Nate Cohn of The New York Times has noticed something about Donald Trump's backers:
[Trump's] geographic pattern of support ... is similar to a map of the tendency toward racism by region, according to measures like the prevalence of Google searches for racial slurs and racist jokes, or scores on implicit association tests....
... In many of these areas, a large number of traditionally Democratic voters have long supported Republicans in presidential elections. Even now, Democrats have more registered voters than Republicans do in states like West Virginia and Kentucky, which have been easily carried by Republicans in every presidential contest of this century.
... Many Democrats may now even identify as Republicans, or as independents who lean Republican, when asked by pollsters -- a choice that means they’re included in a national Republican primary survey, whether they remain registered as Democrats or not.
Mr. Trump appears to hold his greatest strength among people like these -- registered Democrats who identify as Republican leaners -- with 43 percent of their support.... Similarly, many of Mr. Trump’s best states are those with a long tradition of Democrats who vote Republican in presidential elections, like West Virginia.
This is the group of voters that's most supportive if Trump, though he's still doing quite well among actual Republicans. Cohn isn't sure that these people will actually vote for Trump in primaries -- in some states, legally, they can't. But the mere fact that Trump is leading in the polls has pulled his party further to the right on the sort of nativism that these voters want. Trump's candidacy has made clear the desire for this brand of politics.
Which makes me think that Jim Webb should have returned to his Republican roots and run in the GOP primaries this year. He was probably the most forthright defender of the Confederate flag among presidential candidates in either party in the immediate aftermath of the Charleston church massacre earlier this year (“'This is an emotional time and we all need to think through these issues with a care that recognizes the need for change but also respects the complicated history of the Civil War,' Webb said in a statement posted to his Facebook page") -- at least until he walked back his defense of the flag a few weeks after the mass shooting. He's attacked affirmative action for years:
Webb said in 2000 that affirmative action "has within one generation brought about a permeating state-sponsored racism that is as odious as the Jim Crow laws it sought to countermand."
See also the Wall Street Journal op-ed he wrote in 2010:
Forty years ago, as the United States experienced the civil rights movement, the supposed monolith of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant dominance served as the whipping post for almost every debate about power and status in America. After a full generation of such debate, WASP elites have fallen by the wayside and a plethora of government-enforced diversity policies have marginalized many white workers....
Unfortunately, present-day diversity programs work against that notion, having expanded so far beyond their original purpose that they now favor anyone who does not happen to be white.
He would have been entering a crowded field if he'd run as a Republican, and he would have done so with a seemingly disqualifying history of skepticism about the Iraq War and about traditional corporatist Republican economic policies. But the same can be said about Donald Trump. So it's possible that somewhere along the line he might have challenged Trump in a poll or two, maybe as a result of support from Scots-Irish Americans who wave the Confederate flag and take pride in their own whiteness, a group he's long championed. They might see him as an ethnic champion in the Trump mold and as the tough guy Trump and Ted Cruz pretend to be. The voters he'd be attracting might be the very people Trump is appealing to.
In any event, if he does run as a third-party candidate for president (as Bloomberg Politics, a few days ago, said he might), he's highly unlikely to draw voters from the Democratic nominee. The kinds of people who'd vote for him stopped voting Democratic in presidential elections many years ago, even though some are still registered as Democrats.
I think he missed his chance. He should have run as a Republican.
Crossposted at No More Mister Nice Blog