With Trump barely ahead, conservatives need to face some hard truths

A Pew Research poll last week found that Donald Trump’s favorability rating is only three points higher than Joe Biden’s. Among black respondents, Biden leads his Republican opponent in popularity, 54% to 12%. One-quarter of those polled, however, indicated that they have an unfavorable view of both candidates.

This negative attitude may explain why, despite the appalling screwups that Biden and his party have inflicted upon the country, our president is still very much in the race. Although he is widely viewed as senile, incompetent, or both, he is nonetheless only about two points behind Trump in a two-person race among likely voters.

Being against Trump’s off-putting style is more socially fashionable than noticing Biden’s comparisons of Trump to Hitler.

A conventional explanation for this close match between two geriatric presidential candidates is that neither one has much appeal among “moderate” voters, particularly among those who want an end to divisive politics. Presumably, if we had nice young people running in presidential races, then we’d all come together and find common ground.

Allow me to present a different view: Our society is deeply divided both politically and culturally. While plenty of voters claim to be in the middle, most of those I meet or hear on TV agree with the left on social and constitutional questions but would also like a more vibrant economy or more military aid to our allies.

I see no evidence that those who do not lean rightward are as critical of Biden’s vile partisan attacks and use of police power against Republicans and religious Christians as they are of Trump’s rhetorical excesses.

Being against Trump’s off-putting style is more socially fashionable than noticing the savagely partisan tactics of the Democrats or Biden’s references to Trump voters as “extremists” and his comparisons of Trump to Hitler. This greater indulgence toward the left springs partly from ignorance but also from the attempt of many Americans to line up with those who have power.

The conservative media may also be exaggerating their edge on wedge issues. They may be generalizing excessively about the popular reaction to broken borders, cities being overrun by violent illegal aliens, the social effects of inflation, or LGBT and critical race propaganda being forced down our throats. Most of those who support Biden may not care about these particular issues, or else care about them much less than they do about resisting white racism and homophobia, fighting for unrestricted abortion rights, or showing greater sensitivity to migrants.

The mistake that many on the right — really the center-right — continue to make is imagining that everyone in America feels exactly the way they do about all the same issues. Republican commentators also seem to believe they can prevail everywhere once they explain themselves fully, particularly once they reach racial minorities with the “message.”

Obviously, some of this message is getting through to Hispanic voters, who are deserting the Democrats en masse. But I doubt this conversion is happening to the same degree among black voters, although I’d be happy to be proven wrong. And I’d also be surprised if suburban women were undergoing a change of heart about their bleeding-heart social priorities.

If 28% of Americans, according to a recent Gallup poll, think illegal immigration is the most important electoral issue, one can find many voters who are fine with Biden flooding the country with migrants and letting drug cartels run amok. And these people would have to be cognitively impaired not to notice the effect of this policy, which is to create a one-party leftist, centralized state. Presumably lots of those who support Biden’s border policy would be happy with that result.

Please note that I’m not saying that Trump and his party have no path to victory. They should be able to pick up plenty of Hispanic voters this fall and may be able to reach those without party affiliation by stressing inflation and the higher cost of living.

What is less clear is that the left’s opponents will be able to convert tens of millions of voters in the other ideological bloc, that is, those who don’t resonate with the Republicans’ list of grievances.

Letitia James, who ran for New York attorney general on a “Get Trump” platform, garnered almost 55% of the votes in winning a second term in 2022. It is hard not to believe that millions of New Yorkers fully share James’ obsessive hatred of Trump and applaud her attempt to beggar a hated Republican hero.

Self-described centrists often lament that Americans live in different echo chambers and haven’t found ways to listen to each other. The New York University social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has established an entire cottage industry consisting of publications and speeches about how we can all discuss our differences in a respectful environment. According to Haidt, such polarization is needless and perfectly avoidable.

Good luck to those pursuing such a pipe dream! Our warring blocs are likely to remain where they are, and those on the right will need to find a way to reach those who are still reachable. But first conservatives must abandon their own illusion that everyone will agree with their message once they hear it.

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