Today, sensible centrists of the left and right are confronting the same issue with Trump’s supporters, who appear to be motivated by economic concerns but are uninterested in an economic response — at least as economics is usually addressed by policy experts. They are left cold by the piecemeal, technocratic proposals of candidates like Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush. But neither can one imagine them gravitating to Bernie Sanders, the real economic populist in the race — or, for that matter, to Hillary Clinton, who has been goaded by Sanders’ (and Elizabeth Warren’s) strength to embrace an economic agenda far more economically populist than the one that her New Democrat husband championed in the White House.
No, what Trump’s supporters appear to want is someone to rail rudely against economic, racial, ethnic, and demographic aspects of contemporary American life that they find distasteful, dangerous, and unfair; to place the blame for these trends on somebody besides themselves (immigrants, liberals, big business, stupid people, Muslims, big government, the media, the president); and to promise a magical fix brought about by superhuman feats of commonsense competence. Trump gives them all of this, and his followers love him for it. That makes him a textbook example of a demagogue and them a political force that everyone from Aristotle to Alexander Hamilton would recognize as a mob.
How can the members of this mob be persuaded to abandon their cultural populism and the candidate who assures them he will turn back the tide?