Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Identity over Ideology?

Sarah Palin has endorsed Donald Trump for President. She was popular with Tea Party Republican voters (she was the keynote speaker at the first Tea Party convention in 2010) and the word is she might well help Trump in his battle with Ted Cruz in Iowa.

It's a matter of identity says David Frum in The Atlantic. Trump and Palin appeal to aggrieved white Republican voters of Iowa because they identify with their stories as outsiders; they don't support them because of their conservative ideologies. That's why it doesn't matter that Trump and Palin have weak and inconsistent (or incoherent?) conservative ideologies.

Trump, Palin, and disaffected white Republican voters feel betrayed by the established order. Is this right? I doubt Trump the supreme manipulator of the established order feels betrayed by it.... but he does talk like it: "the system is broken and immigrants are making things worse; vote for me, I'll make America Great again." This is not an ideology; it's tapping into know nothing disaffection.

Other voters are more motivated by ideology, says Frum. Cruz, the Princeton debate champion and Harvard lawyer, is a movement Republican. He is endorsed by many of the prophets of movement conservatism: Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, James Dobson, Brent Bozell and Ginni Thomas among many other conservative luminaries who have endorsed Cruz over Trump. Cruz, unlike Trump, is an ideologue who wants to shrink government, is hostile to welfare programs, wants to implement lower taxes, reduce progressive taxation, reduce regulations, restrict abortion, and build the military.

Trump and Palin just want to raise hell.

Here's Frum:
Since Donald Trump entered the race, one opponent after another has attacked him as not a real conservative. They’ve been right, too! And the same could have been said about Sarah Palin in 2008. Palin knew little and cared less about most of the issues that excited conservative activists and media. .... What defined her was an identity as a “real American”—and her conviction that she was slighted and insulted and persecuted because of this identity..... 
That’s exactly the same feeling to which Donald Trump speaks, and which has buoyed his campaign. When he’s president, he tells voters, department stores will say “Merry Christmas” again in their advertisements. Probably most of his listeners would know, if they considered it, that the president of the United States does not determine the ad copy for Walmart and Nordstrom’s. They still appreciate the thought: He’s one of us—and he’s standing up for us against all of them—at a time when we feel weak and poor and beleaguered....
In the contrast between Cruz’s support and Trump’s, one sees something truly new and disrupting—a battle between those for whom conservatism is an ideology, and those for whom conservatism is an identity.
Back in the day when Kevin Phillips was a political operative (he devised Nixon's Southern strategy), says Gary Wills in the NYRB, "he said all politics comes down to who hates whom." Palin and Trump are extremely skilled at exploiting disaffections among a segment of Republican voters.

Last week I met a Trump voter while skiing in Aspen. This was an affluent successful business man, in his seventies and retired. He does not follow politics. He is what we would consider a low information voter. But he hates Hillary. He hates Bernie. "Hate" may be too strong a word because he is not a hateful person. In fact he listens and is reasonably open to discussion. But the hateful talk we hear from Trump and Palin resonates with him.

It's identity over ideology says Frum.

To the extent this makes sense I would think this holds true on the Democratic side as well. How many voters have a meaningful grasp of the policy differences between Clinton, Sanders, and O'Malley. How much does support for a given candidate break down along the lines of who identifies with their stories, their looks, their demeanor... because they remind us of our parents? A mentor? Our fantasies?

Beats me.


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