How Donald Trump Courted White Americans to Victory; Blue-Collar Whites Say Trump Understands How to Get the Jobs Back. We're about to Find out If That's True

By Cooper, Matthew | Newsweek, November 18, 2016 | Go to article overview

How Donald Trump Courted White Americans to Victory; Blue-Collar Whites Say Trump Understands How to Get the Jobs Back. We're about to Find out If That's True


Cooper, Matthew, Newsweek


Byline: Matthew Cooper

It was June 26, 2015, 10 days after the mogul and showman had announced his bid for president and just after I'd written a piece for Newsweek that my editor had given the alliterative headline "Donald Trump: The Billionaire for Blue-Collars." In it, I'd argued that although the media and most Republicans were dismissing Donald Trump's chances of winning that party's nomination, his opposition to multilateral free trade agreements and demands for much tighter immigration restrictions made him a perfect fit for the white working-class men who now made up a large share of the Republican electorate. I also noted that Trump broke with Republican orthodoxy by adamantly insisting he would never cut Social Security and Medicare--another position that put him more in line with working-class white voters.

"I thought that piece was great," Trump said over the phone from his office at Trump Tower, then digressing in Trumpian fashion to let me know he'd been on the cover of Newsweek before. ("I always loved the magazine," he said.) I was a little surprised by his enthusiasm, since I had accused him of "bloviating," among other things, and I'd cringed a bit as well, as any reporter does when the subject of a piece seems too happy. Later, I learned that he refers to himself as the "blue-collar billionaire," so the headline seemed to have captured his affection.

As the campaign went on, I wrote critically about his policy proposals, such as banning Muslim immigration (which he later modified to be a ban on immigration from countries wracked by terrorism) and dragnet monitoring of American mosques for signs of terrorism; his attack on the Gold Star family; his alleged groping. But I never lost my fascination in Trump and the blue-collar whites he won in the national election for president by a 40 percent margin over Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton. Among blue-collar white men, it was a 49 percent margin. Trump also won college-educated whites, but by 4 percent, far lower than the usual double-digit Republican victory in this demographic. Trump won seven out of 10 non-college white men and six out of 10 non-college women.

Clinton carried minorities, yes, but by a lower margin than Barack Obama won the African-American and Hispanic vote, and she made critical mistakes in her quest for white voters. She failed to travel to blue-collar-rich Wisconsin, convinced it was safely part of the "blue wall" of 18 states and the District of Columbia that have voted Democratic in presidential contests since 1992. Clinton never visited the state after the Democratic primaries. Trump won Wisconsin, the first time a Republican had taken it since 1984.

Those white working-class voters may not have commanded enough of Clinton's attention, but Trump put a spotlight on them. J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy, a memoir and study of these voters, became a best-seller and a must-read for political types. Reporters air-dropped into Trump rallies and coal towns like Margaret Mead landing on the shores of Samoa to study native rites. I will even confess to spending my summer vacation on a driving tour of many of those voters' haunts: West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, southern Indiana, Illinois and Missouri. Call it my "Heart of Whiteness" tour.

The alienation of white working people from the Democratic Party has intrigued me for a long time. (I was a somewhat strange child.) My grandparents were working class, my mother's father a member of the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union. They had not abandoned their liberalism, but it often seemed that many families around me had. Maybe my interest was piqued by growing up watching All in the Family, the 1970s CBS hit about Archie Bunker, a bigoted, working-class Queens loudmouth--sound familiar?--who loved Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. I remember my father telling me about Lower Manhattan's Hard Hat Riot in 1970, when white construction workers beat up "longhairs" demonstrating against the killing of four anti-Vietnam war protesters at Kent State University in Ohio. …

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