn't have many seats at the table, since they are underrepresented in party leadership and in legislatures due both to their downscale demographics and desire by upscale Republicans to distance themselves from anything that looks racist.