But if Trump’s working-class supporters were voting as much for the man as for his message, they were also clearly voting against a party leadership that pays them lip service while ignoring their concerns.
Some of these concerns are rooted in racial anxiety, and an older generation’s inevitable fear of change. But many of them are rooted in basic human vulnerability — a very personal exposure to stagnant wages, family breakdown, military quagmires (America’s wars are disproportionately fought by volunteers from downscale Red America) and a social crisis of opioid abuse and suicide that hardly anyone in Washington or New York noticed until recently. These are problems that deserve a political response no matter what racial biases the people experiencing them may harbor.
Keep stringing these voters along with symbolism, and they will eventually seek another Trump.
So what should the Republican Party offer them instead? The best answer is a conservative politics that stresses the national interest abroad and national solidarity at home. It should define America’s overseas goals in more achievable terms than the Bush-era “freedom agenda” or a Hillary Clinton-in-Libya liberal interventionism; promise support to workers buffeted by globalization; and explicitly weigh questions of community and solidarity when it sets tax rates or immigration levels.
Begin with foreign policy, where one of Trump’s more grotesque innovations has been his praise of Vladimir V. Putin, his nostalgia for Muammar el-Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein. But Trump has put his finger on a real problem: The Republican Party since the Sept. 11 attacks has struggled to weigh the relative gravity of different threats, to devise a strategy that distinguishes between bad and worse (as our Cold War strategy generally did), to offer a vision that doesn’t seem to promise escalation on every front simultaneously.