NOTHSTINE: Trump is the choice for those who feel left behind

Jonathan Ernst—Reuters
Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump rallies with supporters at Orlando Melbourne International Airport in Melbourne

In a teleconference with organized labor last week, Hillary Clinton rhetorically shrieked, “Why aren’t I 50 points ahead?” Large segments of Clinton supporters and coastal elites are probably asking the same question. Undoubtedly, it was the kind of question many of Donald Trump’s Republican primary opponents asked themselves too. Trump remains close to besting the candidate President Obama called the most qualified ever. Despite this, pre-debate polls showed the race virtually tied. Current momentum in swing states resides largely with the Republican nominee. Many are left asking why Trump is surging amid glaring flaws and character deficiencies?The post-ideological candidateOne of Trump’s appeals is his ability to reach beyond the electorate that rallied around John McCain and Mitt Romney. Monday’s debate illustrated the difference between an experienced politician and Trump. While Clinton clearly outshines Trump on articulation of policy and overall demeanor, she doesn’t resonate or speak to many in Middle America. Unfair or not, Trump reminded millions that are fed up with the Washington establishment that Clinton has had “30 years” to fix the problems. Many voters no longer believe that the entrenched Washington bureaucracy advocates for them in any way. In an election where a majority of voters want change, besides being a woman, Clinton offers virtually nothing. Rigid liberal ideology only offers more of the same.Trump has shown signs of life in Pennsylvania, a state the Republicans have not won at the presidential level since 1988. Trump has eschewed Republican orthodoxy on a host of issues, but he’s capitalized most on what he deems to be unfair trade agreements. He rarely makes an attempt to articulate the deeper principles of conservatism that has been a staple of the Republican Party since the ascendance of Ronald Reagan.Large swaths of the electorate, especially in the Rust Belt, see him as a champion of the working class. He appeals to significant segments of blue collar Democrats, many who feel left behind by their own party. In their view, they have been pushed aside by an endless list of social justice grievance groups.Trump deftly blames politicians in both parties for the national mess, including President George W. Bush in his attempt to rise up a movement of the “everyman” against the elites.The deplorablesWhen Clinton said this month that half of Trump’s supporters could be put in a “basket of deplorables,” it was a deep cut. “The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it,” declared Clinton. While Trump supporters have embraced the “deplorable” label as a badge of honor, it’s a cruel moniker and reinforces how people disconnected from their government imagine those in power view them.Even worse, she called some supporters “irredeemable.” From a theological perspective “irredeemable” strips them of their human dignity and worth. They don’t matter and hold no value in the Republic. It’s a tough label for a large segment of the electorate and only reinforces the “us against them” mentality so prevalent in a nation where the culture is deeply fragmented.He says almost anythingTrump continually speaks his mind in today’s hyper-politically correct society. He often errs in offering up offensive sound-bytes. But more importantly to his supporters, he vocally projects what people want to say to the Washington establishment. His supporters love that Trump calls the media corrupt to their face. While Congressional Republicans have offered reform initiatives, they have virtually let Obama govern the nation unchecked. Congressional Republicans have not exerted any power to substantially curtail federal spending, where the nation’s debt will reach $20 trillion in January. Although Trump would probably govern to the left of most national Republicans, he’s successfully branded himself as a man of action.Final thoughtsThe danger for Clinton and Democrats is that Trump has morphed into a vessel to punish Washington’s gross mismanagement and corruption. President Obama and Trump share many similar political qualities, in that their campaigns are viewed by large segments of Americans as a force for change. Like Obama, many voters will ultimately be frustrated with a potential Trump presidency because he hasn’t offered much in terms of policy specifics. At a deeper level, Trump’s strength and candidacy is a manifestation of larger cultural problems outside of political solutions.Unfortunately, whoever wins the presidential election will continue the perpetuation of the “us verse them” mentality that magnifies the powerful divisions within the country. Trump’s political obituary has been written countless times during this election season. That he has a real chance to win 40 days from the election shows just how broken and shattered our political system has become.