03.08.2016 01:00 AM

In this week’s Hill Times: the problem isn’t Trump, it’s his audience*

[* Can you guess where that line came from? – Ed.]

Donald Trump is irrelevant.

Yes, yes, of course: the racist, sexist, extremist reality TV billionaire is the biggest news story on the planet, presently bigger than ISIS and Justin Bieber combined. Yes. He is newsworthy because he says outrageous, offensive things, and because the media cannot bring themselves to ignore him. Also true.

He isn’t merely newsworthy, either. Donald Trump matters because he is, per Yeats, a rough beast now slouching his way towards the Oval Office. He is the presumptive Republican Party presidential nominee, in fact, and that means he is closer to the presidency than anyone ever dreamt he could be, even in their blackest, cold-sweat nightmare.

But he isn’t relevant.

Men like Donald Trump come and go, you see. Up here in Canada, we most recently had Rob Ford, who was chief magistrate in our largest and most diverse city. Ford, as was well-established, smoked crack cocaine, drove drunk, cavorted with gangsters, and said some of the most distasteful things one could imagine.

In the United States, meanwhile, they have much greater familiarity with the Trump-Ford genus. There, mendacious, malicious, mean-spirited populist types are virtually a dime a dozen. Southern segregationist George Wallace, red-baiting polemicist Joseph McCarthy, redistributionist demagogue Huey Long, and on and on. They come and they go. Sometimes they achieve real power, sometimes they don’t. But such men persist.

What matters isn’t these men, per se (because they are almost always men). What matters is their audience – the voters, the citizens, who licence them to wield power. Who make them historically significant.

Demographically, the Trump-Ford constituency is populated by overwhelmingly white, older men with little or no post-secondary education. To a one, they harbour deep resentments and fears about all that is around them. They are profoundly distrustful of institutions that wield power (governments, media), and they feel greatly intimidated by societal change (particularly cultural change, be it race or sexuality or gender).

These men, as we have lately seen, number many more than anyone thought. They are not what Richard M. Nixon termed “the silent majority” – they are not particularly silent, these days, and they do not thankfully constitute a majority – but they are an important constituency, because of two things.

One, they vote. Two, they are completely, totally impervious to factual information.

Donald Trump calls Mexicans rapists and killers? Demands a ban on Muslims? Mocks the disabled? Attacks the Pope? Makes foul, filthy remarks about women and African-Americans, Asians, POWs and Seventh-Day Adventists? He has done all those things, and more, and here is how his surging legions of supporters respond:

They shrug.

They don’t believe it, because Big Media is saying it about their guy, and they detest Big Media. Or they don’t care, because they mostly agree with him.

Why? Because, to them – and as we have heard so many times, in recent months, it is like an Internet meme – he says the things that no one else will. Because he gives voice to the prejudices that they nurture in their tiny black hearts.

To beat Donald Trump – and, rest assured, we need to, because he is currently winning – we need to dramatically change the focus. We need to stop over-reacting to every loathsome utterance he makes, because our over-reactions help him. We need, instead, to start focusing on changing the changing hearts (such as they are) and the minds (ditto) of the angry old white men who support Trump.

It can be done; it has to be done. I’ve overseen political war rooms for a generation. To stop a runaway populist train, you must research the candidate, to be sure. But you must also research – and intrinsically know – everything there is to know about the populist’s popular base. You need to know what they like, and what they don’t. You need to know something about Donald Trump about which they are unsure, or which they sort of don’t like. Something unhelpful thing they are overlooking, perhaps.

And then your war room – be it Republican or Democratic – needs to bombard Donald Trump with it. Overwhelm him with it. Put your foot on his throat, leaving him gasping for air, and don’t remove it until Election Day is long past.

What is that thing that has been overlooked? What is that thing that hurts him the most, and will lose him the support of those angry, older white men? His tax returns? His big bank connections? His myriad lies? His four bankruptcies? His lack of religion? His eponymous university? It is out there. It needs to be found, and it needs to be used, over and over and over.

With it, Donald Trump can be beaten. And that, of course, is very – very – relevant.

22 Comments

  1. harvey bushell says:

    His primary opponents did little to no oppo research on him probably because they didn’t think they needed to. They likely assumed he’d have peaked by now and faded so the time and money spent on doing the research would have been largely wasted because in the past most candidates seen as fringe did exactly that. I think they were also caught very much off guard by his increasingly aggressive, vulgar and bullying comments and behavior and were unable or unwilling to respond in kind & when they did just looked childish and desperate especially to their own followers who were/are still wishing for an old fashioned, old school nominee process with all viable candidates funded primarily by corporations, banks, lobbyists, wealthy insiders with an agenda, etc. Clearly too late for that.

    If he wins the nomination and he looks like he will barring some extreme intervention at the RNC convention you can bet that the Dem nominee, presumably Clinton, will not be caught off guard and has been preparing attacks now for months.

  2. Maps Onburt says:

    It’s not often you are that far wrong these days Warren but like when you advised Olivia Chow, you are way out in left field on this one. Trump Is drawing support from EVERY race (even former Mexicans), sex, class and education level because of ONE trait you have overlooked – he’s not a politician. People are sick of being lied to, of being taken for granted and of sending people to Washington only to become corrupt millionaires within one term. I don’t fall into that camp but I can see the attraction. The more you progressives (or Rhino’s) wail against Trump, the more popular he becomes precisely because he isn’t politically correct and loved by the MSM and the political establishment. Picking at his supporters just pisses them off more. That 42% will go way up when it becomes him and Hillary. People want radical change to the way things are being done. They (perhaps incorrectly) think Trump can’t be bought. I’m worried that even if he wants to, he won’t be able to get anything done because at the end of the day, a President that respects the constitution has to rely on Congress and there is no sign of that changing radically as well. If progressives want to defeat Trump, they won’t do it by pointing out how stupid his followers are (since when do you win people to your side by calling them stupid?) but by fixing the problem that is driving support to Trump in the first place. Corruption. Hillary is a perfect example of that.

    • The Doctor says:

      I agree that blaming the phenomenon “overwhelmingly” on older, uneducated white males is an overstatement. Per WK’s Ford comparison: take a look around Greater Toronto: is it demographically dominated by older, uneducated white males? If Ford had “overwhelmingly” relied on that demographic, he wouldn’t have been able to be elected Dog Catcher, never mind mayor.

  3. Cath says:

    Hi Warren – Good column. I have no comment on it, but, one line in this did catch my eye and imagination with regards to yesterday’s post of naming your next “not a blog”.

    You wrote “I’ve overseen political war rooms for a generation.” How about “Kinsella’s War Room for the Next Generation” or “WK’s Non-Com War Room for the Next Generation”. All the bells and whistles AND shows forward movement. “WKWR…Gen.Next”.

  4. Kelly says:

    Usual tactics wont work. Phase has been flipped on this one. Now everyone KNOWS the establishment elites (both left and right) are gunning for Trump and what tactics will be used so now Trump is going to be turned into an underdog and everyone cheers for an underdog. It’s twisted.

  5. Eric Weiss says:

    Pretty much sums it all up, although I would argue that his supporters are overwhelmingly male. Look at any of his rallies and there are plenty of women there. Some demographic studies of his supporters show more women than men.

    http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2015/09/09/who_are_trumps_supporters.html

    “they feel greatly intimidated by societal change” that is a key point. I was having a conversation with friends about the ramped up level of crazy in the republican primaries and among Trump supporters. What we’re seeing is the death rattle of the Republican Party. They’ve lost 5 of the last 6 elections. The social conservative agenda is is tatters. They see their country changing and they can’t handle it and their losing their collective minds. That’s why the slogan “Make America Great Again” works so well for Trump. He’s promising a return to the good old days where you could openly discriminate against gays, the minorities weren’t so uppity, women knew their place and there wasn’t a black man in the White House.

    Trump will win the nomination. And he will lose the election. And it will set the GOP back a decade.

  6. Eric Weiss says:

    Should have read ” I would challenge the arguement that his supporters are overwhelmingly male.”

  7. ABB says:

    You are not correct about the older white male constituency being Ford’s base of support.

    I attended 3 of the FordFest picnic events, one in Etobicoke and 2 at Thomson Park in Scarborough (purely as an observer, to witness the phenomenon). There were massive crowds of new Canadians, immigrant families, brown skin, black skin, Asian, Caribbean, etc. and yes some white families also, and elderly whites, but the diversity of his support base was very, very impressive. This was a huge revelation to me. I did expect a geriatric crowd of complainers (as at one of the former reform Party events in the mid-90s), but it was the total opposite.

    • The Doctor says:

      A related point: if Trump were “overwhelmingly” depending for his support on such a dead-end demographic as older, uneducated white males, logic dictates that it would be extremely unlikely that he would be racking up the number and margin of victories that he’s consistently racking up. And I’m not a fan of his BTW.

      • Eric Weiss says:

        It’s easy to win the GOP nom with the angry, uneducated, white vote. The actual election is another matter entirely.

        • The Doctor says:

          You know what’s easy? Blaming the despised “other” for all the world’s problems. It’s so much easier than thinking critically.

  8. R News says:

    I guess “overwhelmingly white, older men with little or no post-secondary education” who are “totally impervious to factual information” aren’t entitled to safe spaces to protect them from your nasty trigger-laden screed. Everyone else in the progressive world would be entitled to protection from such words. A double standard for “angry old white men”, I guess. Pick any of your other favourite groups and identify them as
    – overwhelmingly
    – little or no post-secondary education
    – impervious to facts
    – angry, old

    How would that go over with progressives?

    • R News says:

      (that was “overwhelmingly __insert colour__” until the HTML-garberator got it)

    • Eric Weiss says:

      Ah yes, let’s all lament the status of the poor down-trodden, North American, white male. (Yawn)

      That describes Trump’s supporters accurately, with the exception there are just as many angry, uneducated, factually challenged white women supporting him as men.

      • R News says:

        So as long as it’s “accurate” then it’s fair game and no safe spaces or trigger warnings need be given? Thanks Eric, got it. We’ll move forward using that set of rules for everyone. Appreciate your help in understanding how all this social justice stuff works.

        • Derek Pearce says:

          How disingenuous. I thought righties were practical and stout-hearted and against all that safe space trigger warning stuff? I guess the bleeding hearts are found among the old white men after all.

  9. Ron says:

    Funny how people will vote against their own interests. Well maybe not so funny.

    “It is governed by minorities, seldom or never by majorities. It suppresses its feelings and its beliefs and follows the handful that makes the most noise.
    Sometimes the noisy handful is right, sometimes wrong, but no matter, the crowd follows it.”

    ~ Mark Twain, on humanity (The Mysterious Stranger)

  10. Aongasha says:

    Meantime Trudeau runs down to Washington to let Obama and a worshipful media brush his hair. Remember when Liberal MPs used to scream how much they hated Americans in order to win votes? What hypocrites.

  11. Eastern Rebellion says:

    I think Yeat’s classic poem “The Second Coming” describes what is happening best…the best do seem to lack all conviction, and the worst are full of passionate intensity…

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