Mr Riley’s latest piece in the WSJ
By JASON L. RILEY
Updated Nov. 22, 2016 7:14 p.m. ET
Since when does a weekend gathering of “nearly 275” white nationalists in a country of more than 320 million people warrant front-page coverage in major newspapers? Since the election of Donald Trump, apparently.
The same media outlets that insisted Mr. Trump wouldn’t beat Hillary Clinton have spent the past two weeks misleading the public about why he did. Breathless coverage of a neo-Nazi sideshow in the nation’s capital—where antiracism protesters almost outnumbered attendees, according to the Washington Post—helps liberals illustrate their preferred “basket of deplorables” explanation for Mrs. Clinton’s loss.
The reality is that Mr. Trump didn’t prevail on Election Day because of fake news stories or voter suppression or ascendant bigotry in America. He won because a lot of people who voted for Barack Obama in previous elections cast ballots for Mr. Trump this time. In Wisconsin, he dominated the Mississippi River Valley region on the state’s western border, which went for Mr. Obama in 2012. In Ohio’s Trumbull County, where the auto industry is a major employer and the population is 89% white, Mr. Obama beat Mitt Romney, 60% to 38%. This year, Trumbull went for Mr. Trump, 51% to 45%. Iowa went for Mr. Obama easily in 2008 and 2012, but this year Mr. Trump won the state by 10 points. Either these previous Obama supporters are closet racists or they’re voting on other issues.
“Trump switched white voters in key states who were blue-collar primarily—coal counties, manufacturing counties,” the Republican strategist Whit Ayres told me this week. “These are blue-collar whites who voted for Barack Obama. And that’s a very uncomfortable thing to admit by the left. It’s much easier to say a ‘basket of deplorables’ elected Trump. But I’m sorry, that just does not conform to the data in those states that made a major swing from one party to the other.”
Part of Mr. Trump’s strategy was to turn out lots of Republicans who stayed home in 2012, but the president-elect appears to have won white voters by a margin similar to that of Mr. Romney. However, Mr. Trump was able to muster an Electoral College majority by taking advantage of lax support for Mrs. Clinton in the metro areas of large, consequential states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. That the Democratic nominee failed to speak to the concerns of Obama voters is not the fault of the alt-right.
“Trump swept the areas that keep the lights on and the motors turning,” demographer Joel Kotkin wrote recently. “Trump seized on the widespread sense that American life was destined to get worse from generation to generation. Americans wanted opportunity for the next generation, not a managed decline.” The press mostly missed this story because it was so focused on the candidate’s tone and temperament. What mattered most to the media was Mr. Trump’s character flaws—and it was inconceivable that voters would have different priorities.
Around two-thirds of the electorate consistently told pollsters that the country was moving in the wrong direction. Mr. Trump represented change. Millions of people in the nation’s interior ultimately decided that they didn’t have the luxury of obsessing over his personal shortcomings. They haven’t had a raise in a decade. College is no longer affordable. Health-care costs were supposed to come down, but premiums have risen. Mr. Trump, they decided, may be crude and unpolished in manner, but he also sounded like someone who could shake things up in Washington. By contrast, a vote for Mrs. Clinton was a vote for more of the same.
Not everyone on the left is blaming racist voters for Mrs. Clinton’s defeat. Sen. Bernie Sanders credited Mr. Trump with understanding “the anger and angst and pain that many working class people are feeling” and added, “I come from the white working class, and I am deeply humiliated that the Democratic Party cannot talk to where I came from.” It’s no coincidence that Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader from San Francisco, is now facing a leadership challenge from Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, who represents areas that flipped from blue to red this year.
Yet regardless of the facts, most liberals and their friends in the media continue to view Mr. Trump’s victory through a self-serving racial lens. Today, race is the Democratic Party’s organizing principle. Group identity is a doctrine and group grievances are to be nurtured and exploited politically no matter the damage to civil discourse. It’s the type of thinking that allows the left to be outraged that the likes of Steve Bannon have Mr. Trump’s ear, and indifferent that the likes of Al Sharpton have had Mr. Obama’s.