CNN Guest’s Explanation of Donald Trump Actually Makes Sense


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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