Trump has survived a summer-long media obsession and now a rival nominee, who every insider figured had a great shot at winning the show. In March, columnists rhetorically asked if Scott Walker was unstoppable. In June, they claimed none would be able to overtake him in the all-important state of Iowa; and come July they sang the same tune. August saw the same publications proudly carry point-and-stutter features about the apparently ludicrous things Donald Trump had ever said alongside Hunter S. Thompson imitation essays about spending a weekend in a Trump hotel, reading Trump books. By September, the chirping typists of Conservatism Inc. were heralding the apparently soon-to-be-victorious Ben Carson in a shockingly ill-advised attempt to find a more suitable outsider for the base to support.
And this all excludes the endless clucking of left-wing writers signalling to the world that they are virtuous by virtue of their hatred and distaste for the latest Republican candidate.
Despite a whole Indian Summer of hatred, dismissal, mockery, and inept maneuvering at the hands of the entire media and political establishment, Trump still sits pretty at the top of the polls, and has for months now. Everyone and their TV-handler said he would be the Michele Bachmann of 2016, but, as it turns out, Trump has a solid base that supports him and can comfortably Tweet condescending condolences to his rivals as they end their campaigns.
So what explains it? Who keeps Trump polling at 20 to 30 percent? The only way to survive the media blitz that Trump has endured is to have followers that will not quit. Not even money (which Trump, of course, has) can keep you alive these days. Hillary Clinton has money enough to beat the band, but just can’t keep up with those dedicated socialists who have been waiting for decades to have a candidate like Bernie Sanders come their way—nor can her money save her from the perpetual barrage of attacks from every wing of the “conservative” media empire.
Trump, much to the chagrin of our elites, has a devoted cadré in much the same way Senator Sanders does, and that is the key to his success. His unfaltering fans are what the late Sam Francis called “Middle American Radicals” (MARs) and, purposefully or not, Trump is speaking straight to them. MARs are the White, middle and lower class, mildly-educated citizens, who live by-and-large between the Appalachian and Rocky mountain ranges. These were the folks who fueled George Wallace in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Ronald Reagan in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot in the ‘90s, and the Tea Party in the age of Obama. As the timeline shows, MARs are not a “generation,” but an economic and cultural class of people who are not about to go away.
Of moderate economic means, they have always been supportive of parts of the welfare state, particularly Social Security and Medicare. However, they have a hostility for the parasitic, largely non-white underclass that takes in the benefits of welfare, food stamps, and the like, while being unhindered in their drug use, petty crime, and unique ability to degrade once decent schools and neighborhoods into unrecognizable Third World slums. In tandem with that comes a hostility for the wealthy, decadent, and rootless “Davos men” of the American upper class. Finding them to be an elite with values dissimilar and even at odds with theirs, and unimpressed with their worship of Mammon, MARs generally favor progressive taxation, worker’s unions, and trade restrictions like tariffs.
They are the middle class Americans of Middle America who perceive that they are being cheated out of their rightful economic comfort and cultural heritage by an unholy alliance of a greedy and immoral upper class, and a greedy and immoral lumpen class. And I trust, dear reader, that you can put together why the MARs of today back Trump. For a lengthier treatment on the MARs, I cannot recommend strongly enough the work of the late Sam Francis, particularly his collection of essays Middle American Radicals, but also Beautiful Losers and Shots Fired. For a more analytic look into the MARs support for Donald Trump, the mainstream National Journal actually has a recent, and brilliant, essay on the matter.
And it is that essay that presents us all with the elephant in the room. The author, John Judis, asks:
But can he [Trump] succeed where Wallace, Perot, and Buchanan fell short? Can a MARS candidate actually win the White House? One hesitates at this point to offer any predictions, but my suspicion is that Trump will fail like the others. There is, of course, his volatile persona, which seems likely to cause self-inflicted wounds (just as Perot’s did in 1992). But the bigger limiting factor for Trump is that there are only a certain number of MARS in the country: They constitute maybe 20 percent of the overall electorate and 30 to 35 percent of Republicans. That was enough to allow Trump to lead a crowded GOP field. But as the field narrows, he will have difficulty maintaining his lead unless he can expand his appeal beyond the MARS. And it will be hard to do that without threatening his base of support.
While I wish I had a comforting response to that, I do not. While Ronald Reagan did pull off a surprise win in 1980, he was a far weaker defender of MAR interests than the other three who never carried the day, and as we all now know, the share of the white vote that Reagan carried won’t cut it these days. As Judis succinctly outlines, MARs have enough power for an extended, anti-establishment run—dare I say, enough energy for a long-standing troll? But that’s about it.
So the question becomes: how to move past MARs? I say this as someone who holds MARs in high esteem. But the MARs are not now, nor have they ever been, enough of a social base to take political power or even meaningfully change the loathsome anti-culture we all stew in. The fantasy of a MAR coup d’état has been in circulation for decades now, but high hopes are invariably dashed along with wasted resources. The hope that George Wallace or Ross Perot would keep both mainstream candidates from having enough electoral votes to win, forcing Democrat and Republican alike to negotiate, never happened. Pat Buchanan’s 2000 third-party bid for president garnered him with less than one half of one percent of the vote. Even the arguable MAR victories, Ronald Reagan and the Tea Party, failed to make a meaningful change in the way things are.
Sam Francis, who was more-or-less the Marx of MARs—their champion, their theorizer, their commentator—never managed to find a Lenin that could put together a vanguard on behalf of his chosen class. While many consider that quest, finding a Lenin, to be the order of the day, I am of a different mind. More than tiny bands of revolutionaries who manage to seize the helms of a nation, and more than single classes banging their heads against an electoral wall until victory comes, the world we inhabit seems most often changed when classes forge alliances with each other.
The coming together of business interests and the forces behind the New Left are what brought us to our current curious epoch of corporate egalitarianism. The alliances of labor unions and poor agriculturalists led to massive power seizures for both across the Midwest and West in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. After WWII, what we today recognize as Conservatism, Inc. won election after presidential election by bringing together businessmen, faithful Christians, and anti-Communists. A list of examples could go on and on.
Without an ally, MARs are just a dispossessed band of folks attending Donald Trump rallies.
But where should they look? To those Urban Elves we love to mock? The new class rising from the tech world?