The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics by Salena Zito, , Crown Forum, US $28.00, Pp 320, May 2018 ISBN 978-1524763688
Ashtabula County in Ohio has traditionally been a Democratic-majority county. It gave its votes to John Kerry, Al Gore, Bill Clinton, and Michael Dukakis. It gave Obama a 55 percent majority share of its vote twice — before turning 180 degrees to elect Trump over Hillary Clinton by a margin of 57 percent to 38 percent, a 31-point swing from one election to the next. Political scientists and analysts have been trying to figure out if Donald Trump’s election was a fluke or did it represent a fundamental change in the electorate that will have repercussions for American politics for a long time to come.
In The Great Revolt, standout syndicated columnist and CNN contributor Salena Zito and veteran Republican strategistinterviewing more than 300 Trump voters in 10 swing countiesthe Trump voters were hiding in plain sight—but ignored by political parties, the media, and the political experts all at once. They united into a movement as soon as they could to spawn a great upset in recent electoral history. This movement is deeply rooted in the culture of these Midwestern swing states. Zito and Todd ask and answer the most important political question of today — What next?
Zito and Todd argue that, at first look, the numerical magnitude of Ashtabula County’s swing, in a nation presumed frozen in partisan polarization, is what seems notable. At second look, the remarkable aspect is just how common that kind of change was in 2016 in the states that make up the Rust Belt. Thirty-five counties in Ohio, long the nation’s premier presidential bell-weather, swung 25 or more points from 2012 to 2016. Twenty-three counties in Wisconsin, thirty-two counties in Iowa, and twelve counties in Michigan switched from Obama to Trump in the space of four years.
Trump only carried three of the nation’s 44 “mega counties,” places with more than one million in population, and only 41 of the country’s 129 “extra-large” counties with more than 400,000 but less than one million. Those 173 sizable counties are home to 54 percent of the US population and in 135 of them. Trump even lagged behind the net margin performance of losing 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney. Trump crawled out of that mathematical hole in the all-but-forgotten communities – thousands of them. Zito and Todd conclude that the Trump voters cannot be described by terms like “angry,” “male,” “rural,” or the often-used “racist.” They span job descriptions, income brackets, education levels, and party allegiances. They are united by their desire to be part of a movement larger than themselves that puts pragmatism before ideology, localism before globalism, and demands the respect they deserve from Washington.
Zito and Todd argue that the demand of these newly mobile populist voters for cultural respect, their resistance to multilateralism abroad and multiculturalism at home, their siege-like defiance of the loudest voices in American corporate and societal life, and the intensity of the Left’s reaction to them, will now animate not just our politics but our nation’s debates about commercial and societal norms. The 2016 presidential upset was just the beginning of things to come. There is no way we can reverse that. It is surely bigger than Trump himself. This is the new political normal.
Salena Zito is not a drawing-room reporter. While drawing-room reporters were predicting the election of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, Zito could see the voters were hiding in plain sight and waiting to elect anti-establishment Republican Donald Trump. They together have profiled the America that elected Trump and will play an increasingly important role in the future. They show why there have been and will continue to be tectonic shifts among the American voters. If you want to understand what happened during the years before the 2016 election and be able to predict the future course of politics, read The Great Revolt carefully. The Great Revolt is a meticulously-researched book and is packed with knowledge and new perspectives on American politics.