Opinion: The betrayal of Trump’s base

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It’s Election Day, 2017, and the nation turns its worried eyes to Virginia, where the campaign for governor has turned into a referendum on Donald Trump and, more importantly, on the future of the Republican Party.

Ed Gillespie, the GOP candidate in that race, would by any honest definition be the epitome of what Trump likes to call “the swamp.”  Consider his resume: Gillespie has worked in Washington for more than 30 years. Over that time, he has made millions selling his influence and connections as a top Washington lobbyist. He is also a former chair of the Republican National Committee and served as White House counselor to President George W. Bush. He is, in other words, establishment Republican through and through.

Combine that background with Trump’s bad job approval numbers in Virginia — 37.4 percent, according to the Real Clear Politics average — and you have every right to expect that Gillespie would be running as far from Trump as possible. Instead, he has decided that his best chance for victory is to remarket himself as an echo of Trump by running a highly divisive campaign marked with tinges of white nationalism. As part of that strategy, the New Jersey native has made preservation of Confederate monuments a core focus of his campaign, and he has also tried to make “sanctuary cities” an issue even though Virginia, the state that he wants to lead, has no such cities in the first place.

The idea is to embrace Trump’s approach and Trump’s themes, while not taking on Trump’s personal baggage, in the hopes that it will excite the Trump base to turn out to vote in an off-cycle election. If that approach wins, it will become the model for Republicans nationwide in the 2018 midterms, and the conversion of the GOP into the party of Trump and Steve Bannon will be complete, with little chance of redemption.

It’s a difficult balance to hit, which explains why Gillespie and Trump have not campaigned together. Instead, Trump has turned to Twitter to signal his strong support for Gillespie’s candidacy and campaign, as he did this morning.¹

You will not be surprised to learn that the tweet features a lie compounded by yet another lie:

♦ Trump refers to “Virginia’s poor economic performance” when, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Virginia has an unemployment rate of 3.7 percent, one of the lowest in the nation and well below the national average of 4.1 percent.

♦ He refers to Virginia’s “high crime,” when according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Statistics, Virginia’s violent crime rate in 2016 (217 crimes per 100,000 population) was barely half that of the national rate (397 per 100,000). It was the fourth lowest in the country, behind only Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Over the last decade, in fact, violent crime in Virginia has declined by 23 percent.

These are easily available numbers, produced by the very government that Trump heads.  He chooses to blatantly contradict them because they paint a picture of Virginia in particular and the country in general that is very much at odds with the depiction of “American carnage” in his inaugural address and more generally in his 2016 campaign. His entire approach depends on the notion that we are a nation in steep decline.

So when Trump talks about “soaring violent crime,” it doesn’t really matter to him or to his audience whether the claim is accurate. It’s intended to serve as code, as a vehicle for summoning anger and resentment against the minorities presumed to be committing all that non-existent crime.

The same is true of his claims about “a terrible economy.” As Trump reminds us in other contexts, the jobless rate has rarely been lower; the stock market and corporate profits have never been higher.  But in this particular context, the notion of a “terrible economy” allows him to rant and rail against foreigners, which is the real message that he wants to communicate and that his audience wants to hear.

It is, in short, a politics of misdirection, of saying one thing but really meaning another.  Facts become what we wish them to be, reality becomes just one of several competing narratives. And because words and facts have been stripped of meaning, the administration that results can somehow pose as a populist defender of the little man while handing huge tax cuts to Wall Street; it can promise better health care for all while voting to strip more than $1 trillion from Medicaid and Medicare programs that many Trump voters rely upon. The whole thing is an exercise in saying one thing while doing another.

And here’s the interesting part:

The remaining holdouts of the #NeverTrump movement in the GOP have reacted to Gillespie’s campaign with disgust, seeing it as a surrender and betrayal by one of their own. While I admire their stand on principle, I’m not sure that’s right.  I think the true betrayal works the other way around.

Despite Trump’s endorsement, Gillespie remains a creature of the swamp. He is every bit the GOP establishment elitist that he has always been. But through Trumpian rhetoric and appeals to resentment, he is trying to disguise that elitist, corporate agenda beneath a populist, nationalist mantle. In other words, what we’re watching is not Trump conquering the GOP establishment and draining the swamp. It is the establishment co-opting Trump and his ugly message to pursue the same old pro-establishment policies that it always sought.


¹ In one tweet last month, Trump touted Gillespie as a job-creator and crime fighter, closing with the suggestion that “he might even save our great statues/heritage!” The word “our” in that tweet got a lot of attention, and for good reason.

Trump was born and raised in New York City, to parents who were first- or second-generation immigrants.  There ain’t nobody named “Trump” buried beneath a Confederate tombstone at Gettysburg or Shiloh. So the only plausible sense in which he can claim Confederate statues as part of his “heritage” is to embrace them as what they are, as monuments to defenders of white superiority. And of course, he has no compunction doing that.

Reader Comments 0

1208 comments
Andy158
Andy158

Spent a few minutes just now reading the comments on an article at RedState. I was shocked. They're all Republicans but most seem to be still tethered to reality and have some critical reasoning ability. Not the foaming at the mouth knuckle draggers you find on most other sights. You know, like Vinnie, J-Red, TD etc. There was actually a long rational thread about how to appeal to young voters and how the party's position on CC and healthcare is killing them.

honested
honested

@Andy158 

They might see the hole in their foot, but they still have a piston in their hand and their other foot is sitting there askin' for it.

Nick_Danger
Nick_Danger

The Republican talking points should be out any time now - our conservative friends will be joining us soon.

Peachs
Peachs

I noticed Trump’s speech last night was delayed a bit. He must have been absorbing the shock and awe!

honested
honested

@Nick_Danger 

I was at an election night event last night where a guy was parroting lines one might read here every day like "9 out of 10 chump voters would gladly vote for him again", "Hillary lost because she was evil", "look at all the new jobs and jobs chump has brought back".

I don't predict any major shift in talking points, just blame against those who did not uphold the emperor.

Peachs
Peachs

Hunter Hill’s 6th district went blue. This is a movement of moderates having no other avenue to stop the Trump noise!

Peachs
Peachs

Trump may spin Va. but the truth is Cobb County going blue!

honested
honested

@Peachs 

Especially delicious since the redraw of that district in 2011 was done to force it red!

Peachs
Peachs

Then you don’t know Red Cobb County. Russian?

honested
honested

Wonder if Democrats returning to parity in the Virginia legislature will lead to sensible legislation and improved conditions for Citizens?

OTP Georgians might want to watch and learn how badly they have been lied to since 2003.

Brosephus
Brosephus

Interesting.  One would think the left wing wharrgarbl would peg the meters this morning, but it is relatively quiet.  Likewise, there is no right wing presence.

honested
honested

@Brosephus 

Unfortunately, there were no major 'left wing' victories, unless you consider the people of Colorado retaking local control over fracking a 'leftist' win.

bendedknee
bendedknee

Trump is right -Ed Gillespie never got on TV and kissed Trump's arse like our lovely David Perdue and Johnny I.

honested
honested

@bendedknee 

I wish he had, so that gillespie's loss would have been more like 80/20!

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

I'm not sure how significant it really is, but with the WA election results, the entire left coast is blue.

It'll be interesting how those three states might choose to work together to set an example for how progressive policies could help the rest of the nation. A big ask, I know.

Peachs
Peachs

The secret is the success of the blue states economies. There needs to be some clever ads with men and women on the street doing things we all can do and making more money than West Virginia or Alabama!

Peachs
Peachs

There won’t be a meltdown with the Republicans until this tax bill is killed. Then even greasy easy Cruz will attack Trump like he was a Russian.

honested
honested

@Peachs 

As long as the tax bill is killed, I don't care if they are in a cage match with scimitars afterwards.

bendedknee
bendedknee

@honested @Peachs Even if tax bill passes ; unless there is a huge economic impact on more jobs and better pay, people will still  turn on the GOP.

Tax bill encourages  employers to keep low paying jobs stable by giving increased EITC to low wage workers paid out from IRS instead of encouraging wage hikes.

rimsky
rimsky

 “From 240,000 miles away, it’s very beautiful...a very delicate planet sitting out there in the blackest — it’s the blackest black you’ll ever see! It’s just devoid of any color whatsoever. And it’s been described like a Christmas tree ornament hanging out there. You can’t see how it’s suspended or anything. It’s — philosophically you could emote about it, I’m sure, for quite some time. But it is a startling picture to look at the Earth coming back from being around the moon."

It got eated twice because there is the word D!ck Gordon in the linkee.  Geezus Christ you IT guys.

Anyhoo here is to your service to the country but more to advancement to science and engineering.

Peachs
Peachs

Vision of the future is what progressive’s do!

Peachs
Peachs

And none illegals!

honested
honested

@Peachs 

At least none we know about yet....

The National Embarrassment probably has his agents hard at work.....

Peachs
Peachs

We need to show our blue states successes, bury these the alternative facts with truth.

honested
honested

@Peachs 

Wow, envisions appropriate legislation to meet the needs of a modern Civilization.......what will the knuckle draggers do?

Peachs
Peachs

When majority is not treated like a step child of democracy great things happen and if they don’t we blame ourselves because now this is our country not a rural coup!

Andy158
Andy158

I'm anxious to ask JReb and Tiny how on earth this could have happened.


"Democrats won shocking victories in two special elections for Athens-area state House seats on Tuesday, winning the conservative-leaning seats in spite of well-funded opposition from Republicans.

Both districts were drawn specifically to elect Republicans, to the point where Democrats didn't even run candidates in 2012, 2014 or 2016, but Democrats viewed them as potential pickups because Donald Trump underperformed compared to typical GOP candidates."

rimsky
rimsky

@Andy158 Are you looking for some pissed of RWNJs today?  Go for it.

rimsky
rimsky

 Virginia voters elected Tuesday a Democratic Socialist to the House of Delegates, complicating Democrats’ arguments that its latest statewide victories are a sign that the party is uniting in opposition to President Donald Trump.

Voters in Manassas, Virginia, a Washington, D.C., suburb, elected Democrat Lee Carter over incumbent Republican Del. Jackson Miller, who was also House Majority Whip.

https://www.redstate.com/jon-street/2017/11/07/dem-socialist-wins-virginia-delegate-adding-party-division/

There you go Mr VC

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@rimsky

Leave it to Redstate to say this "complicates" things for Democrats.

No, it means that actual progressives have a voice and are gonna get shlt done.

Andy158
Andy158

Trump was all in for Gillespie but couldn't disown him fast enough after he became a loser.

“Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for,” Trump tweeted. “With the economy doing record numbers, we will continue to win, even bigger than before!”

rimsky
rimsky

Inside the Democratic party there is left wing (wasn't aware there is one) called Democratic Socialist....

An ex marine ran as a candidate in VA and would not send the Ds a report on the status of his progress during the campaign.  So the Ds cut off his funding.  He ran a campaign on his own but finally got some help from the DS.. Group from DC.

He beat the majority whip, a Republican, in yesterday's Virginia's election.

There is hope of the left wing party.

Andy158
Andy158

@rimsky The DNC is an unholy mess. From what I've seen so far Perez isn't the answer.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Andy158 @rimsky

I think we imagine the DNC does more than it actually does.

It's just there to gin up publicity and raise cash. It's up to the big dogs--the Senate and House members--to push through policy positions and messaging that the DNC can exploit.

I'll say it again--I think that so far, their "Better Deal" platform is an excellent start. 

https://www.democrats.senate.gov/abetterdeal

I'd like them to build from that.

Peachs
Peachs

I saw that, the difference in the Democrats and the Bannon movement is the Democrats aren’t destroying the party expanding it!