The Donald Trump tape scandal unloaded a torrent of un-endorsements over the weekend, much to the delight of the longtime “Never Trump” crowd.
Here is the problem, my “Never Trump” friends: you are probably a big cause of the Trump phenomenon.
Perhaps no group of people in the history of earth has been more gratuitously civically irresponsible than Republican politicos. Donald Trump is only able to succeed by standing on the shoulders of a base created by 25 years of GOP playbook tactics.
As it turns out, if you spend billions on advertising to convince people that government is destroying their lives and slander the concept of “public service,” then you get an electorate who does not trust experienced leaders to steer the ship of state. Instead, you create an electorate eager for a rogue who does not look, sound or act like all those “politicians” who previously failed.
Pile on the incessant drumbeat from conservative media outlets of the myriad ways in which government is screwing up the country, threatening your safety, advantaging the lazy, stealing your money, destroying your job and mocking your values … one can understand how the committed Republican voter starts to feel government is the source of his problems.
Problems that in a former era would have been attributed to personal failings, natural economic patterns, or providence.
We have lost the personal responsibility ethos of our grandfather’s GOP and replaced it with a very unintended consequence. If the message is always that government is screwing up your life, then GOP voters never take responsibility for their actions or their situation. Instead, they expend their political capital on looking for ways to stop government at any cost.
In a strange way, we’ve created among the GOP base the very same dependence on government that exists among the Democratic base. In the case of Democrats, they’ve trained their electorate to see government as a provider. In the case of Republicans, we’ve trained our electorate to use government as a scapegoat for their troubles or a boogeyman plotting in the shadows.
For the last 20 years, the standard-issue Republican candidate has (judging from the ads and Fox News at least) failed in the voters’ eyes to stop the government from ruining everyone’s life and destroying their liberties. Presented with the politically incorrect bravado of Donald Trump, who could blame the electorate for thinking, “there’s the guy with the [pick your noun] to finally stop government for wrecking my dreams!”
Further, if you believe (again, thanks to the ads and media run by political pros) the federal government is already destroying your life and trampling your liberties, why should you care if Trump is an authoritarian/bigot/sexist/philanderer? At least he is your type of authoritarian/bigot/sexist/philanderer who can possibly be strong enough to set the massive government machine right again.
Donald Trump may win in November, or he may lose. He may be a great president or a poor president. We have no analogues by which to compare in our lifetime. One thing, however, is certain: If you’ve made money working in conservative politics over the last two decades, you’ve got weak grounds to make the case against Trump. All of our work has been to set the stage for a Donald Trump to come along and be successful with our most loyal voters.
The hard news is that those working-class voters aren’t coming home after the election. These voters don’t like or trust the GOP establishment. What comes after Donald Trump is likely to be far worse, unless we pay attention to the lesson Trump is teaching about the need to reach and dignify working-class voters.
Joe Clements is the co-founder of Strategic Digital Services, a digital consulting firm for candidates and causes, headquartered in Tallahassee. He previously worked in the Florida House and for the Republican Party of Florida.