At CT and just about everywhere else, there’s been lots of discussion about who is voting for Trump and why. This began during the Republican primaries, when it made sense to ask “what kind of Republican would prefer Trump to Bush, Cruz etc?”.
This kind of discussion continued through the general election, even though the answer is now staring us in the face. Trump is getting overwhelming support from self-described Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, and almost none from Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents. The same was true for Romney four years ago, and for McCain and Bush before him.
This is well known, but few people seem to have drawn the obvious conclusion*. With marginal changes (I’ll discuss these below), the people who are voting for Trump now voted for Romney four years ago, and for Bush before that.
This makes nonsense of much of the discussion of Trump voters as the dispossessed, protesting against globalisation, predatory capitalism and the destruction of American manufacturing. Conversely, it turns out that the discussion of Romney’s “dog whistle” appeals to racism was misconceived. Replacing the dog whistle with a bullhorn has turned out to be no problem for the great majority of those who voted for Romney.
What matters to Romney/Trump voters is what Romney and Trump have in common. Trivially, they have both been nominated by the Republican party and their supporters are Republican partisans. But that’s a bit like saying that opium makes you sleepy because of its dormitive quality. People are Republican partisans because they agree with the core elements of the Republican position: white Christianist identity politics, opposition to (non-white) immigration, and anti-poor, anti-union economic and social policies. What Trump has done is to show that some things previously thought to be core Republican commitments (free trade, for example) are actually peripheral.
Of course, the overlap is not 100 per cent. The (small) group of Republicans who aren’t voting for Trump is different from the (also small) group who didn’t vote for Romney: the never-Trumpers are mostly women and college graduates, while the anti-Romney Repubs presumably included some stereotypical Trump voters (with the qualification that they identified as Republicans well before Trump came along).
In addition, it’s necessary to take account of demographic changes, newly registered voters, differences in turnout and switches in party affiliation. Demographic changes have mostly favored the Democrats. Trump has claimed to be driving new registrations, but I’ve seem no evidence of this. Republicans have had a net benefit from switchers, but that’s mostly a continuation/completion of the long migration of Southern white nationlists away from the Democratic party.
Overall, though, the problem is simple. If you want to explain Trump’s support base, you need to start from the fact that he shares it with Romney and Bush.
* Corey here at CT and elsewhere has probably been the most consistent exponent of the view that Trump is a traditional Republican, in the line of Goldwater and Reagan. I broadly agree, though I’d put more stress on new developments over the past 20 years or so. Trump’s complete disregard for truth, norms of decency and so on, is an extrapolation of a process that’s been going on for quite a while, at the popular level with Fox News, birtherism and so on and in the Republican intellectual apparatus with climate denial, zombie economics and attacks on “political correctness”.