The last opposition to Donald Trump has melted away. First Ted Cruz and now John Kasich have given up the fight that most commentators thought was hopeless anyway. The Republican establishment has gone from plotting to outmanoeuvre him to pathetically accepting their fate. Shenanigans at the party’s convention are now highly unlikely. There will be no ‘Draft Paul Ryan’ movement. Trump will win on the first ballot and damn the consequences.
How has a man with no political experience and a 67 per cent unfavourable rating won the nomination of a party supposed to represent half of the political spectrum? Everything that should have hurt Trump has helped him: vulgar speeches, juvenile Tweets, endorsements from racists, encouraging violence and indulging in conspiracy theories. On the night before he won the Indiana primary and swept all before him, Trump suggested Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the Kennedy assassination. Bragging about his genitals and sexist jokes about menstruation failed to lose him votes. Worse still, his complete lack of policy is looked on favourably by is supporters.
Trump defeated a cadre of professional racists and reactionaries by being more racist and reactionary than anyone. Where Cruz used the racist dog whistle (‘New York values’), Trump peformed trumpet solos (Mexican rapists). Those who vote Republican are a dwindling group of religious conservatives, old fashioned bigots, anti-government gun-lovers and capitalistic cultists.
The GOP has managed that mess of voters extremely well for decades, balancing their demands and securing electoral victories without pivoting too far in any direction. But the party has come unstuck. The recession, the War on Terror and the Obama administration combined to terrify, enrage and mobilise the most extreme elements of American society. Republican leaders promised too much and lost control of their party as a result. Tea Party insurgents infiltrated the upper echelons of the party, cut the legs out from under the establishment and set the scene for Trump.
It’s too easy to say that Trump is a monster of the GOP’s own making. In many ways the Trump movement is a product of decades’ of US domestic and foreign policy. That millions of extremists enthusiastically vote for a man so ludicrous, unprepared and self-promoting can’t just be brushed off as the product of recent right-wing rhetoric. America’s long history of racial discrimination is largely to blame. As government programmes were extended to minorities and civil rights laws came into force in the 1960s, the sense of abandoment seeped into white working class communities. No-one likes to lose status, even if that is merely to provide genuine equality for other citizens.
And the loss of white status is the key to Trump’s success. Moreover, the loss of American status as unchallenged, perfect world power drives fears of globalist conspiracies and Muslims under the beds. It is true that America is less powerful today than it was 30 years ago. Certainly, America’s self-righteousness and claims to global sovereignty are no longer viewed uncritically, even by Europeans who were once hardline Atlanticists. Trump’s supporters see the loss of white privileges and the normalisation of the US as part of the same problem. White America is supposed to ‘exceptional’, even if most of the world never believed it was.
Trump dismisses his unfavourability ratings, he ignores how Latinos and African-Americans hold overwhelmingly negative views of him, he tells his supporters the world will respect him more than we respect Obama. And for the handful of minority conservatives Trump can trot out to show how much ‘the blacks’ love him, or the endorsements he can boast from pseudo-fascists like the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders, the core of his support is born out of bigotry. It is a bigotry that coalesces around the idea of American exceptionalism and the glorious history of the white man in America. It is a bigtory that dismisses slavery as a detail, wilfully lies about the Founding Fathers, injects Christianity where it has no right to be and, if it succeeds, will elect the most dangerous US president off all time.