In the National Journal of last October 2nd John Judis masterfully described Donald Trump’s electorate, and traced it back to the campaigns of George Wallace in the 1960s and 1970s and the campaigns of Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan in the 1990s. The ‘Middle American Radical’ is neither conventionally liberal nor conventionally conservative, has since the 1970s evolved from lower middle class without college and a blue collar job to possibly some college and a white collar job, believes that government favors both the rich and the poor, but that everybody in between is constantly under siege, is reactionary when it comes to poverty and race, and expects Social Security and Medicare to be around forever. According to Judis, for this group Trump has formulated a coherent set of policies and ideologies, adjusted for the 21st century. Its racism is now directed against immigrants and refugees, its beef with the rich focused on hedge fund managers, and its general mistrust of government expressed in the sentence that our leaders are stupid people, who make dumb decisions about issues they simply don’t understand.
In the current stage of the campaign, the relevant questions are how coherent this group is and if they’ll stay together as one electoral bloc, and if not, where they’ll go. If Trump continues to be the Republican frontrunner and wins enough primaries to be the favorite for the nomination, there can be little doubt that he will have their support, at least until a brokered convention shoves him aside or he gets whooped by Hillary Clinton in the general election. But if Trump’s campaign falters due to the lack of a ground game or simply because all the polls were pie in the sky, as has so often been the case before the primary season, then will the Middle American Radicals stay together? The general expectation is that Ted Cruz will inherit Trump’s electorate, but there is one significant difference between Cruz and Trump that is often overlooked: In spite of all his radical rhetoric, Cruz is a constitutional scholar who as a former Supreme Court clerk plays by the book, even if the book allows him to wreak havoc on governmental institutions. Trump only plays by his own book, and that may be his main attractiveness for part of his flock.
So if Trump doesn’t survive the primaries or the convention and Ted Cruz doesn’t inherit all of his now leaderless petit bourgeois troopers, it’s more than likely that the latter won’t have the votes to win the general election, also because part of the moderate Republican electorate might very well stay home or even vote for the Democratic candidate. And what makes this basically a fictional scenario is that the GOP establishment probably dislikes Cruz even more than Trump.
A stronger possibility if Trump exits early is that Cruz loses out to Rubio or Christie at the Republican convention, brokered or not. In that case some of the ‘radicals’ may not vote but moderate Republicans would, and if the economy would suddenly turn south and weaken Hillary’s position there is a good chance we’ll end up with a Republican in the White House.
The third scenario is my worst nightmare: The GOP decides that it’s either Trump or Cruz, Trump becomes the nominee and wins the general election. In that case I’ll have to talk to the authorities to see if I can get my Social Security and Medicare on a Dutch Caribbean island.