Trump’s Populist Coalition Reshapes American Politics

President-elect Donald Trump

by Ginny Montalbano


Salena Zito and Brad Todd recently co-authored the book The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics. They spoke to The Daily Signal’s Ginny Montalbano about who the Trump voters are, what motivated them during the 2016 election, and what they can tell us about the future.

Ginny Montalbano: Your new book called “The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics” just came out. Can we start with what inspired you to write this book and what it’s about?

Brad Todd: I didn’t see Trump’s nomination coming in 2016 in the election. I was working for a different candidate. After watching it come about in spite of my expectations and then watching the general election develop, I really was interested to know if the long term question; was this something that was just starting, was this something that was in the middle, or was this something that was finishing with this reforming of the coalition on the right?

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Salena Zito: He and I had numerous conversations that began back in 2006 when we first met, in trying to understand this disruptive force that was starting to build among conservatives. That’s not just Republicans, but Independents and Democrats as well.

I saw that this was coming, but mainly because as a reporter I live in Pittsburgh, so I spend my time outside the Beltway. I saw the evidence of this in 2016, really beginning with the April Pennsylvania primary. How Trump just steamrolled through my state and created an enthusiasm that I have never seen among Republican primary voters.

I remember right before the night of the primary election going to the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg, which is massive. I went there and there was 25,000 people inside, there’s at least 10,000 to 15,000 outside. I remember thinking, “Wow, this is April in Pennsylvania. Something’s happening here.”

Montalbano: The president has tweeted about your book. He said, “It does much tell the story of our great election victory, the forgotten men and women are forgotten no longer.” What is the disconnect between the actual Trump voters and the Trump voters that a lot of the media tries to portray?

Todd: It’s a pretty optimistic coalition. I think you see a lot of the stories about the Trump voters convince you that they’re all destitute, and laid off factory workers who are strung out on heroin, and convinced that they’re angry with the world.

We found something exactly the opposite. In traveling through the five Rust Belt states that switched from Obama to Trump and conducting a survey of Trump voters in those states, 86% of those people actually are optimistic about their own economics situation and their own economic career prospects.

They’re scared to death about their communities, but they’re very optimistic. We think that that sense of optimism and forward looking nature is a thing that was missed.

Zito: Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the things that people will enjoy about The Great Revolt is that there is these seven different archetypes, the most surprising archetypes of the Trump coalition, that emerge and come to life. I think as people read it, more often than not that they’ll see themselves through these stories.

Brad is right about the optimism. Make America Great Again, people made fun of it as nostalgic or racist. I’ve even heard dog whistle, which I’m not even sure what that means. To them it was an aspirational about doing something and being part of something that was bigger than themselves.

That’s a very important component, a very uniquely American thing whether you have been in this country for two weeks or for seven to nine generations. It’s something that you find inherent within all American people. I think that the national press missed that and missed that understanding of who these voters are.

Montalbano: You’ve written that Trump was not the cause of this movement, he was the result of it. What exactly are these Trump voters reacting to and what can they tell us about the future?

Todd: Nothing in American politics happens on accident for one time, usually it’s something that builds. When these trends happen, it builds over a period of time and it continues. Trump, it may have taken someone as uniquely outside the political system to fully catalyze the coalition.

Most Trump voters just think both parties are responsible for the dysfunction in Washington, they trust him more than they trust politicians of either party. To some extent therefore he definitely was essential in bringing it together, that’s a fair argument.

In the end, this populous coalition, this fusion of populism and conservatism, it’s been coming for a while. We saw it in Republican primaries in 2010, 2012, and 2014. It really almost had to crystallize in the general election at some point and it’s going to continue even after Trump’s off the stage.

Zito: Yeah, absolutely. I think one of things that’s really important to understand is that the influence of this coalition goes well beyond the ballot box. We saw evidence of that on Wednesday, when you saw what the NFL made the decision about what they’re going to do about what happens if you as a player want to make this decision to kneel or not.

To me, and Brad you can tell me if this is wrong, to me it meant that they cried uncle. That they recognized that in these past two seasons, that they have seen a crumbling of not only their fan base, but also of their brand, a gold standard brand.

Todd: This means that the fans got what they asked for. The league’s original position was that they were going to allow players to kneel, there would be no ramifications for it. The fans spoke, I’m not saying every person in that fan base is politically motivated, but it’s another example of a coastal decision maker getting it wrong and the customer base responding.

That’s really what it was in the election, both in the Republican primary and the general. Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton represent the last gasp of the legacy brands in politics and the voters broke both of them.

Zito: Brad makes this point all the time, he said, “Look where the NFL’s located, Park Avenue.” They make their decisions based around that sort of life and people that are like them. Brad has said to me several times, “They should be located in Canton, Ohio where the Hall of Fame is.” They would be more attuned to how their fan base thinks.

Montalbano: What are you hoping that political elites and media take away from the lessons that you’ve learned throughout writing this book?

Todd: This culture craves respect. That I think that treating them and their cultural backgrounds without respect is peril for both sides.

Zito: Absolutely. I think that both political parties have shown these voters, and a lot of voters across the board, very little dignity. They have made it appear as though their opportunities aren’t as important as coastal opportunities are. Again, that’s a problem in the ballot box, it’s a problem outside of the ballot box. Honestly, both parties would learn from The Great Revolt.

Montalbano: Thank you both so much.

Zito: Thank you.

Todd: Thanks a bunch.

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Ginny Montalbano is a contributor to The Daily Signal. Send an email to Ginny.














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