Now that John Kasich and Ted Cruz have dropped out, it's pretty much official: Donald Trump is the 2016 Republican nominee for president.
The pundits never saw this coming, but they should have. The Republican Party has been running a scam on its base for decades now, and voters were bound to discover this scam sooner or later.
Ever since Nixon initiated the Southern strategy, Republicans have tricked millions of (mostly white) Americans into voting for them by giving lip service to old-timey racism and anti-immigrant xenophobia. The purpose of this all this pandering, of course, was to rally the masses around the real goal of the Republican elites, which is to push through economic policies that help out the billionaires and corporations that fund the Republican Party. This strategy worked best when it conflated economics with race.
Ronald Reagan's advisor Lee Atwater described this process in pretty blunt language back in the 1980s.
That kind of talk -- talk that essentially converts the language of racism into the language of economics -- is powerful, and it's been perhaps the most important piece of the scam Republicans have been running on their base for decades. But it was always a risky way of rallying people around the GOP brand because it depended on the Republican base continuing to believe their economic interests are aligned with those of the Republican donor class.
At some point, the Republican base was going to realize that the Republican elites didn't actually give a damn about them. At some time, the scared and bigoted white people who vote Republican were going to realize that the people they were voting into office only cared about the billionaires and big corporations who wrote their campaign checks. At some point, the mask was going to fall off and the base was going to revolt against the elites.
Well, "some point" is now, and with Donald Trump's clinching of the nomination, the base has finally had its revenge on the Republican elite. The irony, of course is that the racism and xenophobia that's motivated the Republican base for the past few decades hasn't gone away. If anything, Trump has made it more explicit.
But one thing that Donald Trump hasn't done is bow down before the altar of "small government." In many ways, he's completely rejected orthodox Republican economic thinking on key issues.
For example, not only does Trump blast so-called "free trade" deals on a daily basis, he also talks about protecting Social Security, and has called for a massive infrastructure investment program. He's also called on the government to close the carried interest loophole.
And you know what? The Republican base loves it.
Republicans aren't voting for Trump in spite of the fact that he's kind of a "big government" Republican. They're voting for Trump because he's a "big government" Republican, coupled with a platform infused with racism and xenophobia. They've finally realized the scam party elites have been running on them for the past few decades, and just like Trump, they're rejecting "small government" Republicanism once and for all.
There's an opening here for Democrats if they care to take it.
By cleaving the Republican base away from the "small government" crowd ever so slightly, Trump is making it OK talk about "big government" again, and if Democrats were smart, they'd use this to their advantage. They'd go to Donald Trump voters, show them why Trump's ideas are wrong and demonstrate why their vision of government works better. If the polls are any indication, Americans are ready and waiting.
For example a recent Progressive Change Institute survey of likely 2016 voters shows that Americans overwhelmingly support government-oriented solutions to things education, health care and the economy:
- 75 percent of Americans polled support fair trade that protects workers, the environment and jobs.
- 71 percent support giving all students access to a debt-free college education.
- 71 percent support a massive infrastructure spending program aimed at rebuilding our broken roads and bridges and putting people back to work.
- 70 percent support expanding Social Security.
- 59 percent support raising taxes on the wealthy so that millionaires pay the same 74 percent rate in taxes as they did in 1980.
- 58 percent support breaking up the big banks.
- 55 percent support a financial transaction tax (or Robin Hood tax) on Wall Street traders.
- 51 percent support single-payer health care, and so and so on.
Americans, it turns out, really favor government-oriented solutions to problems. It's a shame that it has taken Donald Trump for them to realize it, but Democrats should be excited. They now have an opportunity build a broad progressive coalition for decades to come; one that believes, like FDR did, that government has the power to do good.
It will take a lot of work to break through the racism that motivates a lot of Trump supporters, but the groundwork for a new era of "big government" progressivism is there for the taking.
Let's hope that Democrats don't let this moment go to waste.