The new Politico Caucus survey of insiders from Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina is in. The “politicos” on the ground in those states all agree. Donald Trump has a real and significant chance to become the Republican nominee.
I participated in that survey, and I put his chance at 30%. When I share this view with establishment Republicans and some DC insiders, the expressions range from anger to disbelief to a kind but piteous look that suggests that perhaps the men in the white coats should come and take me away to a safe and comfortable place where I would be at no risk of causing harm to society or to my person.
I bet a lot of democrats who had the guts to say, early in 2008, “you know Obama just might win” got that same look too. That’s because it is increasingly obvious that Obama and Trump have something in common. On the road to the White House, both looked up one day and found that they were not just running campaigns, they were leading causes.
Make no mistake, Trump is running a campaign and it is a strong one, better in many ways than the more traditional campaigns of his opponents. Trump has built a sizeable and deep campaign infrastructure in the early primary states. These organizations are led not by cranky volunteer types who just stick up yard signs and stir the pot, but seasoned political veterans (such as Ed McMullen and Jim Merrill in South Carolina) who know how to win elections.
All of the elements of a great campaign are present. Trump has a brand. He has iconography in the form of the ubiquitous red hat. A Reaganesque slogan in “Make America Great Again.” A battle cry in a song, “We’re Not Gonna Take it Anymore.” And, if he elects to reach under the mattress at Trump Tower, he has more than enough resources to keep the music playing as long as it takes. I can explain Trump’s campaign in 15 seconds. I’m not sure I can explain any of the others in 15 minutes.
It is working because Trump has a base. Secular, more moderate, working class voters who believe they are being left behind by the globalization of both our economy and our culture. These people form the basis of the cause.
Sure, they’ve been around ever since economic globalization has been an issue. They were Reagan Democrats, or Perot voters, or Pat Buchanan supporters. But changes in our economy and culture have been occurring at a lightning pace these last four years, and these voters fear that America is in danger of irreversibly becoming not only something they do not recognize, but a place in which they no longer belong.
These folks are not hard to find. During the week, they work shifts on the factory floor to support their families. They cheer their kids on Friday night at the High School football game. On Saturday they line Main street for the Veteran’s Day parade or attend local festivals and events. On Sunday morning they may be in church, but you might just as easily find them up in a tree stand, down in a duck blind or out in a bass boat. So when Trump comes to South Carolina and mentions trade, immigration, support for our vets, gun rights and Clemson football, people shouldn’t be stunned when an auditorium of thousands of people roar with approval.
Not long ago, these people were celebrated as the backbone of America. But today, they get the impression they are a malignant tumor that a wealthy, educated class of new American elites would excise and discard. They are not just disrespected, but in some circles mocked, “flyover” people whose values and way of life are not only irrelevant, but distasteful.
The irony that a chauffeur driven New York billionaire has given voice to their concerns is not lost. But Trump has spoken of their concerns with more clarity and strength than any voice they’ve heard echo their thoughts since Reagan.
In politics, causes beat campaigns. Causes prompt sold out venues, more volunteers than you can assign tasks, and political outcomes that defy traditional measurement and conventional wisdom.
Trump, perhaps unwittingly, finds himself the leader of that cause. If he can stay in front of the pack, and grow his vote, that cause may carry him to a heretofore unthinkable victory.