Donald Trump’s inflammatory statements about Mexican immigrants, Muslim refugees and women who get abortions may eventually be his campaign’s undoing, some analysts say. But don’t tell that to the many supporters such as Titus Kottke, attracted to the Republican front-runner specifically because he shoots from the lip.
“No more political correctness,” said Kottke, 22, a cattle trucker and construction worker from Athens, Wisconsin, who waited hours last weekend to see the candidate in a line stretching the length of a shopping mall.
Trump is “not scared to offend people,” Kottke said. He agrees with some of the views Trump expresses but likes the fact that the candidate shows the confidence to reject the dogma of political correctness. That “takes away your freedom of speech, pretty much. You can’t say anything.”
For years, conservatives have decried political correctness as a scourge of orthodox beliefs and language, imposed by liberals, that keeps people from voicing uncomfortable truths.
Now, some Trump supporters — many white, working-class voters frustrated with the country’s shifting economics and demographics — applaud him for not being afraid to make noise about the things that anger them but that they feel discouraged from saying out loud.
“It’s a cultural backlash,” said Steve Schmidt, a Republican political strategist who ran Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. “Millions and millions of people in this country, blue-collar people, feel that their values are under assault, that they’re looked down upon, condescended to by the elites.”
Trump rival Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who has quit the 2016 race, are among the candidates who also have outspoken in decrying political correctness.
But Trump has made defiance of the manners usually governing politics a signature of his campaign.
“The big problem this country has is being politically correct,” he said in a debate in August, when pressed on his comments about women that brought criticism. “I’ve been challenged by so many people and I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time either.”
In doing so, Trump tapped into a frustration shared even by many voters who disagree with him on other issues. In an October poll of Americans by Fairleigh Dickinson University, more than two-thirds agreed that political correctness is a “big problem” for the country. Among Republicans, it was 81 percent.
That sentiment is clear in conversations with Trump supporters.
“Let him be a man with the guts to say what he wants,” said Polly Day, 74, a retired nurse from Wausau, Wisconsin, who came to a Trump rally last Saturday in nearby Rothschild. “Should he tone down? He’ll figure that out on his own. I like him the way he is.”
At the same rally, Kottke said Trump’s rejection of political correctness is one of the main reasons he supports him, along with the candidate’s determination to improve security, protect jobs and keep Muslims out of the country.
Plenty of others agreed with him.
“Finally somebody’s coming in that has the cojones to say something and to do something,” said Ray Henry, another supporter. “I think he’s saying what a lot of what America’s feeling right now … enough’s enough.”
Trump’s flouting of political correctness has turned out to be a potent rhetorical weapon, political analysts say, but could prove troublesome.
“At its best, not being politically correct comes across as direct, unfiltered and honest. At its worst, not being politically correct comes across as crude, rude and insulting,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster who previously worked for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign. Trump’s supporters “may find it refreshing. That doesn’t mean they would find it presidential.”
Ayres and other analysts say Trump’s rejection of political correctness appeals to voters frustrated by the setbacks of the Great Recession and the global economy; immigration that has made the country more heterogeneous; and cultural trends such as gay marriage and measures to fight discrimination against African-Americans, which make them feel marginalized.
“This doesn’t fall out of left field,” said Marc Hetherington, a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University who studies polarization and voter trust. “But what these political actors have done, Trump and Cruz in particular, is give that … worry and frustration a voice.”
That frustration was made clear in a poll by Quinnipiac University, released Tuesday, that found a deep vein of dissatisfaction among Trump supporters.
Nine in 10 questioned said their values and beliefs are under attack. Eight in 10 said the government has gone too far in assisting minorities, a view shared by 76 percent of Cruz supporters. But Trump was unrivaled in claiming the largest number of supporters — 84 percent — who agreed that the U.S. needs a leader “willing to say or do anything” to tackle the country’s problems.
Political correctness entered the American vocabulary in the 1960s and 1970s. New Left activists advocating for civil rights and feminism and against the Vietnam War used it to describe the gap between their high-minded ideals and everyday actions.
“It was a kind of understanding that you can’t be perfect all the time,” said Ruth Perry, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who wrote a 1992 article on the early history of political correctness. “It was an awareness of the ways in which all of us are inconsistent.”
As it gained broader usage, political correctness came to mean a careful avoidance of words or actions that could offend minorities, women or others, often to the point of excess. Conservative critics have, for decades, pointed to it as an enforced ideology run amok.
“I think that the American people … are sick to death of the choking conformity, the intellectual tyranny that is produced by political correctness,” said Nick Adams, an Australian-born commentator who wrote Retaking America: Crushing Political Correctness.
Adams, who has lived in the U.S. since 2009, said he believes many voters are drawn to Trump’s rejection of that correctness, and his emphasis on reclaiming individualism, identity and self-confidence stripped away by it.
At the Wisconsin rally, a number of Trump supporters offered a similar appraisal.
“We have gone overboard with political correctness, everyone backtracking on their statements,” said Chris Sharkey, 39, of Wausau, who says he chafes at behavioral strictures in his workplace, where human resource officers tell employees to avoid discussing politics.
The U.S., Sharkey said, needs to step up screening of Muslims trying to enter the country and bring back jobs employers have moved overseas — and Trump shouldn’t have to apologize for saying so.
But some observers say Trump’s appeal is less about speaking a particular truth than it is giving frustrated voters a means to vent.
“There’s this sense of angry, white working-class discontent,” said Patricia Aufderheide, a professor of communication at American University who edited a book of essays on political correctness.
“Trump has given people permission to say things out loud that are usually tucked in until after the third drink at Thanksgiving dinner,” she said. “But I think they’ve always been there.”