The other day at the office I was reading an op ed in the New York Times in which Nate Cohn more or less apologized for the institutional failure that resulted in the media thinking Trump would never be a serious contender for the Republican nomination. He cited various reasons for this oversight from the unusual timetable for voting to the obscene number of candidates to the–apparently inaccurate–assumption that the party decides.
I’m not one to judge. About a week before the whole “Bridge-gate” scandal I thought the 2016 race would be Hillary Clinton (though I admit I had trouble believing she’d want to go through it again) versus Chris Christie. Or possibly Jeb Bush. Whoopsie. That’s what I get for trying to impress my professor at a new students mixer.
Still, at least they were predictable candidates. Hey, at least they did both run (and perhaps in under different circumstances one them would have been the nominee or at least beaten John Kasich.) I don’t think anyone in September 2014 would have predicted Trump would be in the race, let alone winning it. I don’t think people in September 2015 would have seen this coming. Heck, I think we all (academics and journalists, at least) had our heads buried in the sand right up until the combed-over truth stared us all in the face and laughed at us.
I’m not here to give every reason as to why we missed it. Nate Cohn and others have done a good job of that. But these Monday morning quarterbacks failed to see something that was happening in the public during the run up to Trump’s success. Something that my colleague saw. Something I, with one foot in academia but the other still firmly in the “real world” of campaigns and congress, should have seen (but also missed). She said that most of the calls we get at the office are from angry people–angry that the government is doing too much or not enough, angry that the economy isn’t all that great, angry that it’s getting harder to be successful in the middle-class, just angry. She said that the number of angry calls has been steadily increasing over the last months and even years.
I can see that, now that she pointed it out. I interned at the office last summer, a fortnight in December, and now a month this spring and have noticed a definite increase. I wrote it off over Christmas as a fluke–only angry people are going to call into a congressional district office on Christmas Eve Day, right? I mean if you’re relatively content with things and just want to politely request that your congressperson consider co-sponsoring certain legislation, are you really going to call over the holidays?
But this spring I’m definitely seeing (well hearing, I suppose) the anger. Someone actually called to yell at me (well, yell in my general direction) and then, when I politely thanked this person for calling with their comments, they hung up on me. They called back about 10 minutes to add something and proceeded to hang up on me again. That’s definitely anger.
It’s this anger that Trump–and Sanders for that matter–has tapped in on. It was there before the rabble rousing, but it was bubbling under the surface. Now Trump has encouraged it to boil over. With his inconsistent and overblown generalizations and demonizations, he has–to mix my metaphors–ignited the anger at remarkably varied targets that has been smoldering in the public for quite a while. That’s what my colleague has been seeing as the pundits and pollsters and prognosticators insisted that Trump couldn’t possibly be a serious candidate for president. They might have gotten it right if they’d seen the anger. As she put it, “They should have asked us.”