Any system of race-based transfers and rights will eventually polarise voters along racial lines, even with the best will in the world. Ron Christie, an aide to the racially sensitive George W. Bush, recently praised his former boss for having pursued ‘a strategy that awarded him the double-digit support of blacks’. Yes! After losing black voters to Al Gore in the 2000 election by 90 per cent to 9 per cent, Bush worked tirelessly to clear the air with black leaders, focused on race issues, and managed to lose to Kerry four years later by only 88 to 11. Woohoo! In the last election, Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney among blacks 93 to six, and lost to Romney among whites by 59 per cent to 39. One can applaud any of these people morally if one wants, but politicians are in the business of winning votes. Would this year’s Republican nominee be better advised to try to quintuple the vote among a small group that hates him? Or use persuasion to shift by a few per cent the large group that is loyal to him?
The answer for Donald Trump is obvious. But he has a problem. Over the past generation Democrats have become the party of the new-economy ruling class. In both the 2008 and 2012 elections, according to the Washington Post, Obama won the rich counties of America but lost the poor ones. He split the college-educated vote, but he won double-digit margins among those with graduate training. Trump is actually polling worse among whites than Romney did. The successful part of the white electorate is either not buying Trump or will not admit to doing so. This might break up the electoral map in odd ways. If Trump did poorly, he could lose old Republican states that are becoming too rich (Virginia), too Hispanic (Texas) or too black (Georgia) to vote Republican. If he did well, he could take industrial states with downwardly mobile white populations that generally vote Democratic (Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania).
Trump’s voters sense the system is rigged against them. This does not mean they blame blacks for their problems. Nor do they have any language for describing themselves as victims of racism. They may be deeply hurt or embarrassed by accusations of bigotry. Perhaps that is Hillary’s thinking in calling them a ‘basket of deplorables’. In an aspirational country where much of the middle class is downwardly mobile and taking its signals from television, people are terrified of exhibiting attitudes thought of as low-class.