The totally predictable torch-and-pitchfork rise of Donald Trump
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There's any number of theories attempting to unravel the mystery of Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Bob Woodward book will include details of 25 personal letters between Trump and Kim Jong Un On The Money: Pelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate | Trump grabs 'third rail' of politics with payroll tax pause | Trump uses racist tropes to pitch fair housing repeal to 'suburban housewife' Biden commemorates anniversary of Charlottesville 'Unite the Right' rally: 'We are in a battle for the soul of our nation' MORE's Space X-like liftoff in the 2016 presidential election. So many veteran observers appear so pressed for an answer that any conversation on actual issues has virtually fallen by the wayside. He is now that irritating, constantly rotated pop jam of the summer — you know, that one ear-shattering payola-of-the-moment track the Top 40 DJs can't stop spinning. As a result, talk of Trump provides the convenient summer "out" for a stupefied political class unable and unwilling to discuss real kitchen-table topics. And if it's not the conspiracy theory that he's a Democratic Party plant, it's the much more plausible theory that he's, simply, a great magnet for heat that would have otherwise ended up on fellow Republican prospects like Jeb Bush).


But Trump's branding power is found lurking among that among that percentage of Americans we typically dismiss as politically deranged as The Donald himself. It's that rather sizable (and mostly Caucasian) slice of vocal American electorate, the more than disenchanted quarter or so who wouldn't mind burning down the house, who happily skips right if most go left ... or, sometimes, vice versa depending on the issue and the populist mood. A segment of the population that relishes defiance of conventional grain, sticking its middle finger against whatever "machine" (automation and artificial intelligence soon replacing the once omnipotent "Man," if gender equality didn't) or, simply, sticking with what's deemed old fashioned original Americana — taking it back, so to speak. They gravitate to public figures who "tell it like it is," and they find representation in candidates and politicians who say what they won't say in public.

What's missed in the quality of Trump analysis is the more important discussion on the political market he and others have cornered, along with unseasoned long-shot candidates we like to occasionally poke fun at like famed retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson (R) or current senator of the second largest state, Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzFiorina: Biden picking Harris for VP 'a smart choice' Russian news agency pushed video of Portland protestors burning a Bible: report After trillions in tax cuts for the rich, Republicans refuse to help struggling Americans MORE (R-Texas).

We should, however, take that market much more seriously than we do. Instead, the collective reaction is that any portion of the electorate less than 50 percent isn't worth that sort of serious consideration. Yet, those who view themselves as part of the Reasoned Consensus or who go along with trending attitudes as part of a polling majority do so at their own snobby peril. It explains why some are usually stunned by a disconnect between presumably authoritative issue polling and the inability to achieve swift policy outcomes that everyone can agree to.

This partly explains the recently ditched legislative efforts of House Republicans pushing an amendment to keep Confederate battle flags at national cemeteries. And, from the perspective of GOP leaders, why not? Fifty-seven percent of Americans still view it as a source of Southern pride, so go for it. After all, we're living in a polarized era quietly defined as much by geography as numbers: While 65 percent of the U.S. population lives in metropolitan cores, producing more than 70 percent of economic output, the nearly 20 percent of those living in rural areas wield more political clout (despite residential presuming the contrary). Farm country legislators in state capitols are constantly thwarting urban agendas; conservative senators from less-populated states representing neo-rural constituencies fight at heavyweight level. As Columbia University's Andrew Gelman points out, "Wyoming has [six] electoral votes and [two] senators per million voters, while California has 1.5 electoral votes and 0.06 senators per million voters. There is also a disparity in federal funding; for example, Wyoming received $7200 and California only $5600 in direct federal spending per capita in 2001."

Instinctively, folks like Trump, Carson, Cruz and others embrace that disparity, enjoying the company of an energetic political "minority." The late French social psychologist Serge Moscovici called it "minority influence," suggesting that "a consistent minority disrupts established norms and creates uncertainty, doubt and conflict." In short: These are the guys who are the unapologetic uncles at the dinner table, the folks not afraid to say what many want to say, but can't. And so here we are, in modern Washington of all places, re-litigating issues like the Confederate flag, voting rights and affirmative action. Or, there's a bizarre, old school anti-busing NIMBY knee-jerk from many white Republicans blasting Obama administration efforts to desegregate housing (if we've progressed and it's all about "content of your character," then what's so bad about eliminating housing discrimination, right?). Or despite the perceived finality of national polls that show most Americans accept same-sex marriage, some advocates push for "religious freedom" laws — easily a reflection of the 39 percent who oppose legal marriage of gays and lesbians.

That's still a lot of people — and voters, too. With this many candidates running on the Republican side, it's clever — albeit conniving — to dominate those extreme wing splinters within the primary. They are the 30 percent of GOP voters who think former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin should run, plus the 26 percent who still support the Tea Party (including 47 percent of Republicans). The 38 percent who said the Supreme Court should have gutted the Affordable Care Act. Back in late 2013, they also popped up as the 32 percent who viewed Republicans "favorably" after the government shutdown and the 38 percent who blamed President Obama for it. They prop up the 44 percent who believe Mexico is a "bad neighbor" (thereby serving as validation for Trump's claims) and the 41 percent who feel it's time to decrease immigration. They are the 34 percent nationally who think favorably of Trump and the 42 percent giving "ObamaCare" a failing grade. This week, they are the 15 percent and 49 percent, respectively, of Republican voters who either view him as a first choice or see him favorably enough to scare everyone else into thinking he's got a real shot at this thing.

Sure: It's easy to adopt the widely held assumption that "the electorate is changing in structural ways that make presidential electorates very challenging," as Talking Points Memo Josh Marshall recently argued. Clearly, the country is changing. Yet will the new diverse electorate vote with the same enthusiasm as those who are making up that new Trump base? 

Turnout in 2014 was just under 37 percent and down from 64 percent in 2008 and 57.5 percent in 2012. A heavily polarized electorate might be active, but that's just a combined 22 percent of the larger public, according to Pew (meaning only one in five Americans are truly participatory in American politics). With Democrats still winning by the edge of their seat in 2012, experiencing a nearly 5 percent dip in turnout, the tightness of that election left some to wonder about the landscape in 2016, without an Obama on the ticket.

The problem is that, at the moment, Republicans seem to have a larger grab bag of message-easy wedge issues to pick from compared to Democrats, who must rely on fractured coalition politics to win. This next cycle will still be a battle of extreme bases, and it's likely to stay that way for some time.

Ellison is a veteran political strategist and contributing editor for The Root. He is also Washington correspondent for The Philadelphia Tribune, chief political correspondent for Uptown magazine, Sunday Washington insider for WDAS-FM (Philadephia) and a panelist on MSNBC's "Hardball with Chris Matthews." Follow him on Twitter @ellisonreport.