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Why Trump's Still Here

Story by
Nancy Joseph

Many people were surprised by Donald Trump’s resilience during the 2016 Presidential primary. Not Christopher Parker, who predicted Trump’s nomination early on. Parker, associate professor of political science and Stuart A. Scheingold Professor of Social Justice, sums up the Republican nominee’s success in three words: scared white people.

Christopher Parker

“As an academic, this election is interesting,” says Christopher Parker. “As a citizen, it’s downright scary.”

“Anxiety and anger have always managed to mobilize the aggrieved,” says Parker. “Trump managed to mobilize enough scared white folk to win the nomination. No surprise there. After all, the Tea Party mobilized enough scared white folk to capture the Republican Party.”

Years before Trump entered the fray, Parker became fascinated with the Tea Party. It was 2010, and he had just conducted a broad survey of voters’ attitudes in seven states. Analyzing the data, he found a link between Tea Party supporters and anti-Obama sentiment, homophobia, and xenophobia. Parker went on to write a book about the movement, Change They Can’t Believe In: The Tea Party and Reactionary Politics in America, published soon after Obama began his second term. The book won the best book award from the American Political Science Association’s Race, Ethnicity, and Politics Section.

Parker believes that Obama’s first term gave rise to the Tea Party and his second term led to Trump’s nomination. “Without Obama, there’s no Trump,” Parker says. “A segment of the American population — about 20 percent, mainly white people — were so alarmed with having a black man as President that they are willing to support someone like Trump. He's not qualified for the office, and doesn't have the temperament befitting the leader of the free world, yet they're willing to vote for him so long as he promises to ‘make America great again.’ They believe Obama has taken ‘their’ country and they want it back. Trump can do it for them, or so they think.” Parker points to a recent KCTS-9 Washington Poll in which 82 percent of people who identify with the Tea Party have a favorable view of Trump. 

Anxiety and anger have always managed to mobilize the aggrieved.

When Obama began his second term, Parker predicted that the Tea Party would retreat if Obama's successor was a white male. But with Hillary Rodham Clinton as the Democratic nominee, Parker could not test that prediction. “With Clinton, Tea Party supporters still have this sense of existential threat owing to the fact the she's a woman,” says Parker.  “It challenges their view of the natural order of things.” Parker believes that, for this reason, a Clinton presidency would likely continue the GOP’s move to the far right. 

With the election just days away, Parker continues to follow the campaign with both the analytical interest of a political scientist and the concern of an engaged American citizen. From both perspectives, it’s been a wild ride. “As an academic, this election is interesting,” he says. “As a citizen, it’s downright scary.”