The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

On the Appeal of Trump to Trump Fans

Trump is the only president in decades who has appealed to a particular segment of the American electorate.


I've been mystified for the last five-plus years as to what his fans find attractive about Trump. I'm not talking about people who think of him as the lesser evil to a Democratic administration, but people who wholeheartedly support him.

I almost never like any politician, so I'm not the best person to address this issue, and to some extent the appeal of political celebrities is always going to be a somewhat mysterious product of visceral emotion. (Why did so many American celebrities and intellectuals fall for Fidel Castro? Beats me.)

But I had a recent epiphany: there is a large segment of American society, maybe 15-20%, that has not had a president who represents their basic worldview for decades. These folks tend to be white, exurban or rural, believe in religious tradition and cultural conservatism without being regular church-goers, very patriotic, very pro-military, hostile to immigration and free trade, skeptical of big business, big government, and establishment experts, and in favor of entitlement programs and the safety net. Gannett or some similar media outfit profiled them well a couple of decades ago, but I can't find a link.

Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan appealed to this demographic to a large extent. Beyond that, the only major national figure I can think of in my lifetime who more or less represented them was George Wallace.

So along comes Trump who appeals to this constituency almost perfectly. Sure, he's a rich New Yorker, but his outer-borough accent and mentality, scorned by the elite, reminds people that their own regional accents are also scorned by the elite.

This constituency used to be divided between Republicans and Democrats, which is one reason they lacked influence on presidential nominees, but they have shifted to be heavily Republican, which gave them a lot of influence on the nominating process in 2016, and they chose Trump.

Trump, to almost everyone's surprise, wins. So how do big government, big business, elite experts and so on, i.e., the establishment, react, from his fans' perspective? Without even giving Trump a chance, they decree that he is illegitimate, that he needs to be resisted, and that his voters are beyond redemption; "this is 1932 in Germany" was not a rare reaction.

So, from these voters' perspective, the one time in their lifetimes and much longer a president comes around who really speaks to their worldview, the establishment tries to destroy him. Rather than the anti-Trump sentiment persuading them, it makes them stronger supporters, people who see Trump as their weapon against an establishment that disparages them.

Now, while I never joined "the resistance," I was a never-Trumper, and my perspective is much closer to the establishment's than to Trump fans. But this intellectual exercise wasn't an attempt to figure out whether I got Trump wrong, but to try to understand why his fans have been so supportive. I'm sure my explanation is at best only a partial one, but I think it is at least a partial one.