Sixth in a series
I. The Three Big Splits in U.S. History
It’s axiomatic that your side does better when it’s united than when it’s divided. So, as we think about the 2016 presidential election, if we want Trump Republicans — or, as Newt Gingrich calls them, Trump Americans — to win, we must be sure to unite.
And here, I’m not talking about uniting with the #NeverTrump dead-enders, because, frankly, they are too few in number to really worry about. Instead, I’m talking about healing the ancient split between religions and regions, as well as the occupational split that has cleaved the working/middle class. If Trump can fully heal those three splits — those lingering wounds to the body politic — he will not only win in November but win big. And then, he’ll have a strong governing coalition behind him.
Yes, unity is the key. There’s a lot of truth in that old radical slogan, “The people united will never be defeated.” The challenge, of course, is to unite people around the “right” things, such as center-right nationalism, as opposed to dopey socialism, of the kind, for instance, that we are seeing today in Venezuela, where socialists have won many elections but also have taken a once-rich country off a cliff.
Here in America, we can observe that conservatives such as Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan succeeded in unifying the center-right — and, of course, they won landslide elections. Yet no coalition, no matter how successful, lasts automatically: In the early 90s, the Eisenhower-Reagan center-right coalition fell apart, at least at the presidential level, and it has never been restored. We’ll come back to that in a bit.
So now let’s drill down on the larger phenomenon — the splits. As noted, there have been three: theological, geographical, and occupational. Let’s look at each split in turn:
The theological divide:
Predominantly, that has meant Catholic vs. Protestant. It’s only natural that the religious hostilities going back to the European Reformation would have their echo here in America. Fortunately, religious rivalries here in the New World were never mass-murderous, as they were in the Old World. Yet nonetheless, the hostility was intense; issues such as prohibition and aid to parochial schools were hot-buttons up until the mid-20th century. In the 1928 presidential election, for example, New Yorker Al Smith, the Democratic party’s first Catholic nominee, lost normally Democratic states, mostly in the South, because of his religion; he was defeated in a landslide.
Then, in 1960, the Democrats’ second Catholic nominee, John F. Kennedy, survived anti-Catholic prejudice and won the White House. After that, the religious dividing line has mostly disappeared.
The geographical divide:
The geographical divide refers to North vs. South. The Civil War ended in 1865, and yet the political split lasted a lot longer; “vote as you shot” was a powerful message for both sides. So for a century or more after Appomattox, white working-class Protestants in the North were mostly Republican, while white working-class Protestants in the South were almost exclusively Democrats; the reason is that the experience of losing the war drilled Democratic loyalty deeper into the South, whereas, by contrast, victory made Republicans in the North a tad complacent.
To illustrate the power of this partisan geographical divide, we might think of the great state of Georgia. Surely, the Peach State has always been as pro-military and patriotic as any, and yet, in the 1952 and 1956 presidential elections, it rejected, by 2:1 margins, the candidacy of the great war hero Dwight Eisenhower, voting instead for the wussy liberal Adlai Stevenson. Why? Because Eisenhower was a Republican and Stevenson was a Democrat, and memories of Gen. Sherman’s burning of Atlanta still smoldered in the Dixie mind. As Southern Democrats liked to say, “Better to vote for a yellow dog than a Republican.”
Yet as Ike was losing the votes of farmers and mill-workers in Georgia, he was winning the votes of farmers and auto-workers in Michigan; the North-South split worked both ways.
To be sure, Eisenhower won those two presidential elections in the 50s anyway, even without Georgia. Yet undeniably, the Blue-Gray split hurt the GOP. In those days, Georgia sent only Democrats to Congress, where they often opposed Eisenhower, more out of partisanship than ideology.
Interestingly, these partisan loyalties, strong as they once were, have mostly flipped in the last few decades. Today, the South is almost as monolithically Republican as it was once monolithically Democratic. Meanwhile, the Democrats have been doing much better in the North. And so the parties have been mostly evenly matched: In the 14 presidential elections since the Eisenhower era, 1960-2012, the two parties have tied, seven victories each. Indeed, in the post-Eisenhower/Reagan decades, the Democrats have had the edge; the donkey party has won four of the last six presidential elections and five out of six in the popular vote.
So clearly, Republicans have a new base in the South and now need to do better in the North. Yes, we have Georgia, but we no longer have Michigan. As we have seen, Ike carried the Wolverine State in ’52 and ’56, and also Reagan carried it in ’80 and ’84. Even George H.W. Bush carried it in 1988, although not in 1992. Indeed, Michigan has gone Democratic in the last six elections. And Michigan is a bigger state than Georgia — so, advantage: Democrats.
The occupational divide:
This split is occupational, to be sure, and yet it also has a psychological and philosophical component. And it can be summed up this way: workers vs. soldiers.
As with the theological and geographical splits, this one goes way back, although not quite as far. A key inflection point came in 1932, when American soldiers violently crushed protesting American workers.
In that year, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who had been awarded six Silver Star medals for combat bravery in World War One, followed President Hoover’s orders and dispersed the “Bonus Army” — that is, the tens of thousands of Americans, most of them veterans, who had marched on the U.S. Capitol, seeking relief from the Depression. The Bonus Army marchers wanted their earned veterans’ bonuses early so that they could eat. Yet Hoover, hard-heart that he was, would have none of that sort of compassion, no matter how justified. MacArthur’s military-style operation against the Bonus Army left two Bonus men dead and more than a thousand injured. As one chronicler put it:
Few images from the Great Depression are more indelible than the rout of the Bonus Marchers. At the time, the sight of the federal government turning on its own citizens — veterans, no less — raised doubts about the fate of the republic. It still has the power to shock decades later.
In MacArthur’s defense, he was following orders, and he sincerely thought that the Bonus Marchers were being led by communists. No doubt there were some communists among the Bonus Marchers — although most were simply ordinary, albeit desperate, workers.
The following year, a Hollywood movie summed up the dynamic in a Joan Blondell song, “Remember My Forgotten Man”:
Remember my forgotten man;
You put a rifle in his hand;
You sent him far away;
You shouted: “Hip-hooray!”
But look at him today.
Yes, MacArthur vs. the Bonus Army was one of those historical hinges; its political impact swung both ways. On one side was MacArthur, and the forces of order; on the other side were honest workers in need of work, exercising their First Amendment right to petition for grievances.
To the voters of that era, of course, it was no contest: In November 1932, Hoover lost to Franklin D. Roosevelt in a landslide.
Yet the military never lost its basic popularity with the people. MacArthur, labeled as a “fascist” by some, was still popular. And, of course, he went on to serve with distinction in World War Two; FDR even awarded him the Medal of Honor.
Indeed, we can observe that Roosevelt — like Eisenhower and Reagan in later decades — had a knack for uniting workers and soldiers in the same political coalition. In the wartime 1944 presidential election, FDR had the enthusiastic support of both the AFL and the CIO, but it’s also estimated that he won 75 percent of the GI vote.
Meanwhile, after the war was won, MacArthur emerged as a bulwark of the Republican Party; he even sought the 1952 Republican presidential nomination.
Thus we see the split, workers and soldiers: sometimes papered over, other times starkly visible. In some ways, this split can be seen as perhaps the most painful, because, as we know, workers and the soldiers are mostly drawn from the same social strata — so it can be brother against brother.
We’ve all seen it at the workplace, be it factory or office: two working stiffs, each with same basic values — and yet one is a Republican, and one is a Democrat. Why? Quite possibly, the Republican is a hawk, and the Democrat is a dove. Or maybe — less likely but possibly — the Republican is a Rand Paul-type dove, and the Democrat is a Joe Lieberman-type hawk. Either way, we can surmise that one supported the Iraq war and the other did not.
The persistence of this soldier-worker split became both apparent, and poignant, in Ohio senate election of 2012. Incumbent Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown, having built a reputation as a stalwart champion of workers, was challenged for his seat by state treasurer Josh Mandel, an Army veteran of two tours in Iraq. Brown was the dove, and Mandel the hawk; Brown successfully painted Mandel as anti-worker, and so Mandel, hero that he was, lost the election.
II. Trump’s Challenge: Healing the Splits
Today, Trump has momentum, but he still faces challenges: The RealClearPolitics presidential polling average, for example, shows Clinton ahead by one point, 43.8 percent to 42.8 percent. That’s not a particularly impressive lead for Clinton; notably, she is well below 50. Still, a lead is a lead — and she’ll take it.
So Trump has work to do. And so we might think about those three historic splits.
As we have seen, the old Catholic-Protestant split is healed; today, the split over religion is more likely to be between the churched and the non-churched.
And then there’s the North-South divide. That has diminished, too, as Civil War memories have faded.
Yet still, the occupational split remains fluid, because of the Bernie Sanders X-factor. Yes, the self-proclaimed “democratic socialist” has won support of many in the working class — workers and soldiers both. And so where will Bernistas go if their man doesn’t get the nomination in Philadelphia in late July? How will they vote in November?
Some indicators are quite encouraging: On May 5, writing in the liberal-leaning Slate, journalist Seth Stevenson reported on the Indiana Democratic primary: “Roughly 90 percent of the Bernie supporters I spoke to vowed they’d never vote for Hillary. Not even against Trump.”
Nearly a month later, feelings are still running strong. On May 28, The New York Times headlined a story, “Die-Hard Bernie Sanders Backers See F.B.I. as Answer to Their Prayers.” That is, Sanders supporters hope that the FBI’s “e-mail-gate” investigation will derail Clinton’s campaign. The Times quoted one ardent Sanders supporter, Julie Crowell, of Tustin, CA, as saying of Clinton:
She should be removed. I don’t know why she’s not already being told, “You can’t run because you’re being investigated.” I don’t know how that’s not a thing.
Indeed, that same Times story found a number of Sanders supporters who preferred Trump to Clinton, even if it wasn’t 90 percent of them. Still, substantial defections, from left to right, are possible. Indeed, academic author Josh Zeitz caused a tremor in the DC Establishment with his recent piece in Politico, “Why Bernie’s Bros Might Go for Trump: Anti-establishment liberals abandoned their party in 1968, and again in 1980. Why not 2016?”
As Zeitz recalled, the Democratic primary splits of 1968 (Eugene McCarthy vs. Hubert Humphrey) and 1980 (Teddy Kennedy vs. Jimmy Carter) never healed, and so the Democrats lost both of those presidential elections. In 1980, for example, 27 percent of Kennedy’s Democratic primary supporters abandoned Carter in the general and cast their votes for Reagan.
Zeitz then asks:
What if 20 percent of Sanders voters in key states defect to Trump, as they did in previous years? Could it be enough to swing an election? The historical lesson for Hillary Clinton is clear: Watch the left flank, because it could very well swing to the right.
In view of this obvious softness in Hillary’s working-class flank, it has been exciting to see Trump wooing workers. A May 26 headline in Breitbart News: “Presumptive GOP Nominee Donald Trump: Republican Party Now ‘A Worker’s Party.’” As Trump said, “Five, ten years from now — different party. You’re going to have a worker’s party.” Yes, a worker’s party, which is to say, real power. And from the way Trump sounds, it will come about sooner than five or ten years.
No, this is not good news for Hillary. Yet it must also be said that the situation is fluid. The full complexity can be seen in a May 30 New York Times article on the blue-collar town of Portage, Indiana. The headline captures it: “A Town at the Intersection of Trump and Sanders.” The Times quotes both working-class Trump supporters and working-class Sanders supporters giving full throttle to their divergent views. So will Trump inherit some of these Sanders voters? And if so, how many? The “conversion rate,” Sanders to Trump, could be the decisive metric of Campaign 2016.
The same story quotes this Hoosier, who seems to lean Trump:
“I certainly don’t agree with everything Trump says, but I do like, ‘Our country should be first,” said Steve Letic, 39, a self-described conservative. “We need to take care of our veterans, our disabled, our kids.” Mr. Letic, a former steelworker, is a director at the Portage Boys and Girls Club.
So we can note two things here: First, Letic is a conservative, but not a libertarian. As he says, “We need to take care of our veterans, our disabled, our kids.” That’s not the language of, say, the Cato Institute, the Koch Brothers — or Mitt Romney. Which is to say, we can see how it might be possible that the Republicans could lose his vote. Of course, Trump is not Cato, nor Koch, nor Romney; he has gone out of his way to advance a holistic “One Nation” conservative message, including, for example, a staunch defense of Social Security and Medicare — and fierce criticism of an incompetent VA. So if Trump doesn’t muddle that message, he should have Letic’s vote and the Letic Vote overall.
Moreover, Trump helped himself enormously on Sunday, when he spoke to the Rolling Thunder rally in Washington DC. The bikers, of course, are a fusion of soldiers and workers.
So does that mean Trump wins? After all, if the three historic splits — theological, geographical, and occupational — have either been healed or are being healed, and the Republicans are gaining an edge in each, then Trump should be in the clear, right?
Well, not quite.
III. The New Divide: Workers & Soldiers vs. the Professor-Paperpusher-Pauper-Techster-Hedgefunder Alliance
Yes, Trump is well on his way to uniting workers and soldiers: He is pro-worker on trade and earned entitlements, and he is pro-soldier on defense spending and VA reform. Thus, a split that goes back to 1932 is finally being healed.
Yet strong as it is, the worker-soldier alliance doesn’t guarantee victory. Why? Because the Democrats have created a new alliance, a five-way deal, which we can call the professor-paperpusher-pauper-techster-hedgefunder alliance. Let’s look at each of these components in turn:
In 2012, the leading source of campaign contributions to Barack Obama’s re-election campaign were the employees of the University of California. And fifth on that list was Harvard University, eighth was Stanford University, and ninth was Columbia University. Also in the top 20 were employees of New York University, as well as of the Universities of Chicago and Michigan. In fact, a whopping 96 percent of Ivy League donations went to Obama. To be sure, professors aren’t that numerous, but the proliferation of academic bureaucracy makes university employees, in toto, a significant force. And of course, those schools have inordinate influence, not only on their students but also on their surrounding communities. And oh yes, professors have good reach into the MSM.
Also in 2012, the employees of the Department of State ranked sixth in their donations to Obama, and employees of the Department of Justice ranked 13th. And campaign donations, to be sure, don’t cover the half of the potential electoral influence of the bureaucrats; Lois Lerner of the IRS, for example, was worth her weight in gold to the Democrats.
In history, “pauper” refers to dependence as much as to poverty. And so today, even though “the poor” aren’t particularly poor in terms of assets — as the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector notes, those on welfare still enjoy cable TV, air-conditioning, cell phones, etc. — they are still poor in terms of employment, and thus they are paupers, wards of the state. And yes, money or not, they are undeniably “rich” in the sort of social chaos that breeds an identifiable political backlash among folks with jobs. Yet even so, paupers are numerous enough so as to be a force to be reckoned with, since they can vote — sometimes, quite often. In addition, Democrats such as Gov. Terry McAuliffe, hardcore Friend of Hillary, are working hard to make sure that even more of them can legally vote.
The support that Democrats receive from Silicon Valley and Seattle is so well known that we needn’t say anything about it, except to observe that, counter-intuitive as it may be for entrepreneurs to support Hillary, they are, in fact, as Joel Kotkin points out, getting their money’s worth from the Democrats on green subsidies.
As with Silicon Valley techsters, it might seem hard to believe that investors would support Hillary and the Democrats, but in fact, Hillary & Co. have been good to at least some of them — those who, for example, were bailed out in 2008. And plenty of other financial fatcats are, well, just plain liberals. Perhaps they have so much money that they can afford to indulge their non-financial predilections, such as gay and green.
Okay, even taken all together, this quintet is a motley crew. And in fact, truth to tell, two emblematic members of the alliance, George Soros and Al Sharpton, don’t have a whole lot in common — except, of course, that they both love the Democrats. Yet in an America with more rich people, more poor people, and a shrinking middle class, maybe, just maybe, this high-low coalition will be strong enough to get Hillary across the finish line.
So to win, Trump will have to hit on all cylinders. Confronted with the professor-paperpusher-pauper-techster-hedgefunder alliance, he will need more than just most workers and most soldiers — he will need darn near all of them.
So can Trump do it? We’ll have to see.
Of course, along the way, Trump will have to unite Republicans. And here we can note that the signs are good: The few dead-enders aside, Trump’s pledge on judicial appointments, his pro-growth speech on energy, and his denunciation of California greens should do the trick and sew up the GOP.
Yet if he wants to win the White House this November, Trump will have to push his percentages among blue collars — including independents and Democrats — into the stratosphere. So he will have to click on all their issues, including jobs, trade, and growth. Yes, it helps to point out that under the reign of Trump’s favorite president Ronald Reagan, real GDP growth averaged 3.6 percent, while under Obama, it’s been just 1.5 percent. And so sure, sure, it helps that Trump is pulling the Reagan economic team back together; such Reagan veterans as Larry Kudlow, Art Laffer, and Steve Moore add true Reaganaut luster to the Trump campaign.
Moreover, one would think that a Democratic message that boils down to open borders, leniency on crime, and dogged green Malthusianism wouldn’t have much appeal to working people of any kind — in or out of uniform. And no, in fact, it doesn’t have much appeal among normal people.
Yet the Democrats still have that persistent presidential advantage; as we have seen, they have won five of the last six popular votes, so that oddball five-part coalition seems to be working for them.
So yeah, Trump will need just about every last worker and every last soldier — and that will be a challenge. But if he can get them, he will win.
And he will be a force to be reckoned with.
Part One of this series.
Part Two of this series.
Part Three of this series.
Part Four of this series.
Part Five of this series.