Does Trump Capitalize on Anger, Frustration and Fear?

Donald Trump (Photo credit: Michael Vadon)

Donald Trump (Photo credit: Michael Vadon)

“I do believe that the country is inexorably changing [demographically]… [and] when you combine that demographic change with all the economic stresses that people have been going through — because of the financial crisis, because of technology, because of globalization, the fact that wages and incomes have been flat-lining for some time, and that particularly blue-collar men have had a lot of trouble in this new economy, where they are no longer getting the same bargain that they got when they were going to a factory and able to support their families on a single paycheck — you combine those things, and it means that there is going to be potential anger, frustration, fear.”

That was President Barack Obama in a candid interview with NPR published Dec. 21, pointing to demographic and economic changes in the U.S., alluding to waves of illegal immigration and globalization, that are making it extremely difficult for non-college educated males in particular to get by in this economy to support their families.

Of the outrage, Obama added, “Some of it justified, but just misdirected. I think somebody like Mr. Trump is taking advantage of that. That’s what he’s exploiting during the course of his campaign.”

Here, Obama is referring to Trump’s blue-collar, working class themes that simultaneously key up a Pat Buchanan tough approach against illegal immigration, and Ross Perot hard stance against bad trade deals that as a matter of design favor so-called developing economies overseas — called special and differential treatment — and hamper U.S. growth and the incentive to do business here.

Among voters with no college at all, Trump crushes the rest of the Republican field, taking about almost 33 percent of the vote, SurveyMonkey reports. His closest rival in that category is Ben Carson at 17 percent.

In other words, with the illegal immigration issue front and center thanks to Trump, plus imminent consideration by Congress of the global Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal with Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam, it is 1992 all over again.

So, here, Obama is highlighting a grave danger to the traditional Democrat coalition that has always included blue-collar Americans — speaking to an angst that has been percolating for decades, a sense of disenfranchisement by what Richard Nixon used to call the silent majority.

In that sense, Trump’s appeal as a candidate, if you’re a Republican, is to eat a significant percent of the Democrat coalition — and potentially bring millions more previously disaffected voters to the polls.

Consider what happened in 1992 with Perot on the ballot. Voter turnout exploded by nearly 13 million to 104.4 million, a 12.27 percent increase from 1988. All that while the growth of the voting age population was slowing down — it had only increased 6.7 million that cycle. In addition to Perot’s 19.7 million votes, Democrats increased their 1988 vote total by 3.1 million to 44.9 million, while Republicans lost 9.7 million supporters down to 39.1 million.

Meaning, Perot’s presence in the race may have brought as many as 5 to 10 million voters to the polls who would have stayed home if he were not in the race. He expanded the universe of potential voter universe with the direct economic populist appeal.

Throw in fresh concerns over terrorism and immigration thanks to Paris and San Bernardino, and what you have might be an electoral powder keg ready to explode, more than 20 years in the making.

Is Trump exploiting these voters with his populist appeal? Or representing them? As a side note, even symbolically, why do you think he wears that red ball cap?

In 1992 the Perot campaign was controversial because it seemingly split the Republican vote. But lump the two constituencies together — as Nixon and Reagan successfully did in 1972, 1980, and 1984 — and the potential of another slaughter of Democrats at the polls emerges. That is actually the model that has produced the most success for Republicans in the past half century. Once again, Trump is onto something.

But it only works with blue-collar voters on the table, whom the Democrat President Obama is now denigrating as angry, frustrated and fearful. Does that elitist attitude, combined with support for unlimited immigration, open borders and global trade deals that are bad for American workers, backfire on Democrats in 2016? That is what Trump is betting on.

Perhaps that is what simultaneously scares Democrats like Obama and even the Republican establishment that cannot seem to beat Trump at his own game. That Trump’s potent campaign strategy might actually work, and that should he win, they won’t be able to control him.

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