When I first saw the National Journal‘s senior writer John B. Judis discussing the appeal of Donald Trump with Poppy Harlow on CNN, I assumed he was yet another interesting Trump supporter discussing the GOP front-runner’s prowess. After all, their split screen quickly cut away to a much larger collage featuring footage from Trump’s Las Vegas rally, where he took credit for Rep. Kevin McCarthy‘s (R-CA) stepping out of the House speaker vote. Add to this the fact that, when I last saw a CNN guest discussing Trump’s appeal, it was Paula Johnson, the co-chair of Women for Trump in New Hampshire — otherwise known as “television magic.”
Turns out, the former New Republic and American Prospect editor wasn’t supporting Trump at all, though he was discussing the New York real estate mogul’s wealth of support. That’s because Judis had just published his first feature in the National Journal, “The Return of the Middle American Radical: An Intellectual History of Trump Supporters.”
I know what you’re thinking. “Wait, CNN had some guy on who used the words ‘intellectual’ and ‘Trump’ in the same sentence? I call bullsh*t!” Honestly, I would too — hence my initial reaction to many of Judis’ comments. But the more I watched the nearly two and a half minute exchange, and the more I read of “The Return of the Middle American Radical,” the more the glass began to shatter.
In the article, Judis cautions against crediting (or blaming) Trump’s “personality” for his continued political success. It’s not “his outspokenness, his disdain for political-correctness, his showmanship, [or] his reputation as a billionaire deal-maker” that has endeared potential voters to him, per se. Rather, “what has truly sustained Trump thus far is that he does, in fact, articulate a coherent set of ideological positions, even if those positions are not exactly conservative or liberal.” Judis finds cause for this in what deceased political sociologist Donald Warren called “Middle American Radicals, or MARS.”
If these voters are beginning to sound familiar, they should: Warren’s MARS of the 1970s are the Donald Trump supporters of today. Since at least the late 1960s, these voters have periodically coalesced to become a force in presidential politics, just as they did this past summer. In 1968 and 1972, they were at the heart of George Wallace‘s presidential campaigns; in 1992 and 1996, many of them backed H. Ross Perot or Pat Buchanan. Over the years, some of their issues have changed — illegal immigration has replaced explicitly racist appeals — and many of these voters now have junior-college degrees and are as likely to hold white-collar as blue-collar jobs. But the basic MARS worldview that Warren outlined has remained surprisingly intact from the 1970s through the present.
Despite Judis’ emphasis on these nuanced political ideologies, however, Harlow wondered during their exchange if his discounting the general consensus that Trump’s personality is responsible for most of his support.
“You say that it’s a mistake for people to believe that those who support Donald Trump right now are only drawn to him because of his personality,” said Harlow. “You say that it is largely his ideological positions. But here’s the thing: whether it was George Wallace’s campaign, Ross Perot’s campaign, Pat Buchanan’s campaign — they didn’t succeed at that in the end.”
“Let me put it this way,” Judis responded. “It is to some extent his personality. It is his way of being able to speak to an audience, to talk to them, not as if he’s giving a speech. It’s his reputation as a billionaire and as a deal-maker. And it’s an anti-Washington sentiment, but it’s a sentiment that’s based on the idea… that’s he’s the guy that can come to Washington… and transform everything. It’s not anti-leader, it’s anti-Washington, and there’s a big difference in that.”
No, this doesn’t mean that Trump is a Libertarian or anything remotely close, Judis added. “He’s simply anti-Washington.”
On the one hand, Judis’ article and his discussion with Harlow actually helps to make sense of Donald Trump’s political campaign so far. That, and why so many potential voters seem to like the guy. On the other hand, I’d like to see Trump take this newfound intellectual support and run with it — especially if he doesn’t get the Republican nomination. The “MARS party” has a nice ring to it.
Check out the clip above, via CNN.
UPDATED–5:57 p.m. ET: I misidentified CNN anchor Poppy Harlow as Brooke Baldwin above after an early misreading on my part. I apologize for the error.
[Image via screengrab]
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