Friday, December 07, 2018

Political Realignment in the 2018 Elections? The Declining Appeal of Trump's Authoritarian Populism, The Resurgence of Liberal Enlightenment

The 1st Congressional District of South Carolina, based in Charleston, has been held by Republicans since 1981.  Since 2013, it has been held by Mark Sanford.  But when he ran for reelection this year, he was defeated in the Republican primary by Katie Arrington, who had been endorsed by Donald Trump, who wanted to punish Sanford for criticizing him.  Trump bragged that this showed how any Republican who was not loyal to him would be defeated.  Arrington's campaign was based mostly on her being pro-Trump.  But she lost to Democrat Joe Cunningham.

Orange County in California has been known ever since the Reagan years as a conservative bastion for the Republican party.  Now, as a result of the 2018 elections, all of the congressional seats based in Orange County will be held by Democrats.

Across the country, as of now, the Democrats have gained 40 seats in the House of Representatives, which gives them control of the House.

Trump's supporters have tried to explain this as just the normal pattern in which the President's party loses seats in midterm elections.  But this ignores the fact that this is the biggest gain for the Democrats in a midterm election since they gained 48 seats in 1974, in the aftermath of Watergate and Nixon's resignation.  It also ignores the fact that the Democrats would have gained over 50 seats without Republican gerrymandering in states like Ohio and North Carolina.

What's going on here?  In the months leading up to the elections, Trump chose to push trade wars and anti-immigration as his signature issues that would mobilize his base to vote for Trump Republicans.  He sent military troops to the southern border to stop the "invasion" of America by a caravan of criminal and terrorist immigrants from Central America.  Consequently, Trump turned these elections into a referendum on his xenophobic authoritarian populism.  The defeat of so many Trump Republicans must be seen, therefore, as evidence that Trump's illiberal populism is not really that popular, and that we could be seeing the beginning of a political realignment in which Trump's Republican Party will be destroyed.

Consider, for example, the race for the 39th Congressional District in Orange County.  This was the second most expensive House race in the country, with $34.6 million in total campaign spending.  Gil Cisneros, a Hispanic American, defeated Young Kim, a Korean immigrant.  The 39th is one of the nation's most diverse congressional districts, where two-thirds of all residents are minorities, and one-fourth of the registered voters are foreign-born.  Repeatedly, Cisneros told foreign-born residents: "The Republican agenda is anti-immigration."  Kim was forced to try to separate herself from Trump's xenophobic rhetoric, but she failed.

Consider, also, the race for the 48th Congressional District in Orange County.  In one of the most solidly Republican districts in the country, Democrat Harley Rouda defeated Dana Rohrabacher, who has held this House seat for 30 years.  Rohrabacher campaigned as a staunch Trumpist with a hard-line anti-illegal immigration platform.  He accused Rouda of favoring open borders that would allow illegal immigrants to threaten the physical and economic security of Americans in Orange County.  This Trumpist rhetoric failed to sway the majority of the voters.

Pennsylvania is another dramatic case of anti-Trump voting.  Trump won Pennsylvania in 2016, the first time the Republican presidential nominee has won Pennsylvania since 1988.  But he won by less than 1% of the votes.  In the midterm elections, the Democrats flipped congressional seats long held by Republicans, because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had overturned the gerrymandered congressional map.  Moreover, the Republican losses were massive in scale.  GOP Rep. Lou Barletta tied himself closely to Trump in the Senate race, and yet Barletta lost by nearly 700,000 votes.  In the governor's race, it was even worse.  Republican Scott Wagner lost by more than 800,000 votes.  Trump cannot win reelection if he cannot carry Pennsylvania.

If Trump's Republicans cannot win in places like Charleston, South Carolina, Orange County, California, and Pennsylvania, they're in real trouble.  The only way the Republicans can save their party is to support the impeachment of Trump.

As I have indicated in some previous posts (herehere, and here), the electoral support for illiberal populists like Trump must decline over time, because of the enduring appeal of the libertarian values of the Liberal Enlightenment.  Trump supporters have been motivated by a cultural backlash: less educated older white rural voters cannot accept the Liberal Enlightenment humanism of the urban ethnically pluralist society favored by younger educated voters, but this cultural backlash can never win over a solid majority of the electorate.  The failure of Trump's rhetoric of trade wars and anti-immigration xenophobia in the 2018 elections illustrates this: most Americans believe that the global freedom of movement of goods and people across borders is generally beneficial for most of us, and they do not believe that the greatness of America depends on white ethnic nationalism.

The improvement in the human condition that has come from liberal open societies over the past 100 years is so evident that even those who think they are illiberal conservatives in the tradition of the Counter-Enlightenment are not really that illiberal.  I have argued that point with respect not only to American critics of liberalism like Patrick Deneen and Rod Dreher, but also French critics of liberalism like Marion Marechal-Le Pen.  If you look carefully at what they are saying, they all turn out to be liberal conservatives who reject the illiberal conservatism of those like Joseph de Maistre.


Larry Arnhart said...

Are you suggesting that Trump's populism is actually white nationalism, and that when he denies this, he is lying?

I have argued for the biological reality of race (for example, the post on September 23, 2014). But I have also argued against the alt-right and ethnic nationalism (for example, on August 24, 2016 and May 11, 2016).

Larry Arnhart said...

As I have indicated in my post, Trump turned the midterm congressional elections into a referendum on his xenophobic anti-immigration policies, and he lost the referendum--with the Republicans suffering the worst losses in the House since 1974. So it seems that most of the voters in this election disagree with you.

Larry Arnhart said...

You are certainly correct that many people in the United States and around the world agree with you in your xenophobic racism, and they will vote for authoritarian populists. My point, however, is that the success of the Liberal Enlightenment is manifest in the fact that these people constitute a dwindling minority. The testable prediction of my position is that Trump's Republicans will continue to suffer electoral losses, particularly when Trump becomes strident in his xenophobic rhetoric.

Larry Arnhart said...

Even Donald Trump is not racist enough or anti-Semitic enough for you? Does that mean that you belong to a tiny minority? If so, have you considered that that confirms my point that xenophobic racism is a losing position today?

Cade H said...

Larry Arnhart. You must not be a conservative.

Larry Arnhart said...

Trump must not be a conservative.