One of the very few reporters to even try to understand what was happening with the Trump phenomenon in 2016 was Salena Zito, then of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. While never definitively predicting Trump would win, she nevertheless spent all her time off the beaten path of all the other “pool” reporters and visited Erie County, Pennsylvania, Ashtabula County, Ohio, Lee County, Iowa and countless other places where the fake newsies refused to go without proper shots.
In The Great Revolt with data guru Brad Todd, she has written one of the better analyses of the 2016—my own How Trump Won with Joel Pollak, excepted, of course. Zito and Todd not only rely on her extensive anecdotal reporting, but also conducted a rather significant survey, called the Great America Survey, of some 2,000 Trump voters. Naturally, the fake news media has overlooked this, for the results are not comforting to the establishment class of either party. Getting to those results, however, involves an excellent history of the Republican Party post-2012 and the attempts by its off-base leadership to foist “immigration reform” on the American public. Throwing their weight behind Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, the GOPe thought it had the ticket to lure Hispanic voters away from the Democrats and to their side.
Until Donald Trump came down the escalator.
They note that in Trump’s announcement speech, he didn’t use the term “conservative” or “liberal” once, yet his candidacy immediately took off. Why? Zito asked individuals to tell their stories, then she and Todd polled the much larger pool to arrive at quantitative support for the “qualitative” answer she got.
One of the first things that sets The Great Revolt apart from most other election books is the authors’ understanding of Trump’s use of social media: “Trump’s preference for making his newsworthy—and often outlandish and almost always candid—statements via his Twitter account enabled him both to speak directly to his audience and to command the full attention, and agenda, of the press corps.” This is the first real appreciation I’ve seen for the fact that regardless of what Trump said—including whether he committed a “gaffe” or insulted someone—the fact that the fake news media was covering him was always the bigger story. As Jonathan Allen and Arnie Parnes wrote in Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign, Trump so dominated the news cycle that even if Hillary had had anything useful or appealing to say (she didn’t) it couldn’t break through the 24/7 Trump tweeting. This point, which is the central focus of The Great Revolt, is critical because it is ongoing. It explains why Trump so far in just over 500 days has accomplished more than any other president since George Washington in so little time. While the media obsesses with Trump the man (and Trump the tweeter) his policies consistently sail along, unencumbered, under the radar!
Some argue that the constant negative drumbeat of attention keeps Trump’s approval numbers artificially low. As of today, he was at 46% in Rasmussen, 45% in Gallup, and in the high 40s in all other polls except Quinnipiac. In all likelihood, he is well above those numbers and probably hovering in the high 50s, based on what we know of polling bias in the election. Some pollsters still haven’t learned, with Quinnipiac using a massive Democrat oversample to get Trump into the high 30s. But as we learned in November 2016, lying about reality doesn’t change reality.
Zito and Todd divide the Trump electorate into groups such as “Red-Blooded and Blue-Collared,” “King Cyrus Christians,” “Perot-istas,”“Rough Rebounders,” “Girl Gun Power,” “Rotary Reliables,” and “Silent Suburban Moms.” Almost universally, individuals from these groups distrusted both political parties (and among Trump voters they by a margin of 2:1 trust Trump more than Republicans in Congress to do the right thing for the country. Only two percent trust the media to do the right thing for the country.) As one Trump voter said, he saw problems coming years ago: “This did not happen overnight, people didn’t wake up on election night and say ‘I’m going to do something different.” In fact, many if not most of the Trump voters Zito interviewed had voted for Barack Obama. Twice.
More important to readers today are the updates Zito includes of her subjects views after the election. One Wisconsin voter said, “if he is standing up for us, I will stand up for him. It really is just that simple.” Another Michigan woman said “poor Trump is trying to do everything good, and everybody’s trying to stop him.” One lifelong Democrat voter from Ohio said the Trump rally gave her goose bumps. She took her whole family. This is another gem that Zito points out, that the Trump rallies were key events in introducing him to large numbers of people who simply didn’t trust the news. The point is, Zito found no evidence whatsoever that apart from utter and clear betrayal on probably several key issues, Trump’s supporters are behind him to the end.
And what are those key issues? Interestingly, “drain the swamp” isn’t one, and “lock her up” isn’t one. Rather, Todd’s survey found “bringing back manufacturing jobs” was the highest concern (leading as the top issue with 34% of the voters, “protecting Medicare and Social security was #2 at 30%, and Supreme Court judges was third at 28%. Only 7% said building the wall was the top concern. Trump’s voters as of 2017 remained extremely optimistic, with 87% saying they had a sunny view of the future, and only 12% were pessimistic. Approval among Trump’s voters was through the roof, at 86% with another 1% “don’t know or refused to answer.” In short, there is no erosion of Trump’s bloc of support at all, and many of those interviewed had friends and relatives who voted for Hillary or Johnson and now found that they liked Trump.
The Great Revolt provides excellent insight, and shows what real reporting can accomplish, especially when wedded to solid data mining.
Larry Schweikart is the co-author of the New York Times #1 bestseller A Patriot’s History of the United States with Michael Allen and How Trump Won with Joel Pollak.
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