AUSTIN, Tex.—The underlying theme connecting much of Donald Trump’s message is that demographic, economic, and cultural change is erasing the America that his supporters remember and revere.
Usually implicitly, at other times more overtly, Trump posits a zero-sum world in which gains for minority groups threaten both the physical security and economic opportunity of native-born whites. Trump’s core promise is that he will “make America great again” by combating the changes that his supporters believe are endangering them—whether by deporting millions of undocumented immigrants, imposing “a pause” on legal immigration, temporarily banning all Muslim immigrants, or standing up to black protests against the police.
It’s a vision that has clearly energized many Republican voters—as Trump demonstrated again with his convincing victories in Michigan and Mississippi on Tuesday. In the latest national ABC/Washington Post poll, Trump led Ted Cruz, his closest competitor, by about two-to-one among the nearly half of Republicans who believe that whites are “losing out” because of preferences for African Americans and Hispanics; he slightly trailed Cruz among those who don’t.
But it doesn’t take much time in Texas to recognize that Trump’s zero-sum equation is misguided, even inverted. For that matter, so is much of the dialogue from the Democratic presidential candidates that frames the goal of increasing opportunity for communities of color primarily as an imperative of social fairness.