Carolina Democracy

The Fraud of Right-Wing Populism

May 23, 2022 JD Wooten Episode 20
Carolina Democracy
The Fraud of Right-Wing Populism
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Welcome back to Carolina Democracy! Today I’m joined by columnist, blogger, and policy analyst Alex Jones to discuss the rise and fraudulence of right-wing populism, as well as the disconnect between what North Carolina voters want and who they vote for. We also recap some highlights from the primary election results.


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Alex Jones: I would just say that there's a real issue of intent, which is what made me say it's a fraud. You can say that conservative populism has often been devoid of policy specifics, but these Republicans are actively being cynical and opportunistic in seizing populism.

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JD Wooten: Hey everyone, JD Wooten here. Welcome back to Carolina Democracy. Today I’m joined by Alex Jones, columnist and blogger who you may remember we heard from several weeks ago to discuss his writings on the war in Ukraine and President Biden’s State of the Union Address. Today we dive into his recent writing on the fraud of right-wing populism.

But first, let’s go back through some of those primaries from last week. Congratulations to everyone who stepped up to run. Democracy only works when there are strong, quality candidates on the ballot. And of course to those who won their primaries, best of luck as you move on to your general election competitions.

On the U.S. Senate side, I was actually surprised by the margin of victory on both sides. Cheri Beasley has been the presumptive nominee for some time now, and she managed to break 80% of the vote despite having 10 other names on the ballot. With 10 other names to choose from, and most of those candidates still campaigning right up to the end, all they needed to do was average 2% of the vote each and Beasley would have been under 80%. To me this speaks volumes of her popularity, name recognition, and the strength of her campaign as we turn to the general election.

Over on the GOP side, wow. I said last week that I suspected the surprise would not be whether Ted Budd wins, but by how much he wins. Well, I was definitely surprised. Honestly, the polls had seemed widely inflated in Budd’s favor in the final weeks. Turns out they weren’t, and Budd had a commanding 59% of the vote, beating Pat McCrory by over 34%, the next closest vote getter. No one else broke 10%. The gap between Budd and McCrory was larger than the actual share of the vote McCrory gathered. I’m not sure whether that margin is more of a reflection of Trump’s influence over the North Carolina Republican Party or a reflection of how even Republicans feel about McCrory given his past. I suspect both played a large part.

In the two Congressional seats that were open due to the pending retirements of G.K. Butterfield and David Price, State Senators Don Davis and Valerie Foushee won commanding victories in their respective primaries. Davis’s race will likely be a little closer, but in a district drawn with about a 10-point lean towards Democrats, he’ll likely win. Foushee’s race won’t even be close. In the newly draw 14th Congressional District, State Senator Jeff Jackson handily won his primary and should prevail in November given the district’s strong partisan leaning. Finally, over in the 13th Congressional District, likely the only Congressional race that will be close this fall, Wiley Nickel won with a commanding lead and gathered more than 50% of the vote.

Over on the Republican side, two surprises were the outright victory of Bo Hines and the loss of Madison Cawthorn. The surprise for me in Cawthorn’s race was that State Senator Chuck Edwards managed to break 30% while getting around 2% more vote share than Cawthorn, precluding the two from going to a runoff election, which I thought was the more likely outcome with 8 candidates in that contest. Similarly, I was surprised that Bo Hines managed to break 30% in a crowded field, especially given his similarities to Cawthorn. Bo Hines will face an exceptionally well qualified opponent, and strong fundraiser to boot, in Wiley Nickel, and I can’t wait to see Wiley beat him in November.

In the general assembly, unfortunately none of our prior guests facing primaries prevailed. My first reaction was worry that perhaps this podcast is bad luck. But I quickly checked my ego, remembered it’s not about me, and a lot of our local and federal candidate guests did prevail. I also reflected that if we’re only having candidates on the show who win, we’re probably not reaching out far enough to lift up other voices. I’m grateful that this podcast gave me an excuse to meet and talk with great candidates like Dr. Kimberly Hardy, Aminah Ghaffar, and Eddie Aday. Thank you to all of them for running and for sharing their ideas on how we make North Carolina a better home for all of us. I hope we’ll see all of them on the ballot again in the future.

And let’s not forget our local elections! Congrats to our past guests Tammi Thurm and Tracy Furman, both of whom advanced from their municipal primaries and will be on the general election ballot in July. Yes Greensboro friends, you heard me correctly. We have a general election for Greensboro City Council on July 26th, get up for it! 

Shifting gears for a moment, and to set up the theme of my interview with Alex, I want to speak briefly about right-wing hypocrisy and fraud. The radical right has long relied on fear, uncertainty, and doubt – FUD as some people like to say – to motivate its voters. However, in the last several years that FUD has taken on some extreme new levels of outright lies and fraud, sprinkled with a healthy dose of misdirection. I thought about going into all the examples of fraud and hypocrisy we’ve seen in the news just recently, or even just a few, but where would I stop?

Instead, I thought I would note that I recently heard an interview with Senator McCain’s former senior presidential campaign strategist, of all people, who is now a Democrat, by the way. He characterized the Republican Party as an organization dedicated to maintaining power for self-interest and its donor class, and exploiting large swaths of the American public through outright fraud to do so. That’s where my interview with Alex goes. We look at the fraud that is right-wing populism, the culture and identity struggles we seem to be facing, and the disconnect between the policies people favor and the party they seem to favor. We did our best to hit it all, but if we came up short, that’s on me. Alex has written some great articles on these topics and I’ll leave links to several of them in the show notes if you want more.

And now here’s my interview with Alex Jones.

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Alex Jones: I would just say that there's a real issue of intent, which is what made me say it's a fraud. You can say that conservative populism has often been devoid of policy specifics, but these Republicans are actively being cynical and opportunistic in seizing populism.

JD Wooten: Back with us today is Alex Jones, columnists and blogger with PoliticsNC, and policy analyst with Carolina Forward. Welcome Alex. 

Alex Jones: Hey, thanks for having me. 

JD Wooten: You bet, always great to have somebody back. With the primary season behind us, I thought a good transition to the general election season might be to look at the popularity of Democratic policies, even when the party itself may not be popular. And then transition, or kind of build on that into the fraudulence of the right-wing populism. And you've written on both of those recently. So your most recent piece, you wrote that the new Meredith poll is a glimmer of good news in the Democrats' winter. At the highest level, what's the good news here? 

Alex Jones: Well, the good news is that even though 


have struggled in North Carolina at the top of the ballot, and even in the legislative races for a while, it's not as red a state as you might think just based on the way it's covered on that electoral map. And, you know, you would drill down from these party labels and these party results. You see that Democratic positions actually have more support than you might think.

JD Wooten: So the big notable example that stuck out to me was Medicaid Expansion. What'd you make on that one? 

Alex Jones: Well, I think that that issue is the epitome of a breakdown or democracy in North Carolina. I mean, the idea is behind democracy is essentially people get elected and then they do roughly what the people want within the constraints of a constitution. And Medicaid expansion is this major issue, it's been in the news for years and years, virtually everybody supports it. I was shocked. I mean, I don't have the number in front of me, but it has to have been something like 55, 56% of Republicans support it. And a majority of very conservative voters. So that's the core of the GOP base. In other words, basically, everybody supports it yet for years now. There's been essentially no chance that will happen because this Republican ruling elite has just severed itself from the desires of the people. 

JD Wooten: So looking at it from a national perspective, 38 states have expanded Medicaid. Those aren't 38 Democratic states. This is not a red state blue state issue. Like we see some others and within North Carolina, you're absolutely right. It's overwhelmingly popular. And the number is actually even higher than you were saying. I just pulled it up. It's 59% of the Republicans in North Carolina support Medicaid expansion, and only 29% are against, of course the difference there for anyone doing math at home is usually some unsure category or I don't know what you're asking me. But that's that's almost 60% that that are for it. What do you make of that? Do you have any, any theories on why this disconnect is so strong here in North Carolina?

Alex Jones: I think that our democratic institutions have broken down. I think essentially, you've got a group of Republican leaders who have given themselves bulletproof districts and know that they have effectively no chance of losing control of the legislature anytime soon. I mean, maybe three cycles from now, the demographics will change to the point where it overwhelms gerrymandering in metro areas. But right now they're pretty solid. And so they have got this idea that they can basically do what they want. And it's been tested and found pretty accurate. They can do what they want. They've enacted a lot of very unpopular policies and continue to win based on negative partisanship. So in essence, these people like Phil Berger are ruling more like potentates democratically elected leaders. And also I think the intensity on the Republican side is very, very low. I mean, if you're asking a Republican primary voter, are you going to vote against- we'll take that one competitive race in the mountains: Ralph Hise v. Deanna Ballard- are you going to vote against Ralph Hise because he opposes Medicaid Expansion? No, definitely not. I mean, they're interested in cultural issues and role of government, things like that.

JD Wooten: Yeah. So those overall numbers, I pulled up on Medicaid Expansion in North Carolina, it's 71% are for, 17% against. And so that just shows the huge disconnect, and of course that's across Republican, Democratic, and unaffiliated voters. But in every single category, you know, Democrats support Medicaid Expansion by 89% unaffiliateds by 67%, and the Republicans by 59%. So, you know, I think that that is just the starkest example of that disconnect and the breakdown in the democratic institutions. We see that there are at least two other areas that really caught my attention. One was legalizing marijuana. What'd you make of that? 

Alex Jones: Yeah, that was something. I would have expected maybe 20% for legalizing recreational marijuana turns over 37%. If I'm not mistaken, that was like a plurality position. 

JD Wooten: Yeah. It was over 60% legalizing marijuana. And I should clarify, that's lumping together that 60% medical and recreational. So it's some breakdown, but, but the bottom line is that there's over 60% of North Carolinians favor legalizing marijuana at some level. And the interesting thing I thought this is really geeking out, dig into the cross tabs, that support was broad and cut across all demographic and political lines. That didn't seem to be a political issue yet. And I think it'll be interesting to see how long it remains that way. 

Alex Jones: Yeah. What it made me think about what made me think about two things. One is the polling we've seen on gun control in North Carolina. North Carolina's traditionally been a very pro-gun state. If you look at some polls, private polling you'll see that like 50% of voters in North Carolina own a gun. But when PPP polled an assault weapon ban about six years ago, they found that over 50% of North Carolina voters supported it. And that's like the, the flagship proposal of the gun safety. No back in 2009, Larry Kissell voted against reinstating an assault weapons ban, and he threw her, was taking these positions. So pro-gun, he got endorsed by the national rifle association. So I think there isn't a sense in which the voters here are more socially liberal than you might expect at least on individual issues. And that suggests that maybe this intense loyalty to the Republican Party among some people, including those program voters may just have more to do with identity than it does with policy issues. And then there's, I don't want to go on too much, but there's another issue here. Another example, which is Florida, Florida is now considered to be on the verge of being a bright red state. And yet in 2020, they enacted a $15 an hour minimum wage by referendum by a wide margin. Know, it's just, it seems like it is possible for voters to pick the Republicans at the top of the ballot while agreeing with a suite of progressive policy positions they might be willing to vote for if they weren't so alienated from the politicians on identity grounds.

JD Wooten: Yeah, I think the identity portion of it plays a huge role in people feeling the loyalty to a party over particular set of ideas or values. I also think a lot of what we end up seeing goes all the way back to the problems that we're seeing with the democratic institutions and gerrymandering in that competitive races, to the extent there are such things, are usually competitive primaries. And so people are trying to out extreme each other. And primary voters tend to be your more diehard members of a particular party as well. So if you're passing policies in line with the primary voters that you can count on the most, it's going to be way out of lockstep with the rest of North Carolina.

Alex Jones: Yeah. And I think one point that needs to be raised is the Art Pope machine. You think about Medicaid expansion, 55% of Republican primary voters may support it, 25% of hardcore Republican primary voters may support it, but you've got the John Locke Foundation, and before it ceased to exist, the Civitas Institute, just fogging this anti-Medicaid Expansion argument constantly. And that's not only intellectually influential in the GOP. It's also tied to the guy who personally bankrolls enormous swaths of conservative politics in this state. 

JD Wooten: Oh, yeah. The John Locke Foundation, what was Civitas, their Carolina Journal. 

Alex Jones: Carolina Journal, yeah. 

JD Wooten: Yeah, the Carolina Journal mouthpiece for the conservative movement. I mean, it's all tied together. It is the North Carolina version of what we see at the national level, I think with Fox propaganda. 

Alex Jones: Fox, yeah I agree with that. 

JD Wooten: Yeah. 

Alex Jones: I would say it's more influential than most, you know, than like the think tanks.

JD Wooten: Oh, absolutely. I think, I think it's a lot more influential than the national think tanks here locally. And I think that it's it's serving the same function that we see Fox and some of the other national outlets serving in terms of offering messaging that is just being taken and parroted whole-scale. 

Alex Jones: Yeah, I think that's exactly right. That's a good point. 

JD Wooten: When I was a candidate, even as a Democrat candidate, John Locke foundation, every cycle would send me their rubber stamped, talking points with their research. 

Alex Jones: That's interesting. 

JD Wooten: Yeah. And I mean, it's just, it's propaganda for the points that they're making. Now, some of their arguments are very classic, libertarian, and maybe debate them and what not, but they're not going all the way back. They are flooding the marketplace of ideas, so to speak with these positions. So certainly it takes up space here in this state. So I guess the one last area that caught my attention from the Meredith poll was, it's at the front of everybody's mind right now, and that's abortion laws. I was pleasantly surprised to see that 52.6% of north Carolinians support, either keeping Roe the standards set under Roe V Wade or expanding access to abortion. And of course, listeners will remember Roe V. Wade gave wide latitude for people to seek abortion access in the first two trimesters and then third trimester the government could limit. Roe is by no means unlimited abortion. And so, a majority of North Carolinians want to keep Roe or expand it and less than 40% want to severely restrict access or make it illegal in all, but the most extreme circumstances, or even make it illegal in all circumstances. 

Alex Jones: Which was Dan Forest's position. 

JD Wooten: Right. I'm sure that there's going to be some division, at least initially, but then the Republican RD in North Carolina. As to whether it's illegal in all instances or just illegal in all, but the most extreme instances. But my suspicion is that their position will come down to one of those two. And of course the breakdown they're not surprising. Democrats are at 76% keeper expand Roe. And the Republican party, this actually really surprised me, a third of registered Republicans in North Carolina. Support, either keeping the rights under Roe or expanding the rights under Roe and over 52% of unaffiliated voters. That surprised me. What'd you think?

Alex Jones: Yeah. And number in terms of Republican voters supporting Roe V. Wade is not as surprising to me as it could be. I think there are a lot of Republican voters, like older retirees on the coast, or maybe some Union County people who vote on taxes and regulation who have been pro-choice that that's been the case a long time. I mean, it's real, it's really those hardcore Republican voters in rural and ex-urban areas who are driving this pro-life lockstep consensus, but it's high 33 is. 

JD Wooten: Yeah, absolutely. And that's the thing we've always known that there were some, some portion of the Republican Party, maybe the more Libertarians, maybe the more traditionalist in the sense of, you know, the fiscal conservatives who just couldn't be bothered with caring about the social conservative aspects of their policy. We always knew they were there. I was just really surprised at North Carolina, despite how extreme the North Carolina Republican Party has been over the last decade, that there would be a whole, a whole one third of their party base would feel that way. I think the other part of this Meredith poll that also concerned me a little bit is how do people see Democrats? Because we've just talked about how popular Democratic policies and positions are, but how about Democrats as candidates on the ballot or as a political party? And so one question the Meredith pollsters asked was which party is more extreme in their positions. And 38% of respondents said Democrats and only 29% said Republicans.

Alex Jones: I think that tells you a lot about where the chips lie. 

JD Wooten: Yeah, to me, that disconnect between saying all of these Democratic positions are popular and overwhelmingly popular, and then saying Democrats are more extreme in their positions. To me that says messaging problems.

Alex Jones: I think it says a messaging problem and I think it also says maybe interpret that question a little differently than just saying positions. I think it's like they have more extreme image because of all of these non-policy forces that are shaping the way people view the parties. 

JD Wooten: Yeah, that's fair. That's fair. Yeah. An image problem. A message, problem. A perception problem. Overall. Now, one thing that was a little bit reassuring, even though I personally was disheartened by how close these numbers were, but at least by a little bit Dems beat out Republicans on the question of who cares more about the needs of people like me.

Alex Jones: Yeah. That, that needs to be that way. It needs to be a lot bigger for Democrats. 

JD Wooten: For Democrats only have a one-point favor on the answer to that question, my first thought was, so are they only questioning people for this poll who are making $400,000 a year or more? And then unfortunately the biggest shoe drop of the whole thing, and I think we all knew this, or we've all known that this is what we're up against right now when asked about the generic ballot for us house right now in North Carolina, it's 38% Dem 44% Republican. 

Alex Jones: Yeah, that's though. 

JD Wooten: That's a tough environment. 

Alex Jones: I would note that in 2014 Republicans, won the house vote by 12 points and Democrats managed to gain like three seats in the state house so maybe there's still some, you know, split level politics going on. I hope so. 

JD Wooten: True. And there are 12% in that poll that are saying they don't know yet who they'll vote for, and that's a lot of people to bring off the fence. Okay, so that was the recent news out of the Meredith poll that offers us a little bit of hope. You've also written extensively. Over the last year three pieces in particular, actually, I believe that I'm aware of a route right-wing populist fraud. And if you'll permit me, I'm going to just quote a passage from your first one, because I think it sets the stage for what we're about to talk about. You wrote, "Donald J. Trump is a serial adulterer and lifelong vulgarian who adorns himself with gobs of orange makeup, tweets with the grammar and spelling of a Chick-fil-A cow, befriends brutal dictators and incited a terrorist attack on the us Capitol that nearly got his painfully subservient vice-president strung up with a noose. So is Trump the problem or is he a symptom of a broader problem? 

Alex Jones: I think he's both. I think that Trump reflects some longstanding trends in American politics that you can trace back through George Wallace, Father Coughlin, it goes a long way back of this kind of aggrieved revanchist populism that pops up whenever there's a challenge to majoritarian privilege. On the other hand, I don't agree with a writer like Adam Serwer of the Atlantic that Trump is just this replay things that have been there forever. I think he is a new Fred in the sense of his dominance of the medium and his mega celebrity, his ability to command this loyalty to him that even these populous figures like George Wallace never had, you know, I think he's a creature of the electronic age in a way that differentiates him from just somebody. Like, I don't know, Sarah Palin, who I think is more, just an organic extension of those previous figures. 

JD Wooten: So you might've just hinted at it. Let me drill down on that then what do you think enabled his rise, at this particular point in history I should say?

Alex Jones: Yeah, I think Palin is a part of that story. I think she opened up the can of worms, partially that had been opportunistically open and closed by Republican politicians like George H w Bush with Willie Horton. And then later in 2004, you had George w demagoguing same-sex marriage in a very ugly way, but generally speaking, it had been under the control of the GOP elite. And then Palin kind of flung it wide open and showed Republican voters they could have exactly what they wanted. They didn't have to settle for this business-friendly republicanism that occasionally threw them a bone on something they could get exactly what they want. And then Trump capitalized on that with his dominance of the media. 

JD Wooten: Certainly. And you've mentioned a lot of historic names too. I think the last century has seen several backlashes to progress. So it's kind of a two step forward, one step back. You think we're in one of those backward moments, right now? 

Alex Jones: I think so. Yeah. I think that you had the election of Barack Obama, an African-American man, and that caused deep anxiety and panic in a large number of people. I think that was fundamental to the rise of Trump. I think you also see the increasing diversity of the American population that kind of threatened this sense of white hegemony among racist, racially, conservative whites. And then I think you have same-sex marriage too, you know, so there's really this whole constellation of progress that has caused the same people, roughly who have always been involved in that revanchist politics to mobilize again, in the same way.

JD Wooten: You've written about this in there, I think as well. Where do you think the white Christian evangelicals play in this movement and this current resurgence of this idea? 

Alex Jones: I think it's pretty clear that they are Trump's base. You know, they used to talk about Trump's base was the white working class. It's really not. Trump's base is white evangelicals of any class, any social class. And you know, the evangelicals have probably lost the most in terms of. Honoring privileges. I mean, you go back to 2004, 40% of Americans were evangelicals. Now 25% of Roadrunners are evangelicals. And what really strikes me is that even among Republican voters in North Carolina, only 37% are evangelicals. So the number of evangelicals in the North Carolina Republican party is lower than it was nationally, 18 years ago now. And so I think that evangelicals in part, because they lost so much privilege and in part, because they're so well organized through those churches and focused on family and so on. I think they are the, the shock troops of this backlash. 

JD Wooten: I think that's a great transition then to another piece that you wrote that you titled high Republican turnout, isn't going away just because Trump's off the ballot and you kick that off with a talk about loss, aversion. What are your thoughts there?

Alex Jones: Well, cognitive scientists have always, and behavioral economists have found that people care a lot more about what they lose than what they could gain. You know? So if like, if you offer people a bunch of coffee logs and ask them how much they think they're worth and try to take them away, then they'll overestimate the value of those coffee mugs. But then if you just offer them the exact same coffee mug and they haven't had a coffee mug, they value it much more, you know, much less. And I think you see that in politics in the sense that even though many policies offered by the Democratic left would benefit people going forward, at least economically, that resonates much less powerful than a psychological. Then the sense of a loss of social and cultural privilege. 

JD Wooten: So when you've got one party promising a better future that that people haven't experienced before, and you've got another party demonizing progress and campaigning on fear of the loss of privilege and status that those changes will bring, I'm not sure that's a fair. 

Alex Jones: No, it's not, I mean, just on cognitively or culturally politics, and my opinion is mostly about identity. So, you know, on the one hand you've got an economic appeal, the other can, you've got an identity appeal. Which one do you think is going to resonate more powerfully? Which one do you think is going to motivate more voters?

JD Wooten: I think that you're absolutely right. So my next question then would be, how do you think all these factors come together to influence voter turnout? Because your, your premise was of that particular piece was that high Republican turnout won't be going away just because Trump's off the ballot. 

Alex Jones: I kind of got that idea from the Virginia governor's race. A lot of people, myself included, had thought that with Trump off the ballot, there would be decline in Republican turnout, but here is this culturally moderate, almost milk toast GOP nominee for governor, and he gets Trump level turnout and Southwest Virginia. I think that this sense of crisis within the right-wing community is going to inspire high turnout for as long as they feel like they are under siege. That's a strong statement, I could very well be wrong, but I think it's having a high turnout for a long time until Trump is completely off the stage and we've reached some kind of national settlement on issues of culture.

JD Wooten: I think that's fair. I think there's been a taste for it, and one of the greatest predictors of whether a person will vote in the next election is whether they voted in the last election. And so now that that cycle has been started, I think that even just based on historic trends, you're absolutely right. Because if we say. If the greatest predictor of whether somebody is going to vote in the next election is whether they voted in the previous election, then it stands to reason that voter turnout amongst all parties will stay high, but especially amongst Republicans. But I think what I'm curious about here still though, is do you see this on the Republican side, in terms of what's driving the turnout, do you see it as a rise of bullying, authoritarianism, maybe even, you know, pseudo fascism in the sense of what is animating the Republican base to turn out and vote?

Alex Jones: I think Trump's pugilistic approach to politics is definitely helped, but on the other hand, Glenn Youngkin was like this businessman, lived in Northern Virginia and nobody was particularly excited about them. And yet these very culturally conservative voters in Southwest Virginia voted, I believe at the highest rate of any region in the state. So I think there's something going on beyond Trump's Il Duce routine. 

JD Wooten: Well, I guess time will tell. So I'll turn them to your last article. I love this title. It was just short sweet until the. "Conservative populism is fraud." And you wrote, "The Republican platform remains overwhelmingly a blueprint for enhancing oligarchy. Populism on the right is more of a political affect than a system of commitments to righting the wrongs done to six-pack Joe. Before we dive right into exactly what you meant. I think it's helpful to look back at about a decade ago. And if you would remind listeners what a lot of the Republican establishment was thinking at the post 2012-time frame. 

Alex Jones: Oh, they were thinking that the problem the Republican party face was that it was toxic among people of color, essentially. That's what they meant. People of color and also immigrant voters. And so the way for them to restore their party's viability in presidential elections was to move to the left on comprehensive immigration reform and project a sense of openness and welcoming stance toward minorities, toward young people, toward these various constituencies that had formed the Obama coalition. And Trump did not do that. 

JD Wooten: Yeah. I was going to say calling certain immigrants, rapists and murderers, and then saying, you're going to build a wall as the centerpiece of your legislation sounds like a little bit of a detour. So what do you think happened there? Any thoughts? 

Alex Jones: I think what happened is that there were a lot of white voters in the Midwest who didn't vote in 2012. If you remove any kind of moral scruples from the situation, just think like Karl Rove, totally Machiavellian boss of the GOP consultant class. There were two ways that you could get to a victory in 2016. One, you could attract more voters who had voted for Obama, or two you could mobilize these culturally conservative white voters who demographically looked like Republicans, but didn't vote for Romney. And Trump, maybe without even thinking about it, maybe through his like instinctive and gut level grasp of what the Republican base wants, took that second road and won the electoral college and the presidency.

JD Wooten: I'm still not convinced that there was any calculation involved in it from an electoral standpoint, so much as it was, he was looking at it through a ratings perspective. And I think that he just sort of intuitively knew from his time as reality show talk host, he just craved media attention and he knew that the more inflammatory and crazy he was, the more people were going to pay attention to him. And on accident that turned out to support that second direction, because all of a sudden that second group of disengaged voters that you were talking about suddenly said, oh, okay. His approach was taken as somehow authentic. 

Alex Jones: Yeah, I think there was, if not calculation, then a little more direction to what he was doing than that. I think that in addition to being a life-long media hound, he's also a Fox News addict. He watches hours and hours and hours of Fox News. And what he knows about politics, he largely learned from Fox News. And if you think about what Fox says, they're not talking about limited government they're not talking about deregulating CFTC position limit rules, or whatever. They talk about these issues of heartland, identity politics. And I think Trump gathered that. And I think also he needs some moves on issues like trade and social insurance, Medicare, and Social Security that couldn't have just been coincidental. I mean, he had an idea of what the missing white voters wanted that somebody like a Paul Ryan was completely oblivious to.

JD Wooten: Now are you talking about in his campaign? 

Alex Jones: 2016. His campaign, yeah. Because he promised not to cut Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid for that matter. 

JD Wooten: Yeah, I think that this is getting back to the whole point that conservative populism in quotes is fraud because he made a lot of promises, then why don't you remind us what was the actually ended up doing when he got into office.

Alex Jones: I mean, he spent what three, four, or five months trying to appeal the affordable care act with no series replacement and is a signature initiative was a tax cut that gave two thirds of its benefits to the very wealthy and so on. 

JD Wooten: The policies that he actually pursued, in my mind there was a Faustian bargain. It was just say one thing doing other, and then Republicans that were in office were more than happy to go along with it. As long as they were getting their, you know, their tax cuts and their conservative judges. 

Alex Jones: Yeah, the judges I think were especially critical of that. 

JD Wooten: It certainly looks like as is in the news everywhere that we're poised to see the radical right get some benefit out of that strategy. Now you also wrote that perhaps a big foundation of that is the GOP donor class. And we talked about that a little bit in the context of North Carolina, do you think there's any chance of that changes or do you think that that's just sort of the way their system is set up right now?

Alex Jones: I've got a really, really hard time seeing how that changes, especially given the Supreme Court's stance on campaign finance. 

JD Wooten: So assuming that holds the basic proposition is that Republicans will say whatever sounds popular, but at the end of the day, they're going to enact the policies that line their campaign coffers. And that means the elite GOP donor class is going to dictate the actual policies. 

Alex Jones: Yeah, although we're going to see a test of that in terms of whether the Republican base gets what it wants when abortion becomes a live issue in congressional politics. They may finally get that thing they've been grasping for for 50 years.

JD Wooten: Yeah, sort of the dog that caught its tail. How do you think that'll play out? 

Alex Jones: I don't know. 

JD Wooten: Rather than trying to predict, what do you think some of the issues that we'll be seeing come up or that will be at the forefront? So for example, in North Carolina, the 13th Congressional District by all accounts is going to be the most competitive and possibly be only really competitive general election district at all in North Carolina. Let's assume some version of the Supreme Court opinion comes out that overturns Roe, how do you think that plays out in that house race? 

Alex Jones: Well, I think this Bo Hines character has totally painted himself into a corner on that. He has portrayed himself as this hardcore social conservative and 100% XYZ, all of which are social conservative. And so he can't moderate and he can't run from him. And if Wiley Nickel makes sound decisions, you could see abortion being a very prominent issue there. There are some suburban voters certainly in Wake and I suspect maybe even some Johnson County suburban voters who are going to have reservations about electing this Bo Hines guy who's portrayed himself as an anti-choice zealot. 

JD Wooten: Absolutely. All right, Alex, anything else on the conservative populism and fraud line of thought that you want to wrap up with? 

Alex Jones: I would just say that there's a real issue of intent, which is what made me say it's a fraud. You can say that conservative populism has often been devoid of policy specifics, but you can imagine somebody like a Boris Johnson really believing that he's rallying the common people of Britain against the Brussels bureaucrats and so on and so forth. And so there is a populist intent there, whatever we think of his policies. Whereas these Republicans like DeSantis, Tom Cotton, and the rest of them are actively being cynical and opportunistic in seizing populism because their goal is to enrich the wealthy. They have an elitist goal, they have an elitist intent, but their populism is just this means to an end.

JD Wooten: I wholeheartedly agree. I think there's just this incredibly malicious cynicism undergirding all of it. Just Machiavellian at its core. So in wrapping up, then any suggestions on how to approach this problem when talking to people in the run-up to the general election? 

Alex Jones: I think Democrats really need to get better at really, to regain the trust of rural and semi-rural voters. I think that there's a need to reestablish networks in those communities long-term. 

JD Wooten: Yeah, I couldn't agree more. Well, Alex, I really appreciate you taking some time to join us today. Thank you so much. 

Alex Jones: Yeah, thank you. I appreciate it.

[music transition]

JD Wooten: Thanks again to Alex for joining me today. Remember, if you want to read more of Alex’s work or dive deeper into the topics we touched on today, visit and check out the links in the show notes. As always, if you or someone you know should be on the show, send me an email at

Finally, please subscribe wherever you get your podcasts to make sure you never miss an episode, and share this episode with your friends to help our guests reach the largest audience possible. Together, we can achieve a better North Carolina for everyone!


Interview with Alex Jones
Closing Notes