the national interest

What I Missed About Trump: A Follow-Up

Donald Trump Rallies In Indianapolis
Readers of this space will be shocked to learn that Donald Trump is catering to racist sentiments. Photo: Joey Foley/Getty Images

A few days ago, I wrote a piece trying to explain why so many analysts, like me, mistakenly assumed Trump would fail to win the Republican nomination. My case is that most of us assumed Trump was too obviously buffoonish, and we overestimated the intelligence of the elites and the voters. Two pieces have now appeared in response to this — by Amanda Marcotte in Salon, and Gene Demby in NPR’s Code Switch — registering the same objection: I allegedly ignore the role of race in Trump’s support. “It’s telling that Chait finds it easier to imagine that huge swaths of Republican primary voters are childlike and naïve, rather than folks who quite rationally dig Trump’s direct appeals to their interests — their racial interests,” writes Demby. “Among Trump’s most notorious policy proposals is a moratorium on Muslims entering the country. He has called Mexican immigrants ‘rapists.’ Maybe we should concede that these declarations are not incidental to his appeal among his supporters, but central to them. Calling them ‘idiots’ posits that they’ve been duped, when perhaps Trump is saying precisely what they want to hear.” Marcotte makes the same case.

Both these responses fundamentally misconstrue my piece. First, the notion that I have “whitewashed” Trump’s appeal and ignored its racist element is preposterous. If either Demby or Marcotte had conducted even a two-minute Google search, they would have found many examples of my analyzing the racial element of Trump’s support — for instance, here, here, here, here, here, and here. I have also written a great many pieces exploring the role of white racial resentment in conservative politics generally, the longest being this 2014 cover story.

So why didn’t this piece mention race? Because it wasn’t an article trying to answer the question, “Why do Republican voters like Trump?” Instead it was an article trying to answer the question, “Why did Trump win when I expected him to lose?” Obviously, he won because he has deep appeal to the Republican voters. Some of those sources were known in advance. For instance, Trump is rich and famous. I didn’t mention those factors either. It’s not because I am attempting to deny that Trump’s wealth and fame played a role in his appeal. It’s because, like Trump’s racism, they were known from the beginning. I was exploring what factors in the equation I missed.

To depict me as ignoring or downplaying the role of race in Trump’s appeal on the right is not a competent, good-faith reading of my work. Both authors have longstanding disagreements with me on identity politics that they’ve chosen to project as a criticism of this piece, but their criticisms literally have nothing to do with what my piece says.