Thursday, June 16, 2016

Edsall in Pottstown, PA: For the GOP the 2016 Election is All About the Down-Ticket

I used to read Thomas Edsall's column every week. But then I switched employers, and I no longer had to while away the hours on the train. Consistently excellent, Edsall's reporting usually tells the story of a country wracked by inequality and economic dislocation while its major political parties struggle with how to win votes without doing anything to address the voters' concerns.

This week Edsall describes a visit to postindustrial Pottstown, PA, "Measuring the Trump Effect," where support for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee breaks down along gender lines:
My interviews this week with Pottstown voters in working and middle class white neighborhoods showed almost no support for Trump among women, but steady support among men.
“I like him because he is to the point, and it’s time for a change, I think he’s got the oomph to rattle some cages,” John Keyser, a nonunion employee at Universal Concrete Products Corporation, said. Universal Concrete is one of the few manufacturing facilities left in the area. Keyser told me that he usually votes for Democrats and thinks that Bill Clinton was “one of the greatest and best presidents we ever had.” But this year he supports Trump:
I’d rather have somebody who does get angry and has feelings than what we have had with politicians who don’t care either way. I like the emotional involvement.
In a number of cases, local support for Trump among white men was based as much on their animosity to Hillary Clinton as it was on their faith in Trump.
“I’d vote for the devil before I would ever vote for that woman,” said a man in his 60s who identified himself only as Keith. In a phrase repeated by at least three others, Keith said that Hillary Clinton “belongs in jail.”
Stacey Weinstein, a 53-year-old psychiatric social worker, reflected the opposite side of the coin: she distrusts Clinton, but sees Trump as by far the worse choice.
“I’m not terribly enthusiastic about her because I think she has done some very underhanded things,” Weinstein said, but “Donald Trump is a misogynist, and I don’t like misogynists.”
What stood out in the interviews I conducted on June 13 here and in an upscale development in East Goshen, 24 miles south of Pottstown, was that the Trump supporters were male, with one exception; Clinton backers were decisively (but not exclusively) women.
News consumers would be better informed if more reporters did what Edsall does in this week's column -- go to a town; describe briefly its history, both demographic and economic; and ask people what they think about the candidates. The interviews he quotes breathe fresh air and provide a slice of life we too rarely get to sample. It's too bad that Edsall only appears online and not in NYT's national print edition.

The rest of the story Edsall wrestles with the down-ticket ramifications of Trump's candidacy. This is the $64,000 question for the GOP and explains why party leaders have vacillated so when it comes to embracing or criticizing Trump. Basically the Republican Party is trapped and elders don't know what to do. Look at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. First, he said the party would run attack ads in select states against its own nominee if it ends up being Trump. Then he was one of the first high-profile Republicans in Congress to endorse Trump.

For the GOP it is all about protecting its majorities in the Senate and House, which means inoculating its down-ticket from any Trump backlash at the same time it grabs whatever ride is available on Trump's coattails. Maybe such a calculation is possible at the level of the individual race, but certainly not at the national level. That's why Congressional Republicans seem so adrift when it comes to Trump, and it is not something that is going to be solved between now and November. The GOP hope is to fudge things and not lose too many seats.

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