May 7, 2018 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
The Elites Are Marginalizing Trump
The message they are sending to the public: Trump is not good people.
The Editorial Board strives to understand politics as it is, not as it’s imagined to be. The board has little patience with declarations of absolute truth. There are, however, a few theories that continue to prove themselves useful, and this is one of them: Most people most of the time have something better to do than pay attention to politics.
For this reason, most people most of the time do not invest the time and energy needed to be politically informed. Normal people look to abnormal people to perform such tedious labor. Political scientists give these abnormal people a name.
They call them “elites.”
In How Voters Decide: Information Processing During Election Campaigns (2006), a classic study of the way voters choose candidates, Richard Lau and David Redlawsk said most public opinion is formed by taking cues from elites, including elected officials, the media, and interest groups. (Voters also take cues from friends, family, colleagues and religious leaders, but that’s for another newsletter.) “By means of these informational shortcuts, average citizens can form political opinions that are, in most instances, consistent with their underlying preferences,” Lau and Redlawsk said.
They called this “voting correctly.”
A lot of liberal observers have said that President Donald Trump is the result of an electorate that “voted correctly.” An old white and rich generation of Americans did not want to share the blessings of liberty, equality and wealth with the country’s growing nonwhite population. They were looking for a Great White Hope and got one. As the peerless Jamelle Bouie said post-election: “white won.”
That’s a strong, nearly convincing argument, but the reverse is equally plausible: that voters did not vote correctly. Elites, whose jobs is to be truly informed—especially the news media—failed in their task. It seems quaint 17 months into this presidency that America had been entranced by the saga of Hillary Clinton’s email.
It’s debatable which came first—elite opinion or public opinion. But it’s not debatable that this president continues to be the most unpopular president in modern memory, and that his party is suffering for it. Whether the public is hearing cues from elites or whether elites are responding to public opinion, this is an important question, but not one I want to focus on now. My point for today’s newsletter is that elites seem to have realized what they have done, and signs point to a needed course correction.
First, many elites have made no room for Trump, even though he’s president.
The Bush family refused his attending Barbara Bush’s funeral. British Royalty did not invite him to the wedding of Prince Harry and actress Meghan Markle. With one exception, Trump is on the outs with our European allies. The president at war with the entire media establishment. And US Senator John McCain, who is dying from brain cancer, is said to have said that Trump is not to attend his funeral.
Consider too the daily outrages like the one pictured above.
A former Trump aide, Sam Nunberg, appears to be encouraging Trump loyalists to celebrate, when the time comes, the death of a fellow Republican. This despite John McCain’s being a (rightly) celebrated prisoner of war. In cheering his death, Nunberg is signaling that Trumpism cheers the death of American patriots.
Worse, for Trump, is the faint stink of criminality associated with him. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is approaching the president as if he were a Mafia boss, not a political leader. Reinforcing this image is Rudy Giuliani, former New York City mayor turned presidential attorney. Over the weekend, his description of a former political fixer called to mind extortionists and blackmailers doing the Family’s business.
Moreover: Associating with Russian oligarchs. Pandering to autocrats. Scamming Republican donors. Dealings in shady business, tax evasion and money laundering. Not to mention: the president’s habit of paying women for sex; GOP candidates accused of pedophilia; GOP candidates fresh out of prison for fraud only to run for the Senate in West Virginia. As one prolific conservative tweeter put it Monday:
“Maybe it’s time to deal with the fact that the shittiest GOP candidates keep encountering implausible success because the GOP has a lot of shitty voters.
It’s not really breaking news that there are a lot of shitty people in this country, and always has been, the only thing that’s new is the GOP deciding to actively try to attract them and get them to vote.”
Most people most of the time have something better to do than pay attention to politics, so they take shortcuts. They hear signals from elites, people like John McCain, the Bush family, and British Royalty; people like Robert Mueller, corporate CEOs and Hollywood celebrities. The message: Trump is not good people.
In normal times, there would be no consensus among elites. They would be competing. But increasingly, there appears to be an unacknowledged understanding among elites that the president of the United States, the center of power, is not allowed into their inner circle. This matters, because, as I said, normal people with other things to do are listening, and they will remember Trump’s marginalization on Election Day.
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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition open and available to all. Find him @johnastoehr.