Reporters have focused quite a lot on the crazy/race-baiting/nativist themes in Trump’s campaign, but these comprise a very small part of his usual presentation. His speeches increasingly are strikingly populist in their content.
His pitch is: He’s rich, he won’t owe anyone anything upon election, and therefore he won’t do what both Democratic and Republican politicians unfailingly do upon taking office, i.e., approve rotten/regressive policies that screw ordinary people.
He talks, for instance, about the anti-trust exemption enjoyed by insurance companies, an atrocity dating back more than half a century, to the McCarran-Ferguson Act of 1945. This law, sponsored by one of the most notorious legislators in our history (Nevada Sen. Pat McCarran was thought to be the inspiration for the corrupt Sen. Pat Geary in The Godfather II), allows insurance companies to share information and collude to divvy up markets.
Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats made a serious effort to overturn this indefensible loophole during the debate over the Affordable Care Act.
Trump pounds home this theme in his speeches, explaining things from his perspective as an employer. “The insurance companies,” he says, “they’d rather have monopolies in each state than hundreds of companies going all over the place bidding … It’s so hard for me to make deals … because I can’t get bids.”
He goes on to explain that prices would go down if the state-by-state insurance fiefdoms were eliminated, but that’s impossible because of the influence of the industry. “I’m the only one that’s self-funding … Everyone else is taking money from, I call them the bloodsuckers.”
Also, Trump’s support among unionised workers:
Trump is already positioning himself to take advantage of the political opportunity afforded him by “transactional politics.” He regularly hammers the NAFTA deal in his speeches, applying to it his favorite word, “disaster.” And he just as regularly drags Hillary Clinton into his hypothetical tales of job-saving, talking about how she could never convince Detroit carmakers out of moving a factory to Mexico.
Unions have been abused so much by both parties in the past decades that even mentioning themes union members care about instantly grabs the attention of workers. That’s true even when it comes from Donald Trump, a man who kicked off the fourth GOP debate saying “wages [are] too high” and who had the guts to tell the Detroit News that Michigan autoworkers make too much money.
You will find union members scattered at almost all of Trump’s speeches. And there have been rumors of unions nationally considering endorsing Trump. SEIU president Mary Kay Henry even admitted in January that Trump appeals to members because of the “terrible anxiety” they feel about jobs.
“I know guys, union guys, who talk about Trump,” says Rand Wilson, an activist from the Labor for Bernie organization. “I try to tell them about Sanders, and they don’t know who he is. Or they’ve just heard he’s a socialist. Trump they’ve heard of.”
I think this helps explain what’s actually happening in the US, and why Trump’s rise – which seems so risible to people over here, especially on the left – is as much to do with speaking to voters’ economic fears as it is to the extensively covered instances of racism and misogyny. The bigotry is important to his campaign strategy, obviously – but it’s all we hear about and the economic populism is just as important.