When conservative white voters look at Donald Trump they see the man who understands them, who understands what they believe in, and who understands the nation was built on Judeo-Christian principles, which is code for conservative white principles, which is code for themselves.
At root they believe Trump will protect them from everyone else in the nation.
He'll protect them from the idea that gay people are their legal equals. He'll reverse the Supreme Court's same sex marriage ruling (in truth he really won't, but people are allowed to dream).
He'll protect them from ISIS. Trump has threatened to “bomb the hell” out of the Middle East. He has said his administration will “waterboard and worse” all Muslim suspects. He has said he will ban all Muslim travel to the U.S. He has said he will ensure the ones already living here are “registered” in a government database. It'll be a bit like a dog license. He'll do this because he understands that to many here they represent an unspecified “threat” that needs to be “contained.”
He'll protect them from undocumented immigrants. He has actually told them he will build a massive 2000 mile long wall to keep Latino “criminals, rapists and murderers” out. He'll be like a latter-day Noah, turning the USA into an ark as the rest of the world drowns in chaos.
He'll protect them from political correctness. They can't say they don't like black people, or gays, or Jews or the Irish now without someone raising an eyebrow at them. So Trump's rhetoric belongs to the old days when they could be as disparaging as they liked without consequence to their standing. Trump makes some white people nostalgic for a time when they could be openly bigoted and still belong.
He'll protect them from poverty. Everyone knows that both the economy and the social compact have collapsed. In America there's one set of rules for the rich and one set for everyone else. We lived in an increasingly divided nation. To some conservative white (and Latino) voters Trump looks like the aspirational avatar of American success. He's our big, bloated, be-coiffed and gold-plated golden calf. They want a piece of that success, if only in their dreams. He may not make them richer, but they’ll feel more successful just looking at him.
He’ll put them back on top of the nation’s social pyramid, because they want to be the deciders again, and they want to do what they always did – win.
Trump understands the foundational anxiety of these voters better than the GOP. He knows what they want to be is protected, not raised up. So he's become a fast talking Barnum and Bailey, he's Father Christmas, he's Daddy Warbucks, he's the Wizard of Oz, and he's leading us all a merry dance along his self-serving yellow brick road.
I don't know why it took the GOP establishment so long to understand the rise of Trump. By November of last year they should have figured out he was political teflon.
He can actually go all way to the White House on this “I’ll protect you” sales pitch. He's very close to securing the nomination already. And he got there by speaking to - and for - our worst selves and so his reign will be destructive beyond belief.
I know this because of what's he's been willing to do – and who he's been willing to sacrifice - to get there.