Why Trump Won? It Ain’t Rocket Science; It’s Social Psychology

Why Trump WonI don’t like to write about Trump because at base, I’m an academic. An academic without an academy, sure. But over time, I’ve found that I’m just not interested in discussing the little things. It’s kind of like in Reason, Faith, and Revolution. Terry Eagleton knows that most religious people hold ridiculous opinions, so he doesn’t talk about it. It’s fish in a barrel. He wants to aim higher. And I feel the same way about Donald Trump. He’s so obviously a nightmare, his latest proof doesn’t seem worth talking about. But I am still interested in the question of why Trump won the GOP primary.

Let me start by noting that I don’t think that, from a policy standpoint, Trump would be categorically different than other Republicans. His foreign policy might well be far better. This tax plan is worse, but after going through the House and Senate, his tax plan would turn out to be identical to whatever one would have been enacted under Ted Cruz, John Kasich, or Marco Rubio. On Social Security, Trump would be better. The one area where he might be worse is that his rhetoric might embolden his followers to commit acts of terrorism against various minority groups. But I tend to think these lazy cowards won’t be doing anything — especially if their savior Donald Trump is in command.

Another issue to consider is that it doesn’t much matter why Trump won. By the end, all the candidates were Donald Trump. They just weren’t as good at it. Look at Kasich! He has a notorious anger problem. Amanda Marcotte wrote an excellent article about him back in February where she ran down what a vile president he would make because of his racism, sexism, xenophobia, and demagoguery. So the GOP was going to nominate someone like Donald Trump because that’s what Republicans like.

The Eternal 25 Percent

But on the specifics, it isn’t a mystery why Trump won. There are always about 25% of the people who are mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore. What they’re mad about is mostly unclear. The few Trump supporters I know are actually doing very well in an economic sense — far better than I’ve ever done. They remind me of rich people who are angry that they aren’t more rich. These people want more respect (or something) in the society. Of course, if they got it, they’d just be angry that it wasn’t enough.

Republicans smelled blood in the water in 2016. They thought this was their election. As a result, we got upwards of 20 candidates for president from them. Why Trump won was simply that he best spoke to these authoritarians who make up at least half the party.

There are roughly 25% of these people in the United States. I suspect the numbers are roughly the same in England and Germany and France. These people are, to put it bluntly, authoritarians. They want a strong leader. But they don’t want him (!) so much to get the fags, the coloreds, and the feminazis. They want an authoritarian leader because they want an ultimate authority to say that, yes, they are the right kind of people. They are the real Americans! And this has been the appeal of the entire Republican Party since Nixon.

This 25% of the population has always been there. Look back at Richard Hofstadter’s article The Paranoid Style in American Politics from 1964. This isn’t new. When the Tea Party sprang up, it annoyed me that the media talked about it like it was extraordinary (unlike any leftist movement, which they ignore unless they can’t possibly avoid it). Reporters were surprised when John Birch Society booths showed up at Tea Party events. I wasn’t.

Authoritarianism Is a Republican Problem

This authoritarianism is not confined exclusively to the Republican Party — but it mostly is. I recommend reading John Dean’s Conservatives Without Conscience. Without this 25% of the electorate, the GOP would be a regional party.

Republicans smelled blood in the water in 2016. They thought this was their election. As a result, we got upwards of 20 candidates for president from them. Why Trump won was simply that he best spoke to these authoritarians who make up at least half the party. They don’t care about policy. They care about having a president who will say that they are the chosen ones. All those other people are lesser. Round them up into camps? Not really necessary — but hardly out of the question.

Why Trump Won

Why Trump won? I think roughly 50% of the Republican Party base is flat out authoritarian. Another 40% have notable tendencies in that regard. In a crowded field, of course Trump would get about a third of the vote. And once it was clear no one could touch him, the rest fell in line.

It’s no mystery why Trump won.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

13 thoughts on “Why Trump Won? It Ain’t Rocket Science; It’s Social Psychology

  1. Also, I believe, because Trump was picking up the hard authoritarian vote delegates while he still had the opposition split among several other candidates. By the time the party panicked, realizing it had to be Rubio or Cruz against Trump or he’d actually be the nominee, it was too late.

    I owe Elizabeth an apology. All during the primaries she was insisting Clinton had the best chance to win, and I mistook that for saying Bernie’s anti-Wall Street message couldn’t fly with general election voters.

    I was a dumbass. What Elizabeth was saying, of course, was that Clinton knew how to run a national campaign and Sanders didn’t. And we’re seeing that now in the polls. Trump’s megaphone of xenophobic button-pushing might get some people more excited than Clinton’s cautious pragmatism, but The Donald has no clue how to run a campaign. How many campaign managers has he gone through now? Where’s his phone bank base on the ground level?

    I still think Bernie had a shot at beating Trump, but Elizabeth was right that Bernie would be a serious underdog against the rest of the GOP field. And unless it comes out that Clinton is a Satanist or something, she’s going to wipe the floor with Trump. Which, let’s hope, translates into a lot of House pickups. Equal rights for DC and Puerto Rico now!

    • I’m not so sure of that. I thought that Sanders ran a very good campaign. And in the end, this election will come down Republican vs Democrat. That’s why I keep hoping the Fed waits until after the election to very stupidly raise interest rates.

      I think Trump won because he was by far the best candidate for the Republican Party. I think Marco Rubio is such a lightweight that he would have under-performed Trump.

      • I’m giving props to someone who knows a hell of a lot more about political campaigns than I do. And who I think I pissed off with my Sanders support.

        • That reminds me of a story. A philosophy student goes to his professor and asks, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” And the professor responds, “Oh, if there were nothing, you still wouldn’t be satisfied!”

          If Elizabeth weren’t constantly waging a 5-front war against political opponents, she’d be lost. You gave her life meaning. I may go and write another article about feminism, just to give her even more meaning!

      • Sanders ran a decent campaign but he really lacked the “killer instinct”. Some people may think it would have been breaking Democratic Party solidarity or damaging Clinton for the general, but I’m really surprised some of her more questionable 2008 campaign stuff wasn’t brought up when the primary battles were in the South.

        On the other hand, the Clinton network’s hardball politics have earned them a lot of enemies and gotten them into more than a few PR problems.

        • There is, of course, the possibility that Sanders never really wanted to be president. It seems to me that Dean didn’t really want to be president in 2004. I think both men were shocked by their success. And in Sander’s case, you don’t back out when large numbers of people are voting for you.

          I agree that the Clintons’ hardball politics have earned them enemies. But it also earned them a long governorship, two term presidency, a senatorship, a term as Secretary of State, and likely another presidency. So I can’t fault them too much. It reminds me of a scene in Amistad where the abolitionist is complaining about how the lawyer wants to approach the case, and the lawyer says, “You want to win, don’t you?”

    • It is true that Sanders didn’t have the national campaign he needed. I have read some of the break downs of his spending and while he had plenty of phone bankers, he spent most of his money on traditional things like TV advertising that no longer have the same impact.

      Clinton is running a Obama style campaign with logical extensions post November win (which Obama never really got and why OFA didn’t do nearly as well as DFA.) Her campaign is so tight I literally saw a reporter write a story about how they couldn’t get staffers to admit they hate the campaign theme song. Clinton knows exactly what she is doing and is pushing hard to make sure that she doesn’t just win the White House but the Senate and possibly even the House.

      So yes, Sanders ran a good for a primary campaign but it wasn’t going to survive the general and we would be having a lot of problems with him. His weakness as a general election candidate never went away and they would have given the Republicans a target to rally around. The Republican Party people know they don’t have anything close to attack Clinton on (even the attempts to smear her with the Foundation are flailing because the Clintons have been extremely careful and above board.) So they don’t have an easy target and she looks so competent next to Trump.

      As for his having to continually replace campaign managers-replacing Manafort was a very sensible decision since it got rid of the Russian stench the media was very willing to talk about. Now of course he has a white nationalist but the media doesn’t seem to mind that as much.

      • OMG, that song … Let’s just say it’s not my preferred style of music. I dearly hope Clinton is president for eight years. I also hope somebody else picks the music in 2020.

        There are many things I criticize Obama for. Drone warfare, being more economically centrist than I’d like. But music? Musically, the First Couple is the coolest we’ve ever had. Remember Barack singing “Let’s Get Together” at a rally? And he was good! Michelle in the car with James Corden? And poetry/ music nights at the White House? Obamas, I already miss you.

        Here’s a thing I’m annoying everyone I know with. Because it’s awesome and I say so.


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