In a column for the Minnesota Star Tribune in March, Republican and former Minnesota senator Norm Coleman wrote, “I won’t vote for Donald Trump because of who he isn’t. He isn’t a Republican. He isn’t a conservative.”
Coleman’s argument fits with the narrative that was pushed by establishment Republicans in the last few weeks before the election. As conservative leaders fled from Trump, many politicians attempted to distance themselves and the RNC from their candidate. And at first, this argument seemed compelling.
But Trump’s rise to the Presidency wasn’t an outlier that defied what party leadership thought was possible. Rather, Trump is largely a product of the party that nominated him: a candidate grown out of the ugly rhetoric and voter-luring tactics the Republican Party has built up over the years. Quite simply, the ‘Trump Train’ and all it carries with it has veered off of the GOP’s carefully laid tracks.
Trump’s racism, sexism, homophobia and Islamophobia haven’t appeared out of nowhere. On the contrary, they have been pushed by Republicans as a way to capture socially conservative voters for years. Consider other initiatives by Republicans today, from dangerous Islamophobic rhetoric like Ted Cruz’s plan to have police patrol predominantly Muslim neighborhoods to the Republican based pro-discrimination laws such HB2 in North Carolina, which repealed legislation that protected LGBT civil rights.
In fact, one could look all the way back to 1964 to the Ku Klux Klan’s endorsement of Barry Goldwater, or Nixon’s appeal to the “silent majority” and insistence on “law and order” (sound familiar?).
The Republican attempt to gain voters based on incendiary rhetoric similar to Trump’s is nothing new. The GOP has presented itself in recent years as the party of the “everyman,” of the white working class. With that characterization has come a startling emphasis on anti-intellectualism. While this arguably began with Eisenhower’s simplistic rhetoric, Reagan is perhaps the best example of “dumbing-down” to receive votes, with his criticisms of academic institutions on a moral basis and his emphasis on ideology over intellectualism.
This kind of anti-intellectualism preached in recent years has also been a tirade against elitism, with GOP leaders calling those with intelligence members of an elitist establishment. In 2012, Rick Santorum even called President Obama a “snob” for encouraging people to go to college.
This strategy of playing to anti-intellectualism has been heavily used by Republicans in recent years, according to a study published by the nonpartisan American Political Science Association (APSA) in 2007. The study attributed this in part to the “liberalization of academics and intellectuals.”
Which brings us back to Trump and the stark education gap that has occurred between the two major parties. A September Pew Research study found that Clinton led Trump by 23 percentage points among college-educated voters, while Trump led by 5 percentage points in registered voters without a college education. The GOP has been appealing to uneducated voters throughout the years with their critiques of all things intellectual, and as demonstrated by the most recent presidential election, it’s been working.
Anti-intellectualism was previously used only as an effective vote-grabbing strategy, though GOP candidates still had clear backgrounds in politics and clear policy ideas. But now, with Trump, what was once a strategy has become reality; our President Elect has absolutely no basis in politics.
When Republicans pander to uneducated voters, another clear difference in rhetoric reveals itself. Trump support, and Republican support in general, is based largely in anger, with an audience that embraces the anti-intellectualism outlined by the APSA and “[reaches] conclusions based upon instinctual ‘gut feelings’ rather than intellectual discourse or debate.”
This anger and dissatisfaction is very prominent, with negative views defining the Trump campaign. A recent Pew Research study found that 68 percent of Trump supporters say life for the next generation will be worse. The same study found that 81 percent of Trump supporters, compared to 19 percent of Clinton supporters, say that things have gotten worse for people like them in the past 50 years.
The support Trump has garnered, then, is not unique to Trump himself, but rather is a result of the GOP’s campaign tactics over the last 50 or more years. The more that Republicans try to appeal to uneducated voters, the more we will have uneducated people in elected office―just look at Trump.