Saturday, 31 Jul 2021

Opinion | Trump’s Cult of Animosity Shows No Sign of Letting Up

By Thomas B. Edsall

Mr. Edsall contributes a weekly column from Washington, D.C. on politics, demographics and inequality.

In 2016, Donald Trump recruited voters with the highest levels of animosity toward African Americans, assembling a “schadenfreude” electorate — voters who take pleasure in making the opposition suffer — that continues to dominate the Republican Party, even in the aftermath of the Trump presidency.

With all his histrionics and theatrics, Trump brought the dark side of American politics to the fore: the alienated, the distrustful, voters willing to sacrifice democracy for a return to white hegemony. The segregationist segment of the electorate has been a permanent fixture of American politics, shifting between the two major parties.

For more than two decades, scholars and analysts have written about the growing partisan antipathy and polarization that have turned America into two warring camps, politically speaking.

Lilliana Mason, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins, makes the case via Twitter that Trump has “served as a lightning rod for lots of regular people who hold white Christian supremacist beliefs.” The solidification of their control over the Republican Party “makes it seem like a partisan issue. But this faction has been around longer than our current partisan divide.” In fact, “they are not loyal to a party — they are loyal to white Christian domination.”

Trump’s success in transforming the party has radically changed the path to the Republican presidential nomination: the traditional elitist route through state and national party leaders, the Washington lobbying and interest group community and top fund-raisers across the country no longer assures success, and may, instead, prove a liability.

For those seeking to emulate Trump — Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Ron DeSantis, for example — the basic question is whether Trump’s trajectory is replicable or whether there are unexplored avenues to victory at the 2024 Republican National Convention.

When Trump got into the 2016 primary race, “he did not have a clear coalition, nor did he have the things candidates normally have when running for president: political experience, governing experience, or a track record supporting party issues and ideologies,” Joseph Uscinski, a political scientist at the University of Miami, wrote in an email. Lacking these traditional credentials, Trump sought out “the underserved market within the Republican electorate by giving those voters what they might have wanted, but weren’t getting from the other mainstream selections.”

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