I love a good price fixe tasting menu. At a good restaurant, I don’t need many choices. I want to know what the chef thinks is his/her best, and I want to eat it. It helps that I love food, and am not in any way a picky eater, so these kinds of menus make me happy. For others, these menus are a nightmare. Sometimes they have an appetizer that sounds good, but nothing on the main courses, and other times there’s a good sounding main course, but the appetizers all sound awful. For many, this is a perfect metaphor for politicians.
Although the menu metaphor is all mine, I can’t take credit for this morning’s realization, it comes entirely from my lovely wife. For a long time, I have known many people who considered themselves fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Last spring, the conservative Cato Institute released a report arguing that this type of thinking was on the rise. This sentiment is found in Gallup polling also, with people more likely to say that they are liberal on social issues than fiscal issues, and more likely to self-identify as conservative on fiscal issues than on social issues. For many people, this left them having to pick one or the other, because most candidates didn’t offer that combination they sought. Candidates were either liberal (fiscally and socially) or conservative (fiscally and socially), and people were left feeling like no candidate represented them very well. Living in a state like New York, this seems to be the majority of GOP voters that I know personally. Those who think that gay marriage is probably fine, civil rights are important, death penalty is not a good idea, and they might even be pro-choice (at least to some degree), but they want lower taxes and less spending on things they deem wasteful, and have a philosophical aversion to government taking from them to give to others against their will. For them, they’ve voted republican and swallowed the bitter pill of social conservativism* (see note on my usage) in order to get the desired fiscal conservativism. There are other voters who might benefit from a fiscal liberal, but they vote conservative, likely because they are aligned with the social issues, and were willing to accept the fiscal conservativism, or even found ways to rationalize it (it’s just fair, keep government off all our backs, I might be a millionaire one day, etc). Having spent some time at Catholic schools, I have friends that fit this mold too. Some who consider themselves consistently pro-life, which, for them means being anti-abortion, but also anti-death penalty, pro-social welfare programs, pro-immigration. For many of these voters, they voted republican because of the abortion issue, but longed for a candidate who would be more aligned with them on the social issues that they believe fit better with their Catholic values. In all of these cases, for a long time, we’ve had conflicted voters who needed to sacrifice one thing to get the other, and had to pick which was more important. Then, for many of them, along came Trump.
Trump is the nightmare for the GOP voter who considers him/herself fiscally conservative and socially liberal, but a dream come true for those who have been voting GOP because of social issues, but either don’t care about, or would be hurt by, traditional GOP fiscal policies. Trump’s fiscal policies are not entirely clear, but when it comes to taxes, he seems pretty fiscally liberal, at least in some respects. Earlier this week, for instance, he had some harsh words about Scott Walker’s tax policies in Wisconsin, and the largest anti-Trump talking point on the AM talk shows is that he isn’t a true conservative. I think that assessment is fair when he says things like this about Walker:
“There’s a $2.2 billion deficit and the schools were going begging and everything was going begging because he didn’t want to raise taxes cause he was going to run for president,” Trump said in an interview with radio host Michael Koolidge. “So instead of raising taxes, he cut back on schools, he cut back on highways, he cut back on a lot of things.”
This is the kind of thing you’d normally hear from somebody on the democratic party ticket, not on the GOP side of things. This is fair ammunition for those who say that he isn’t a true conservative. So why is he getting so much support from the GOP primary voters, even among them who consider themselves conservative? Because conservative means different things to different people. Conservative on social policy may be more important for some than conservative on fiscal policy. For many voters, for the first time in their voting lives, they don’t have to take the good with the bad anymore. Many of these voters agree, perhaps without being willing to admit it, with democrats that the system is rigged, that the benefits go disproportionately to the wealthy, but they think gay marriage is disgusting, they think racism is a thing of the past and people should shut up about it now, and they are tired of being called a “bigot” for saying things that they feel in their hearts (things that are, frankly, bigoted, but they want to be able to call a spade a spade, without having to ask if it actually is, objectively speaking a spade). Trump gives them all of that. Trump satisfies their social conservativism, and has painted a picture of himself as somebody who will enact policies that help those beneath him. He is “the best” to his worker bees. He will be the “best” for trade and jobs and all the things that help the working class. He sells this image, and throws in things about deporting Mexicans and Muslims, makes derogatory comments about women, says that abortion should be punishable by law, and suddenly the large sector of the population who would have benefited more from the fiscal policies of liberals, but who voted republican because of the social issues, have a candidate who doesn’t make them pick anymore.
For the first time, they have a price fixed menu that they like. Before, they could find a soup or salad that they liked, but the main courses were yucky; or a main course that sounded good, but nothing on the soup side of things. Now they have both, and they are energized…and we get to see what was really driving their vote before.
*A note on my word usage here. I know that the more common term is conservatism, but I don’t like that word at all. We have words like liberalism, empiricism, existentialism, racism, spiritualism that all have the full root as part of the word. Liberal-ism contains all of liberal. Conservativism has more of conservative (leaves of the e at the end, which seems fine) than conservatism. What’s conservat or conservate? The OED has an entry for “conservate,” but lists it as rare. The root should be, in my opinion, conservative. Drop the e at the end and you get conservativism. I think that should be the word we use, and I don’t know why we don’t, but think it probably has something to do with people on the airwaves, like Rush Limbaugh, who are trying to save time in their broadcast, and don’t like all the syllables in conservativism.