For two years, the American media has been stuck in the movie Groundhog Day, replaying the 2016 election over and over in the hopes of extracting some new insight about an outcome it didn’t see coming. While some of this work comes from an earnest place—national reporters sense they got the story wrong, and now they’ve been to the heartland to see what they missed—in aggregate, they’re easily caricatured: the Trump voter as blue-collar Baby Boomer, out of a manufacturing job, a little bit racist, just whittling away at his rusty nail.
The journalist Salena Zito, along with the Republican political consultant Brad Todd, have written a new book in this genre, with two important caveats: They avoid stereotypes of Trump voters, and they do not believe Trump’s election was a freak political accident. The Great Revolt argues that Trump didn’t just destroy conventional Republican politics; he also built something new, uniting a coalition of Americans who hate bigness and politically correct, arrogant elites.
The book, based on a voter survey and Zito’s reporting in five Midwestern swing states, has some shortcomings. In their effort to counter popular narratives about Trump voters, the authors go too far toward contrarianism and embracing voters’ narratives without question. Still, it is a valuable read on two levels. First, it provides a nuanced, multifaceted theory of the Trump coalition, resisting the temptation to oversimplify a complex, diverse group of voters and the man they voted for. The authors offer archetypes that are impressionistic but subtle—a quality in short supply in contemporary American politics.