The reaction of the ruling elite and their minions in official conservadom to the Donald Trump surge is best characterized as a hissy fit, an extended temper tantrum that the GOP base isn’t doing what they want them to. The elite and their gatekeepers can’t seem to figure out why Trump is surging and why the peons who support him won’t listen to their betters. What is more puzzling is why they didn’t see this coming and why it hasn’t happen sooner. The writing has been on the wall for a while.
Anyone who wants to understand the Trump phenomenon should read the book The Ruling Class: How They Corrupted America and What We Can Do About It by Angelo Codevilla. It was first published as a rather longish essay in the American Spectator magazine. It was so well received that American Spectator updated it, added an introduction by Rush Limbaugh and published it as a book.
At first glance, Codevilla perhaps seems like an unlikely candidate to write such a book. Arguably a member of the ruling class himself, he was first an influential government employee before moving on to the Hover Institute think tank and then to Boston University as a professor of international relations. With a Ph.D from the Claremont Graduate School and a history of foreign policy hawkishness, he was also perceived as at least somewhat neoconish. My impression is that he may have backed away from his hawkishness a bit in the last few years, but where exactly Codevilla stands on foreign policy is beyond the scope of this essay. Suffice it to say that regardless of Codevilla’s own shaky credentials as a pitchfork wielding man of the people, his insights in the book ring true and are much appreciated.
Whether Codevilla intended it as such or not, The Ruling Class has been praised as a brilliant example of elite class analysis. According to Dr. Paul Johnson of Auburn University, elite theory suggests that:
American politics is best understood through the generalization that nearly all political power is held by a relatively small and wealthy group of people sharing similar values and interests and mostly coming from relatively similar privileged backgrounds. Most of the top leaders in all or nearly all key sectors of society are seen as recruited from this same social group, and elite theorists emphasize the degree to which interlocking corporate and foundation directorates, old school ties and frequent social interaction tend to link together and facilitate coordination between the top leaders in business, government, civic organizations, educational and cultural establishments and the mass media. This "power elite" can effectively dictate the main goals (if not always the practical means and details) for all really important government policy making (as well as dominate the activities of the major mass media and educational/cultural organizations in society) by virtue of their control over the economic resources of the major business and financial organizations in the country.
Well, you don’t say? This observation is a “no duh” to Trump supporters. A bear does what in the woods?
According to Codevilla, Democrat voters are much more satisfied with their party because they see it as serving their interests. On the other hand, Republican voters, who are mostly middle-class yokels in flyover country, are not happy with their party because they see it as asking them for votes every two years then promptly going to Washington and serving the interests of someone else, the primarily bi-coastal elite donor class.
For example, “Fast Track” trade legislation was recently rammed through Congress at the behest of the Chamber of Commerce set thanks to the yeoman efforts of Republican legislators to salvage it following a legislative setback. This was despite polling data and an overwhelmingly disproportionate number of calls, letters and emails that indicated their base was extremely hostile to it. And then party leaders and Conservative Inc. gatekeepers scratch their heads and can’t figure out why some people are so angry and supporting Trump. Trump is these chickens coming home to roost.
I have no use for the Republican party leadership, but I don’t doubt that some of the conservative gatekeepers are well intentioned. Trump is not a check all the boxes conservative to say the least, and he certainly says things that shock the sensibilities of small government and free-market advocates. I’m sure many are sincere in their attempts to safeguard the Republican brand and conservatism as they understand it, but the gatekeepers too often come off as apologists for said fat cat elites, often to the point of parody. Unlike political hobbyists, most voters are not ideologues. Many people vote viscerally and appearances and general impressions matter to them. Which candidate really cares about me? If that’s the question for the angry GOP base, Trump crushes Jeb.
It is not impossible to mix free-market orthodoxy with populism. Ron Paul was able to walk this fine line with some success. In fact, as Codevilla points out in The Ruling Class, popular sentiment has increasingly come to be characterized by “leave me alone and get out of my business” attitudes as the government has expanded and become more and more intrusive, but you can’t come off like the guy on the Monopoly board either. If the leadership of the Republican Party and Conservative Inc. want to reconnect with a base they are quickly losing, I suggest they pick up a copy of The Ruling Class, and give it a read. I doubt it will do much good, but maybe they won’t be so baffled.