Sunday, February 21, 2016

Trump's South Carolina Primary Win Taken With Salt

Trump addresses supporters in South Carolina 
Anyone troubled by Donald Trump's decisive victory in last night's South Carolina Republican presidential primary should keep a few things in mind.

First, like the residents of most states where presidential primaries or caucuses are held, residents of the Palmetto State have been fond of bragging about their state's penchant for accurately predicting the eventual Republican nominee in the past.

Take that with a big grain of salt.

The last time around in 2012, South Carolina picked the divisive former House Speaker and pillar of Republican obstructionism Newt Gingrich - who had about as much chance of winning a general election as Sarah Palin.

So while Trump's victory does add to his momentum, with all due respect to the good citizens of South Carolina, winning a presidential primary there doesn't tell us a whole lot about how he'd fare in the larger general election.

Especially in the current political environment in which conservative primary voter's tendency to lean towards anti-establishment figures with zero political experience (Trump, Carson) could be seen as a reflection of frustration with a dysfunctional Washington political environment, anger at President Obama, or anxiety about the one-sided "economic recovery" that has left the vast majority of the voters who support Trump (disenfranchised white male and female citizens with some or no college education) left out in the same cold where most supporters of Bernie Sanders are.

2012 electoral college map results for Obama's 2nd win
Second, consider the numbers.

By that I mean the all-important 538 electoral college votes up for grabs in the 2016 presidential election.

270 are needed to win it.

In the last 2012 election, President Obama won 322 electoral votes to Mitt Romney's 206.

Thus far Trump has won victories in New Hampshire, which has 4 electoral votes, and South Carolina, which has 9 electoral votes - Iowa, which Senator Ted Cruz won, has 6 electoral votes.

So if you look at a breakdown of the electoral college votes by state, in effect, if we use the primary / caucus votes so far as a gauge of the 2016 presidential elections, Trump has "won" a total of thirteen electoral votes of the 270 he would need to win.

As far as winning the Republican nomination to be the 2016 presidential candidate, those votes are significant, but as far as him going head-to-head against Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders in a general election, it really doesn't tell us all that much.

2010 U.S. Census demographics by race
Based on the most recent available U.S. Census data, the state of Iowa is about 91.3% white, New Hampshire is 93.9% white and South Carolina is about 68.3% white, 27.9% black and 1.5% Asian.

Let's not forget that South Carolina was the state where voters were swayed, in part, to vote for George W. Bush during the 2000 presidential election after members of the Bush campaign printed up thousands of fliers that falsely accused Senator John McCain of having fathered a black child and placed them under the windshields of South Carolinians vehicles in order to tap into the racist undercurrent that is such a part of the state's history.

The current crop of Republican candidates have engaged in such shenanigans as well.

As reporter Schuyler Kropf reported in The Post and Courier on Friday February 19th, the day before the primary, pro-Ted Cruz robo-calls went out criticizing Trump and Republican Governor Nikki Haley for having weighed in on removing the Confederate flag from atop the South Carolina statehouse last year.

Specifically the robo-call chided Trump for "talking about our flag like it's a social disease."  

Using language like that to describe the Confederate flag is simply a more high-tech version of slipping racist fliers on the windshields of cars - but the fliers were used in 2015 too.

KKK flyers found on South Carolina cars in July, 2015
A month after racist killer Dylann Roof walked into a prayer service at the Emanuele African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston and shot nine innocent African-Americans on June 17, 2015, the same tactics were used again.

As WBTW reported, a month later on the night of July 14, 2015, groups of white men in pickup trucks waving Confederate flags were seen driving through the predominantly black Dorchester Waylyn neighborhood of North Charleston, South Carolina the night before flyers from the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan were found placed under the windshields of resident's cars.

It's certainly not fair, or my intention, to dismiss all whites who live in South Carolina as being racist against blacks, or harboring bias against Hispanic or other racial groups or ethnicities.

However, it is fair to say that Donald Trump's divisive language and rhetoric played well to conservative white primary voters on Saturday night, and it was a factor in his winning the primary with 32.5% of the vote - a 10% margin of victory over Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz who basically split 2nd place with 22.5% and 22.3% of the vote respectively.

The "big" electoral vote states like California (55 electoral votes), Texas (38 electoral votes), Florida and New York (29 electoral votes), Illinois and Pennsylvania (20 electoral votes) and Ohio (18 electoral votes) are all far more racially diverse.

Major power brokers in the Republican party are rightfully concerned over how Trump's huge unfavorable poll ratings amongst non-whites and women will affect Republican chances in the 2016 general election when the votes of citizens of African descent, Hispanics and Asians will have a much larger impact.

Which is why Republicans have spent so much time and effort enacting "voter ID laws" around the country to put up barriers to make it harder for people of color, other ethnicities and legal immigrants to cast votes.

Many political observers, myself included, are waiting to see how Trump's open embrace of bigotry (he's been endorsed by white supremacist groups), anti-immigrant hysteria and total lack of foreign policy experience would play out in a national election.

Conservative thinker Pat Buchanan
As the paleoconservative thinker and author Pat Buchanan (a presidential candidate in 1992 and 1996) observed in an interesting Washington Post interview with Chris Cillizza back in January, Senator John McCain lost the African-American vote 24-1 in the 2008 presidential race, and Mitt Romney lost the Hispanic vote in 2012 by 70%.

Should Trump lose California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio by those kinds of margins, Republicans are going to have to wait until 2020 to mount another attempt to retake the White House - and by that time the shifting demographic make-up to a far more diverse American populace are going to render the current Republican party even more irrelevant.

Thus far Trump's only coherent policy position seems to be the construction of a wall hundreds of miles long along the southern border of the United States and a totally unrealistic pledge to deport up to 11 million illegal immigrants.

Despite repugnant conservative smear tactics, the vast majority of those people work AND pay taxes.

In 2015, a nationwide study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy reported that the approximately 11-plus million illegal immigrants in the U.S. paid about $11.84 billion in local and state taxes in 2012 - so Trump's signature presidential position would not only cost U.S. taxpayers tens of billions of dollars and add to the deficit, it would also strip nearly $12 billion in annual tax revenue from local and state coffers.

Thus far Trump has offered absolutely no realistic plan on how he'd get the current divided do-little Republican-majority Congress to authorize, or pay for, the billions of dollars needed to pass either of those two fantasy initiatives.

In his zeal to win favor amongst the small Tea Party / extremist faction of the Republican party to win the GOP nomination, Trump may very well have rendered himself unelectable in a general election because he's alienated such a huge portion of the U.S. populace.

In the wake of the recent passing of author Harper Lee, maybe Trump should take some time to read Lee's "To Kill A Mockingbird", a classic American novel that explores the impact of racism through the lens of a small southern town that 'A Prairie Home Companion'  host Garrison Keillor called a book about "decency".

It's doubtful such literary insight would reverse the damage he's done to his brand with his divisive ranting, but it might help him to understand why most Americans find the idea of him as a president to be unpalatable.

Except in South Carolina.

My guess is current Republican Congressman Joe "You Lie!" Wilson would approve of Saturday night's results - which, like many South Carolina voters, might have more to do with personal racial perspectives than actual political policy.

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