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Will Trump spark a kindness backlash?

E.J. Dionne Jr. on

Democrats won it in every presidential election from 1988 to 2012. Hillary Clinton's strategists made the mistake of taking the state for granted in 2016. What they missed were trends brilliantly analyzed by Katherine J. Cramer, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin, in her prophetic book, "The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker." It was published eight months before the 2016 vote.

As the title suggests, the conservative resurgence Walker engineered was built on a backlash in the countryside against Milwaukee and Madison. Trump profited from the same rural and small-town discontent -- and not just in Wisconsin.

"We are in a time of increasing economic inequality and of stark policy bias in favor of the affluent," Cramer wrote, "and yet the politics of resentment draws our attention to our animosity toward each other rather than the ways in which the political system is not working for anyone but the very few."

But backlash politics provokes a backlash of its own, and in an interview on Wednesday, Cramer said the voters are weary of division. "Wisconsinites believe in 'Wisconsin Nice,'" she said, "and they really dislike 'us versus them' politics."

This is certainly Schachtner's view. The chief medical examiner for St. Croix County -- Trump prevailed there by 18 points -- told The Associated Press that her victory "could be" a portent of Democratic gains, and added: "My message has always been be kind, be considerate, and we need to help people when they're down."

Now this would be a change of pace.

With Washington engulfed in controversy over Trump's hate-filled comments about people from certain countries, Republicans would do well to note the costs of unkind politics.

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A Quinnipiac poll released on Wednesday made clear where the passion in politics lies right now. The survey found Trump with a dismal 38 percent approval rating. More significantly, only 29 percent strongly approved of his performance, while 49 percent strongly disapproved. Intensity of feeling is important to voter turnout, especially in midterms.

Predicting this November's elections in January is, of course, a fool's game. But failing to see the depth of the loathing for Trump is a form of political malpractice. He has given nice a chance to prevail.

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E.J. Dionne's email address is ejdionne@washpost.com. Twitter: @EJDionne.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

 

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