Republicans have been at pains this primary season to distinguish between Donald Trump and his supporters.
Trump may be a reactionary bigot, but his foot soldiers should be forgiven for their loyalty, because they’re stricken with economic anxiety, or because President Obama pitted other groups against them, or for some other reason.
Now, in characteristically attention-seeking fashion, National Review’s Kevin Williamson has rejected this balancing act, presaging an enduring GOP crackup: Poor whites aren’t victims of outside forces who deserve sympathy; they want Trump to rescue them from themselves, and thus deserve contempt.
Let’s applaud Williamson for consistency. After 2012, Republicans tried but failed to disavow the view that welfare breeds moochers (disproportionately minorities) who support candidates that promise to coddle them. This was destined to be a challenge, because anti-moocherism is central to both conservative ideology and GOP racial politics. Faced with evidence that it’s politically toxic, conservatives redoubled efforts to mask “47 percenterism” behind gentler rhetoric. Williamson’s saying this is unprincipled, and has instead applied the logic more broadly, turning 47 percenterism into, say, 60 percenterism. He’s deracing a cynical strategy, making it more principled but less politically viable. Call it equal opportunity anti-loser ideology. A Williamsonesque GOP splinter faction would be just as white as, but less popular than, the current coalition, because rather than extend sympathies once reserved for poor whites to all poor people, it would extend contempt for poor minorities to poor whites.