In 2016, the most accurate predictions of presidential electoral results came from enterprising reporters who ventured into Cracker Barrels in Western Pennsylvania and barbecue joints in Southern Missouri or West Virginia.
Understanding the forces arrayed in the 2018 midterms will require abandoning these gritty places in favor of others that are home to upscale malls with names like The Shoppes at something-or-other ending in -mede or -downe or Crossing. While pocketbook issues dominated in 2016, in 2018 it will be Kate Spade issues and the “college educated [sic] suburbanites” who can afford to care about them that seem to be the dominant factor.
Supporters of President Trump can cite concrete successes resulting from the administration, fiscal, regulatory, law enforcement, diplomatic and defense initiatives, and argue plausibly that adding Republican votes in the House and Senate would produce even more; but will this be enough in 2018? Even a casual review of indicators from polling to the number of retiring Republican incumbents raises doubts. It is possible that widening economic prosperity will not win this one.
Enough Americans are financially comfortable, feel physically safe enough where they live, work and play, are confident enough in their ability to provide a comparable life for their children– and because they don’t mix significantly enough with their less prosperous fellow citizens to know what $1,000 is worth– are inclined to discount the significance of the President’s economic achievements. This should come as no surprise since these same well-heeled and credentialed Americans also ignored Barack Obama’s dismal economic performance because it did not really touch them, and because Europeans and sensitive cosmopolitans everywhere thought he was so cool. What is worse, the disproportionate influence of this segment of the electorate on other Americans’ political opinions, particularly the other key groups for 2018, urban young people and minorities, is significant,
“Are you better off now than you were in 2015?” seems to be about as unlikely to produce a Republican victory in 2018 as “Four more years of the full dinner pail.” Arrayed against the President and his party in 2018 will be an extraordinary phenomenon in American political history –offended elite sensibilities posing as political and even constitutional issues.
The Obama years accelerated a trend towards two distinct American societies, largely isolated from one another and increasingly hereditary. The remarkably disparate reactions to some of the President’s gaucheries are but manifestations of this cleavage. While everyone displaying effete disdain for Mr. Trump has not yet attained the impregnable heights of Charles Murray’s Belmont, most of those who hope to get there have already absorbed its “truths” along the way. Thus The Chief White House Correspondent for The New York Times can tweet accurately as well as gleefully:”Among college-educated suburbanites, he is a pariah.”
A former Republican political consultant who now is a professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication says: “the biggest challenge for these suburban Republicans is more cultural than it is legislative… They’re a lot more uncomfortable with Trump’s behavior than they are with his policy agenda.” We are told that 64 % of voters in Michigan and Wisconsin, and 63% in Pennsylvania claim to be “embarrassed” by the President. In July Gallup reported that “65% of Trump disapprovers give personality and character explanations.” And the soccer moms now are Indivisible moms who, we are assured, are networked “and they’re not on the sidelines.”
Freely-expressed contempt by the better sort of people for ugly Trumpism is remarkable–particularly in light of their accustomed “tolerance” for virtually all other forms of disagreeable behavior. But regardless, prissiness now is counterrevolution, and it is make or break for a good reason. Every day Donald Trump chips away at the foundations of ruling orthodoxies, and with every blow, Americans feel freer, more prosperous and safer. “College educated” [whatever that means] suburbanites and their fellow travelers in Georgetown, Berkeley, and Brooklyn can only absorb so many of these blows before that media-cultivated aura of expertise and wisdom, which is the hallmark of their claimed preeminence, is shattered beyond repair.
With a year’s worth of policy illusion gone already, the opposition can no longer risk confronting the President’s premises frontally; it has to be all racism and Armageddon now. Therefore, in just one example, it is better for the purposes of 2018 to assume airs of disgusted moral superiority and Olympian tolerance than to argue the premise that failed states and kleptocratic economies are not the best nurseries of readily-integrated immigrants to the United States.
Trump can’t succeed as William McKinley in 2018. Charlie the Tuna is the way to go. After all, Americans don’t want a President with good taste: they want a president who can do them some good.