Donald Trump had a big weekend. On Saturday, he told a rally of his supporters in Birmingham, Alabama that “we have to surveil the mosques.” After a half-dozen white attendees at that rally knocked a Black Lives Matter protestor to the ground and kicked him for a while, Trump went on This Week and told George Stephanopoulos that “maybe he should have been roughed up.” In the same appearance, he called for the return of waterboarding and said he would “not at all” rule out a database of Muslims living in the United States. Sunday afternoon, he tweeted “statistics” claiming that 81% of white murder victims are killed by blacks. According to the FBI as reported by the Daily News, it’s actually about 15%.
So the front-runner for the Republican nomination is tweeting crime statistics made up by white supremacists and calling for government surveillance of certain religions. In a just society, that would end his candidacy, if not his career. In our society, he has been the front-runner since he entered the race. The Iowa primary is about ten weeks away.
A month ago, we wondered what voters could learn about Donald Trump in those weeks that they didn’t know already. Last weekend’s turn to open racism seems like it should be that thing, but it also seems like merely his campaign’s subtext made explicit. How many Trump supporters will abandon him because now they think he’s against black people and Muslims?
It seems like this weekend tells us less about Trump and more about Republican voters. The bloviating billionaire was already scraping the bottom of American discourse. Now he appears to be excavating it. Having lowered the bar until it rested on the ground, Trump is digging a hole. Into it flows the support of people who liked Sarah Palin but thought she was too restrained, people who believe the war on terror is overly concerned with individual rights, and Republicans who voted against Obama because no one gave them a chance to vote against black people generally.
By “Republicans who voted,” I mean people who say they are Republican voters and respond to polls. Trump has yet to win any election, anywhere, ever. He has yet to not win a poll, or at least he has yet to run second by more than the margin of error. But the typical response rate of a poll is less than ten percent.
Pollsters can’t autodial mobile phones, and 40% of Americans don’t have land lines. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect people without home phones tend to be younger and urban. That’s the opposite of Trump’s constituency. The people who love Trump are likely to be older and settled: people in the habit of paying for the same land line for 20 years while its number accumulates on lists, people who pick up and say, “I’d love to answer a survey,” because they’re ready to give someone a piece of their mind.
Basically, we’re talking about non-billionaire versions of Donald Trump. Those assholes have presumably been out there forever, and no one thought of pandering to them until now, because most people who run for president experience some form of self-respect. Trump only experiences the respect of others. Given that he is by far the most successful Republican candidate,1 one question seems salient: Are we watching the breakdown of American democracy or the breakdown of polls?
I would kind of like to know the answer before November. Since Trump entered the Republican race and leapt to the front by calling Mexicans drug dealers and rapists, we have looked for reasons to believe that none of this is real. First it was his novelty. Then it was his audacity. Then it was that Jeb Bush stumbled in the early weeks. Now it’s that people haven’t realized Marco Rubio is inevitable yet.
What if it’s that lots of Republican voters really like Donald Trump? What if they’ve been waiting for a candidate to talk about how crimes comes from blacks and Mexicans, how any Muslim who isn’t a terrorist knows one who is, how what this country needs to do is start rounding people up and bugging churches? If Trump proves that polls are broken, we should stop polling. If this thing is real, though, we should stop him.