by Allan Branstiter
Believe it or not, the #nevertrump movement is gaining momentum and part of this has to do with the National Review’s steady undermining of Trump’s mystique. Last week, the establishment Republican magazine ran an article by Michael Barone asserting that the primary division between Trump’s support and opposition within the GOP has more to do with “social connectedness” than region, religion, rural/suburban, or economics. According to Barone, Americans with weak family ties, few friends, few ties to churches, and unsteady levels of employment are more likely to reject traditional Republicanism in favor of Trumpism . While it is tempting to write off the phenomenon as a product of a few alienated and socially maladjusted MRAs and lone wolf bigots, I can’t help but feel that Barone’s observations are just as misguided as the rest of the magazine’s contemptible treatment of Trump voters and the white working class more generally.
Barone attempts to prove causation through overly simplistic geographic and ethnic stereotypes. He first points to the Dutch-Americans of Michigan and Iowa, who he characterizes as a community with “dense networks of churches and civic groups.” In past elections, counties with a large population of Dutch-Americans voted for Huckabee and Santorum. This year they voted heavily in favor of Ted Cruz, while Trump finished in third. On their face, these correlations seem to suggest that the “unusually high social connectedness” if Dutch-American communities shielded them from the shallow demagoguery of The Donald.
But Barone ignores the obvious fact that what makes Dutch-American communities in Michigan and Iowa unique isn’t simply a strong sense of community, but the cultural influence of reformed Dutch Calvinism in these regions. Voters in these towns didn’t support Cruz because their social ties protected them from ideological exploitation. They voted for Cruz, Santorum, and Huckabee because they’re very conservative evangelicals. Any sense of social connectedness is secondary to that fact.
Second, Barone points to the prevalence of disability in pro-Trump regions in Missouri. He argues that Trump prevailed in southeast Missouri, where high rates of disability insurance indicated “low workforce participation and low social connectedness”—a correlation built on a bias against modern welfare and a rosy view of how older forms of local and private social welfare offered plebeians with a more fulfilling social life. Injured on the job? Disability insurance isn’t the answer. Just join your boss’s church and they’ll find a way to feed you.
Barone also points out that Cruz one in the backyard of the Assemblies of God headquarters in southwestern Missouri. While it’s clear that he would like us to believe that the Assemblies’ “dense networks of civically active churches”led these voters to reject Trump, it’s also clear that Cruz’s ability to exploit his affinity with very conservative Christian voters was equally (if not more) significant.
Barone makes the same mistake in his conclusions about Trump’s loss in Oklahoma (he argues that high church attendance favored Cruz), as well as his victory in South Carolina (an traditionally evangelical state). All the while he ignores the fact that Oklahoma’s oil economy and fervent evangelicism favored Cruz the Texan, while overt race-baiting and anti-establishment rhetoric served Trump well in the Solid South.
And Utah. Somehow Barone forgot the fact that Trump questioned the sincerity of Mitt Romney’s faith and the fact that his personality and history flaunts almost every single cultural value that makes Mormon communities unique.
While Barone’s contention that social connectedness is “the most useful explanation [he’s] seen yet of the variation in Trump’s appeal” is tempting, it ignores a complex array of other factors. There is no way of knowing whether Trump’s supporters are anymore socially alienated than the average Cruz supporter without actually conducting a poll. Pointing to a few places where Trump lost to Cruz and identifying the strong social institutions that exist there—while ignoring race, economics, class, and religious politics—doesn’t prove that the former’s supporters are any less socially connected than the latter’s.
It does prove the fact that the National Review hates Donald Trump almost as much as it hates irreligious, disabled, and working-class Americans.