Micek: Trump supporters have one common trait

John L. Micek
John MIcek

You've probably heard all sorts of adjectives attached to supporters of GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump.

Blue-collar. White. Poor. Under-educated. Angry.

Some of those undoubtedly apply. But here's one you probably didn't see coming: Authoritarian.

That's the surprise finding of a recent poll by researcher Matthew McWilliams, who sampled the opinions of 1,800 voters nationwide and found a strong authoritarian streak running through The Donald's fanbase.

Writing in Politico Magazine last week, McWilliams said the poll, conducted in conjunction with the University of Massachusetts Amherst, revealed that "two variables" had an important impact on a Republican voter's choice of candidate, "Authoritarianism, followed by fear of terrorism."

So maybe it's no surprise that The Donald, who wants generals who will "kick the hell out of ISIS," plans to build the Greatest Great Wall you've ever seen and will make Americans so tired of winning that they'll beg for the occasional defeat, has leapfrogged to the front of the pack?

Trump also took the support of 39 percent of independents who fancy themselves authoritarian, and, interestingly, 17 percent of self-identified Democrats with an authoritarian streak as well, the poll found.

And that means there could be some general election crossover.

All told, Trump wins the support of 43 percent of GOP primary voters who self-identify as "strong authoritarians," the poll found, and 37 percent of self-identified "authoritarians."

To be sure, these are uncertain times and there are plenty of things going bump in the night around the world to unnerve Americans.

A majority of self-identified GOP authoritarians, McWilliams noted, supported Trump's proposals to deport 11 million illegal immigrants, to bar Muslims from entering the country and to shutter mosques.

"While its causes are still debated, the political behavior of authoritarians is not. Authoritarians obey," McWilliams wrote. "They rally to and follow strong leaders. And they respond aggressively to outsiders, especially when they feel threatened."

So fine.

Let's accept for a moment that some Republican voters are willing to abandon their long-cherished beliefs about self-reliance and American independence to let a strong-man lead them.

Can Trump actually carry through on his promises, which often seem half-baked or imagined somewhere in that distance between the door of his limousine and the steps leading to the stage?

Even a cursory inspection suggests he cannot.

Barring Muslims from entering the United States would require pernicious religious profiling that runs counter to our deepest held values as a nation.

Forcing Mexico to pay for a border wall (which would necessarily run through private property that would have to be seized or bought from American citizens) would almost definitely touch off a trade war with one of America's closest partners.

It further ignores the fact that more Mexicans are now leaving the United States than are coming in.

And his claims that he can rescue American jobs that have been off-shored to China and elsewhere have already been ruled completely implausible.

But none of that seems to matter - at least to Republicans nationwide who are packing Trump's rallies in such key early states as New Hampshire.

Trump pulled ahead of Republican rival Ted Cruz in a new Fox News poll, but he's not leaving anything to chance. In a more conventional campaign, Cruz, the consummate insider-posing-as-outsider, would likely become the GOP's unlikely standard-bearer.

But as has been widely remarked both here and elsewhere, this is far from a conventional campaign.

Trump, on the right, and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, on the left, have tapped a vein of voter anger and resentment that's unparalleled in recent memory.

With Sanders' vows to break up the big banks and to create a cradle-to-grave welfare state, his campaign promises also have a whiff of authoritarianism about them.

Sanders' cranky uncle persona stands in sharp contrast to Trump's bravado and bluster. But they're both channeling the same spirit.

And it can't be ignored or dismissed out of hand.

John Micek is the opinion editor and political columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.