The bait and switch: it’s one of the oldest tricks in politics—one of the oldest tricks in life. It’s a fundamentally dishonest ploy, and typically appeals to vulnerable people’s most base instincts in order to get them to, as the term suggests, take the bait. Donald Trump is a master at it.
Trump’s Electoral College victory relied heavily on support from white working-class voters. According to data from the Voter Study Group analyzed by Lee Drutman, Trump won 27 percent of the “populists”—people who are economically left-of-center, i.e. supporters of social spending in general, but conservative on racial and cultural identity issues—who had voted for Barack Obama four years earlier. Furthermore, 14 percent of these Obama-voting populists picked a minor party candidate in 2016. Hillary Clinton won only 59 percent of the populists who went for Obama. On the flip side, Trump held on to 93 percent of the populists who had voted for
Romney, and almost none went to Sec. Clinton, while Trump won 43 percent of the populists who had voted for a minor party candidate in 2012. Clinton won only 15 percent of them, and the rest went to other candidates.
Trump got these populist Obama supporters to vote for him by appealing to their racial and cultural identity issues, while at the same time reassuring them that he would not be a typical Republican who favored the rich by promising more infrastructure spending than his Democratic opponent, taking a hard protectionist stance on trade, etc. How do we know the latter worked? Obama-Trump voters told us so. They clearly identified Trump as a different kind of Republican—only 21 percent of them said his economic policies would favor the rich, while 40 percent of them said Congressional Republicans would, and 42 percent said Congressional Democrats would (it wasn’t either/or, each respondent was asked about all three separately). As Jamelle Bouie noted: “For the first time in recent memory, populist voters didn’t have to prioritize their values. They could choose liberal economic views and white identity, and they did.”
Obama-Trump voters are not the only voters worth going after. I am using them here as a proxy for people who voted for Trump but who are absolutely gettable votes for Democrats. Trump sold them a bill of goods, and he has not delivered. However, with a number of policies put forth in just the past week, he is doing his best to re-sell them all over again.