The Nationalists vs. The Exasperated

In “The Two Kinds of Trump Voters”, Justin Gest, assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University, makes a useful distinction between Trump’s current supporters:

But before Democrats decide whether or not to abandon white working-class voters altogether, here’s something they need to keep in mind: Trump’s base is not a monolith. In fact, among the white-working class people I studied for three months in Youngstown, Ohio—which witnessed a 20-point swing from Barack Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016—two distinct groups emerged.

First, there are those who support Trump primarily because they agree with the authoritarian, nationalist moral order he seeks to establish. We’ll call them the Nationalists. Second, there are those who support Trump primarily because they believe he embodies a cleansing of establishment politics that has left white working-class people poorer and forgotten over recent decades. We’ll call them the Exasperated.

While Gest concedes that the Democratic Party will likely never get the ‘Nationalists’ into their fold, they do potentially have a chance in the future to get some of the ‘Exasperated’ Trump supporters:

The Exasperated are different. They have likely voted for Democrats and Republicans over the years, seeking someone who would champion their cause. They feel betrayed by the countless politicians who have stood in front of shuttered mills and smelters and promised to bring manufacturing and mining economies back to life. It’s why they have swung from party to party, from year to year—often reacting to the failures of previous candidates to deliver. It’s why so many of them voted for Obama after previously voting for George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton before that. They are not “Independent” so much as they are just constantly disappointed…

From what I saw in Youngstown, the Exasperated will be wary of the president…They have adopted a “wait and see” approach.

Is the distinction overblown? Is there a substantial amount of ‘exasperated’ in the Nationalists, and ‘nationalism’ in the Exasperated? Insofar as it is a tenable and significant distinction, is it more than offset by the Democratic Party’s current, circular firing squad of identity-politics?

Who knows. But I would still caution Republicans to pay attention to this distinction, as I would to those on the Alt Right: temper optimism by constantly measuring the temperature in the room.

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