Only Republicans Can Break The Rage Of Rural Voters

There was a highly quoted story from the conservative David French this week that described the destructive rage he finds living and working in rural America. In it, French points out the near Pavlovian response to defend Trump’s destructive behavior is “a festival of blatant and grotesque hypocrisy” and has the effect of “unlearning liberty”. Both Trump’s behavior and the reaction of his defenders degrade those very supporters and the Republican party in general.

As French describes it, “Trump is stoking a particularly destructive form of rage — and his followers don’t just allow themselves to be stoked, they attack Trump’s targets with glee…And I have never in my adult life seen such anger. There is a near-universal hatred of the media. There is a near-universal hatred of the so-called “elite.” If a person finds out that I didn’t support Trump, I’ll often watch their face transform into a mask of rage. Partisans are so primed to fight — and they so clearly define whom they’re fighting against — that they often don’t care whom or what they’re fighting for. It’s as if millions of Christians have forgotten a basic biblical admonition: ‘Be angry and do not sin.’ Don’t like the media? Shut it down. Don’t like kneeling football players? Make them stand. Tired of American weakness overseas? Cheer incoherent and reckless tweets as evidence of ‘strength.’”

Of course, all this rage is bound up in the nexus of the economic stagnation and deterioration of the last four decades and racism. But, as Kevin Drum asks, what will it take to break this fevered rage? He notes, “Obama tried to give them cheap health care, and it enraged them. He passed stricter regulation on the Wall Street financiers who brought us the Great Recession, and they didn’t care. He fought to reduce their payroll taxes and fund infrastructure to help the economy get back on track, and they sneered that it was just a lot of wasted money that ballooned the national debt. At the same time, Obama didn’t try to take their guns away. He didn’t outlaw Christianity or conduct a war on Christmas. He didn’t do much of anything related to abortion…None of it really seemed to matter, though. The culture war stuff remained enraging regardless of what Obama did or didn’t do.”

The answer, I believe, no longer lies with Democrats. As Drum says, none of this will stop “if they keep voting for Republicans, who will actively make these things worse while skillfully laying off the blame on ‘elites’ and ‘Hollywood liberals.’ Keeping the rage machine going is their ticket to political power.”

When LBJ signed the Civil and Voting Rights Acts, he essentially threw the racists out of the Democratic party. But he knew that sacrifice would not be without political consequences. When he signed the Voting Rights Act, he is reported to have said that “we have lost the South for a generation”. The quote may be apocryphal, but for a few years, the racists had no political home, relegated to a third party run by George Wallace in 1968. And they might have stayed in the wilderness had not Nixon decided to exploit the Southern Strategy and begin the process of welcoming them into the Republican party, a place where they have enjoyed an increasingly powerful role ever since, culminating in the election of Donald Trump.

The environment today is admittedly far different than it was in 1965. But the Republican party is supine in the face of Trump. They tolerated Trump’s abuses throughout the campaign. They still tolerate them today. The supposed elites of the party, the Romneys, the Bushes, and other remain silent. The mega-rich donors only care about their tax and regulation cuts.

It would not take much to change the dynamic. Their voters are part of tribe so the tribal leaders must lead.McCain, Murkowski, and Collins could decide to caucus as independents. Those retiring GOP House members could switch parties instead. A handful could actually cross the party line and vote for sensible policies that will help those rural voters, policies that a majority of both parties probably actually support. That may be political suicide but it would also be political courage. And it will take something like that, someone in the Republican party with the courage equivalent to LBJ to simply say this will not stand any longer, to help put a stop to this Trump-fueled destructive rage. So far, that level of courage has been sufficiently lacking in the Republican party these days.

Originally published at on October 14, 2017.