A short incomplete list by conservatives and even GOP moderates to explain how Trump happened.
ANSWER ONE: Obama is to blame for Trump says Bobby Jindel in the Wall Street Journal. We’ve had eight years of the “cool, weak and endlessly nuanced” Barack Obama, he argues, which means now voters are hungry for the precise opposite – they want “a strong leader who speaks in short, declarative sentences.” Per Jindal: “You can draw a straight line between a president who dismisses domestic terrorist attacks as incidents of workplace violence and a candidate who wants to ban Muslims from entering the country.”
Well, you can draw a straight line between ANY two points, Bobby, no matter how far and remote that are to each other. One of the many problems with that argument is that Trump is running a campaign that is a clear revolt against the Republican Party as much (if not more) than Obama.
ANSWER TWO: Obama is to blame for Trump says conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat. Presidential campaigns have always had a celebrity component, argues Douthat, but Obama “raised the bar” by getting Oprah’s endorsement and appearing in music videos. Even more than that, Obama cloaked himself in almost-religious iconic imagery, creating a cult of personality that Trump is merely exploiting now. Also, by abusing executive authority, Obama became Caesarian, an imperial president, and attractive to those power-and-fame hungry like Trump.
ANSWER THREE: The media is to blame for Trump says Redstate co-founder Ben Domenech. Hour-to-hour coverage, softball interviews with no follow-up, and so on. The media just fawns over Trump. Even when something happens that has nothing to do with Trump, the first question from the media is “What will Trump say?” He’s good TV, Domenech writes. That accounts for his rise.
Domenech isn’t wrong, although he is answering the “how” rather than the “why”. And if you want a better understanding of the media’s complicity, read The Rude Pundit today.
ANSWER FOUR: Franklin Roosevent is to blame for Trump argues Jonah Goldberg, National Review contributing editor. Because FDR took all kinds of power into his hands. For example, he interred all those Japanese Americans during WWII (and Trump had already supported that decision). It is the power grab that appeals to Trump.
To which I say, WHOA there. Let’s being the horse back into the stable.
ANSWER FIVE: Al Franken is to blame for Trump says the stupidest theory of all, written by Josh Kraushaar at the National Journal behind the pay firewall. His argument goes something like this: Franken’s narrow 2008 Senate victory in Minnesota provided Barack Obama with a 60-vote supermajority, which enabled him to pass the Affordable Care Act without Republican support, which then became the rallying cry for the Tea Party wave, which crashed into Washington and turned everyone crazy. THAT begat Trump. If Franken hadn’t won, writes Kraushaar, then Obama would have been forced to win the vote of at least one Republican senator to pass healthcare reform, which would have made things better somehow.
Also, a butterfly flapped its wings in China.
But seriously, the Trump phenomenon isn’t a blacklash against the Affordable Care Act. When trying to figure out how Trump came to be, you have to discern what is the appeal of Trump. What is it that gets his crowds riled up. And it isn’t healthcare.
What connects Trump supporters is plain to anyone who can see: his adherents are grounded in a common anti-immigrant nativism and anti-Muslim xenophobia.
Trump is the direct product of the Republican Party’s years-long strategy of aggravating racial and ethnic resentments to scare up votes from white conservatives. It used to be spoken in the form of dog whistles as far back as Reagan’s invocation of the legendary “welfare queen” who drove around the streets of Chicago in a fancy Cadillac. The Welfare Queen actually existed, although she actually bilked the government out of only $8,000 dollars and she committed even far worse crimes which proved more lucrative (kidnapping, etc). She hardly was a representative example of common fraud against the government, but Reagan invoked her often in a not-so-subtle way suggesting that people of color were lazy and living off of government handouts. The Welfare Queen myth exists today, where people believe that people on government assistance are out blowing all that “free money” on iPhones, fancy shoes and lobster.
You can draw a line from Reagan’s Welfare Queen through the Willie Horton commercial from Bush 41 to the Tea Party insurgence right up to Romney’s 47%. It is all about racially-coded messages that strike nervousness, or even hatred, within the white person about the “other”
But it was always in code… until Trump came along and said “what people are thinking” (a phrase we hear from many Trump supporters). Meaning, Trump effectively gave permission for people to hate Mexicans, followers of Islam and other ethnic and religious minorities.
538 has an interesting study of political voters over time. The study started in 2007 and follows the same large group of voters over time. It enables us to see what Trump supporters were ideologically before Trump came along. And not surprisingly, Trump appeals to those who possessed high levels of prejudice and strong concerns about unauthorized immigration. Trump didn’t create them. They were already there. . . from decades of being nurtured by the GOP. Trump just picked them up without resorting to the dog-whistle code. The GOP is to blame.
P.S. Or maybe we can pin it on the daddy issues of the dwindling white working class.