Why Radford Made Sense for Donald Trump: Understanding His Appeal

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Trump’s ‘Silent Majority’ will wreak havoc on the GOP.
By Andrew Wimbish, Commentary Editor-At-Large Contact the Reporter

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Donald Trump emphatically speaks in front of the crowd.

Donald Trump emphatically speaks in front of the crowd. Photo by David Greenawald.

Observing the 2016 presidential campaign is quite the spectacle, particularly as November draws closer. Tensions are high—especially so since the successor to President Obama seems to be up in the air. For many Americans, the future is bleak when you look at the choices.

On the one side is what appears to be the voice of reason, Hillary Clinton, a favorite among establishment Democrats, who is attempting to fend off the wildly popular Bernie Sanders, whose vast welfare-state policies would overhaul Obamacare and eliminate tuition at public universities on the rich’s dime—he has been wildly successful among the 18-24-year-old demographic. He has seen an unprecedented but stunted rise due to Clinton’s stranglehold on the Democratic voter base, and with Clinton’s sweeping victories in multiple states, Sanders’ path to the nomination is becoming less likely—in fact, almost impossible.

On the other side, Donald Trump is routing the Republican establishment by running a raucous, brash campaign with little regard to consistent ideology, political correctness or consideration of the fickle pundit class. In a once-crowded arena of fellow Republicans, Trump has swept the field with a broad appeal among working-class Whites disaffected with the status quo comprising one of his key demographics. As a result of that appeal, Trump’s campaign stops have brought him to many working-class cities like Radford, a few miles from Blacksburg, to rally up support. His events prove especially popular among immigration hardliners, who hope Trump will deliver on his promise to “Make America Great Again.”

Virgil Goode, former Republican Representative for the 5th District of Virginia and resident of nearby Franklin County, made a stump speech at the Radford rally where he promised that while Clinton promised to make America “whole” again, Trump promised to make America “great” again. Stressing the key issue of Trump’s campaign, illegal immigration, he assured rally-goers that the proposed 2,500 mile-long, 35-40 foot high wall would protect American jobs, echoing nativist sentiments; the crowd roared in response.

Goode insisted that Trump could not be bought out by special interest groups and is not beholden to lobbyists or Super PACs. Rather, he would undercut the power brokers in Washington and serve in the people’s interest. Issuing an endorsement of Trump, Goode’s ideas are perhaps widely shared around the New River Valley, particularly in the surrounding areas.

Our friends in Radford and the rest of the New River Valley community were, I’m sure, welcome to receive such celebrity attention. The Feb. 29 rally at Radford University was a huge—or ‘yuuge’ success—as thousands of supporters crowded outside of Dedmon Center where the event was hosted: Trump claimed that over 8,000 people waited outside.

Donald Trump emphatically orates in front of the crowd.

Kelsie Riddle of Pulaski, Va. supports Trump, “because he wants to make America great again.” Photo by David Greenawald.

Donald Trump emphatically orates in front of the crowd.

Trump searches for protesters in the crowd. Photo by David Greenawald.

Donald Trump emphatically orates in front of the crowd.

Protesters stand outside the Dedmon Center with signs.
Photo by David Greenawald.

As is often the case, Trump’s rally was not without controversy. Protesters were out in force both inside and outside the venue, and those bold enough to voice their dissent within the Dedmon Center were greeted with jeers and a security guard to escort them away. Unfortunately, these happenings are typical of any given Trump rally, and only further validate the talking points that Trump is a political strongman with authoritarian tendencies. He spares little room for criticism, and has announced that he would reinvigorate libel suits against journalists who write stories that do not meet his approval.

As a whole, Trump’s hostility to free speech, even as a candidate whose loudmouthed campaign has benefitted from First Amendment protections while he seeks to deny them to others, steers him in a direction with undesirable ramifications, even if President Trump becomes a political reality this November.

Among many things, this puts Trump in a contested position, especially with the Virginia Tech community: The on-campus precincts showed Marco Rubio as the clear winner, as was the case in Charlottesville, Richmond, and Northern Virginia on the Republican ticket. For one, Trump’s visit to Radford was a strategic move. Looking at voter demographics, the city of Radford is more congruous with Trump’s base. According to the 2010 census and University of Virginia’s Demographics Research Group, Radford is likely more receptive to Trump’s bomb-throwing rhetoric, political anathema, and little tolerance for “all talk, no action politicians” than Blacksburg, which is an atypically progressive town for the area.

 

Donald Trump emphatically orates in front of the crowd.

Trump basks in the audience’s applause. Photo by David Greenawald.

Consigning Trump’s appeal to just the working class, however, is a mistake. A recent tweet by novelist Bret Easton Ellis surmised that the Trump appeal is low-key among those with whom moral opprobrium might follow in social circles like West Hollywood:

Doomsayers suggest that the rise of Trump signals the end of the Republican party. Nick Gillespie of Reason magazine has argued that the rise of Trump was inevitable, as a party struggling to craft a unifying message around would-be conservative principles has failed to arrange a coalition of candidates willing to adhere to any consistent principles at all, and Trump is a “distillation” of nationalism, populism, and “America-first” policies. He writes:

Put simply, Trump is the distillation of conservative Republican politics for all of the 21st century. He’s not the cause of a GOP implosion, but the final effect of an intellectual and political hollowing-out of any semblance of commitment to limited government, individual rights, and free markets. He is what happens when you fail to live up to your rhetoric and aspirations again and again.

 

The GOP has never had more of an identity crisis than now with a darker, more uncertain future. Is it comprised of the isolationist foreign policy and protectionism, to which the likes of Pat Buchanan and the Old Right cling? Or is it Bush Doctrine neoconservatism, which left us in dubious foreign quagmires and gave us the bank bailouts of 2008?

Conventional wisdom and the vast majority of conservative media tell us that the latter has become the face of modern center-Right politics. But Trump seeks to tear down that facade and replace it with something entirely different: Think a combined vision of Buchanan, Ross Perot, and Steve Forbes—all failed GOP campaigns—as opposed to the conservative/libertarian social policies and market-driven economic dynamism entrenched in traditional GOP rhetoric. The thing about Trump that is puzzling to the average pundit is his lack of consistent ideology. Principles, to his detractors, seem to be entirely absent from his campaign, other than “America First.”

There is, however, a shocking phenomenon emanating from commentators—a gradual acceptance among those in the center-Right and Republican spheres of influence suggests that some in the GOP are willing to fully embrace the Republican Party’s latest populist, nationalist iteration, rather than reject it full stop. A reckoning is afoot—one from which they may never recover.

In the Virginia primaries, GOP voters reflected those sentiments and pulled the trigger for Trump. 20 years of failed policies and an inept political class rewarded with cushy sinecures who seem to act only in the interest of Big Business and the plutocratic so-called donor class only fan the flames of Trump’s ascendancy. As an outsider, perhaps the voting populace sees him as a deeply flawed individual, but not complicit in the failings of the political establishment.

There is a curious phenomenon surrounding his candidacy, however, that makes for an eerie situation. As it stands, I do not personally know a single Trump supporter here in Blacksburg.

But they are here. They are everywhere, it seems. Looking at The New York Times electoral map, Trump’s support is flanked on both ends of the state—both Southwest and Southeast—by voters who seem to have lost all faith in the American political landscape.

At this point, the only option the Republican party has left is to accept Trump for who he is, unless they hold a brokered convention and concede to a massive landslide in Clinton’s favor. The one thing that’s certain, however, is that the coming era of politics will never be the same. After Trump has pulverized the Republican Party as we know it, what will rise from the dust is yet to be determined.

Donald Trump emphatically orates in front of the crowd.

Jackie Hayes of Roanoke, Va. wore a suggestive shirt to the rally. He believes Donald Trump “speaks his mind and tells it the way it is.” Photo by David Greenawald.

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About the Author
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Andrew Wimbish

Andrew Wimbish is a master’s candidate in the English department, founding member of The Pylon, and the Commentary Editor-at-Large. Andrew teaches freshman composition and probably spends too much time on his thesis. He was born and raised in Southside Virginia, which has considerably shaped his worldview, but plans to never leave Blacksburg.


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