USA TODAY US Edition
Why Trump plays big in the South
His bluster resonates with many in the region, experts say
Bluster resonates with voters in many Super Tuesday states.
WASHINGTON Southerners have often liked their politicians to be colorful — and it looks like New York real estate mogul Donald Trump fits the bill.
The brash billionaire’s strength in the region, particularly among white men, makes him the favorite in Super Tuesday contests that will send more than 20% of the delegates to the Republican convention in July.
In addition to a speaking style that recalls Southern politicians like “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman and George C. Wallace, Trump addresses issues that have long resonated in the South: criticism of the federal government, attacks on illegal immigration, protests of foreign trade deals and pledges to bolster the military — all in a vivid, outspoken style.
“They think, ‘Hey, he’s a guy who sounds just like me,’ ” said Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida, of many Southerners’ reactions to Trump.
There also is Trump’s bracing language and aggressive gestures; his attacks on “stupid politicians,” the “dishonest” media, his “lying ” rivals; and his threat to bomb the ( bleep) out of the Islamic State — “music to a lot of Southern ears,” MacManus said.
In a region where many people still feel looked down upon by New York and Hollywood elites, Trump and his message resonate. Scott Huffmon, a political scientist at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., called it “the fighter ethos and an anti-establishment mentality” in the South.
That includes Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia, all of which are holding primaries on Tuesday.
Polls give Trump a chance to win all of them, with the possible exception of rival Ted Cruz’s home state of Texas.
On Sunday, Trump picked up his highest-profile support yet from an elected official in the South, from Alabama’s Sen. Jeff Sessions.
Of course, not all Southerners are impressed with Trump’s act.
Critics including South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham say Trump’s protectionist policies will start trade wars that will further damage the economy and hurt working people in the South.
Graham and others say Trump’s stridency, including attacks on Mexican immigrants, will not play well in the general election, helping Democrats retake House and Senate seats and the presidency.
Cruz, who expects to defeat Trump on Tuesday in his home state of Texas, said Trump is shaky on issues important to Southerners, including gun rights and opposition to abortion.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who will try to hold off Trump in his home state during a March 15 primary, says Trump is a “con artist” who is trying to fool people into thinking he is a real conservative.
Some critics also see a dark side to the Trump appeal, citing a racial aspect to his popularity.
Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke recently told his radio listeners that voting for anyone but Trump “is really treason to your heritage.”
After telling reporters Friday he was unaware of Duke’s support and disavowing it, Trump said on a CNN broadcast Sunday that he didn’t know Duke and would have to look into it.