Donald Trump had turned out the record number of supporters ever for a sitting president.
Joe Biden had turned out an even greater record number of supporters ever for a presidential candidate. This will remain true even if a lazy one or two hundred thousand votes have been manufactured by the Democrat urban machines in a few key swing states. Though the concept lacks any constitutional relevance, Biden won the “popular vote” by a few million.
Actually, it’s safe to say that it wasn’t really Joe Biden: Donald Trump has managed to turn out the record number of voters both for and against himself. This never was about the poor old Joe; for the people the choice on the ballot paper was between “Donald Trump” and “Not Donald Trump”. If a stray goat ran for president as a Democrat, it too would likely be now proclaimed President-elect (and Kamala Harris would be plotting her path to presidency through a goat curry). This is the answer to the pro-Trump memes which compare the enthusiasm for Trump during the campaign with the dozen people turning out to Biden’s events and wonder how the latter could have legitimately received more votes than the former or the arch-popular Messiah Barack Obama. Voters were not much excited about Joe, they just wanted to end the Trump era and “return to normalcy”. Thus, Trump has electorally been both a blessing and a curse to the Republican Party.
But I digress. The point is that Trump had put together a record-breaking Republican coalition, and Biden had put together an even more record-breaking Democrat coalition to unseat him. Electoral coalitions are not set in stone; even the party bases slowly mutate over time. With that in mind, I’m interested in the question whether the GOP without Trump at the helm will be able to continue the work that Trump has done over the past five years and build and improve on it, and if not, what that means for the future of the party and the American politics.
Trump’s formula for success was cobbling together most of the Republican base with some extra support from outside, mostly working class folk. Parts of the traditional base deserted Trump already in 2016; those who disagreed with him on ideological grounds (too populist economically, too nationalist in foreign policy) and those who disagreed with him on the matters of style (too vulgar, too uncouth). The Never-Trump people tended to better educated and better off. In 2020, this trend continued.
The data we have comes from exit polls, so some caution should be exercised. The opinion polls having once again been out this election, often quite significantly, so it’s not far fetched to think exit polls are plagued by similar errors, perhaps even more so, considering people might have been even more reluctant to admit their support for Trump to pollsters face-to-face than over the phone. Thus the voter profiles might be wrong by a few percentage points in Trump’s disfavour.
The combined reading of the two graphs (Edison Research for ABC/CNN/MBC/CBS) indicates that Republicans under Trump lost support among white people across both genders and education levels (with the curious and counter-intuitive exception of educated women), while gaining among minorities. In general, there is a clear gender gap, with men of all ethnicities more inclined to vote Republican than women (even if black and Hispanic women are now more likely to vote Republican than before):
And while the higher educational attainment tends to correlate with voting Democrat, curiously this pattern does not hold for minority voters:
The consensus appears to be that under Trump, Republicans have lost some ground in the suburbs, the home of “the middle America”. Suburbs, together with small towns and rural areas, are the traditional home of the GOP base. Lastly, as I feared back in June, Trump lost – and quite significantly – the Independent/moderate vote. I suspect that these are the more apolitical people who have been really rubbed the wrong way by the Trump persona and behaviour, and who looked at the tumultuous 2020 with its COVID chaos and BLM/Antifa riots, associated it with Trump, and just wanted it all to go away.
What are the upshots for the future?
The suburban vote should be recoverable by any “normal” Republican politician who is not Trump, as they are likely to have the right “temperament” and “character” that suburbanites desire in their President, as well as the more traditionally Republican mix of policies that appeal to suburban voters.
Trump’s perhaps most successful contribution in his time in office has been his successful outreach to black, Hispanic and “other” America, which traditionally favour the Democrats much more than whites, the natural Republican base. Demography is destiny and sometime in the next few decades the United States will become a “minority-majority” country, with white Americans falling under 50 per cent of the population. If Republicans are to have any long-term future they need to attract more minority voters. Most Republicans in the past 20-30 years have understood this and tried to but without great success. In fact, Trump attracted the biggest minority support since Nixon in 1960. Republicans badly need to keep that gain and keep building on it. The big question is: can they? Which begs an earlier question: was it Trump’s policies or style or both that made such inroads into minorities? In other words, was it only someone like Trump, an atypical Republican and an atypical politician with atypical Republican policies, who could have achieved it? If the answer is yes, the GOP is in trouble, not just in a sense that with Trump gone, there will be no one with a comparable appeal to continue the coalition-building work, but also because any gains that such Trumpian style and politics keep making among the minorities come at the expense of the loss of support among the more traditional white party base.
It has been one of the most joyous sights of the Trump presidency the support and enthusiasm among minorities generated by the man himself. The values that the Republican Party stands for (though what they are at the moment is an interesting question to debate), after all, are not a “white thing”, no matter what the “critical race theory” left and their cheerleaders think. The growing minority support for Trump certainly gave lie to the talking points about “racism” and “white supremacy”. This is why it drove the left spare with rage, redoubling their effort to cast Trump and Republicans as bigots and xenophobes. It wasn’t just that it was a glitch in the matrix of their narrative, it was also about electoral politics. Democrats have assured themselves that bringing together college educated whites and all the minorities will guarantee them a permanent majority in the future. But this scenario relies on keeping the overwhelming majority of black and great majorities of Hispanics, Asians and other voters on their plantation, not getting any ideas that there are viable alternatives to those offered by their intellectual massahs. If Republicans can keep bringing minorities on their sides, elections are competitive again.
The first big test of post-Trump GOP will be the 2020 midterms, where the Republican Party would hope to take the House back from Democrats and increase its hold on the Senate. President’s party usually goes backwards in mid-terms, and if the Biden/Harris presidency proves its critics right, it could potentially lead to a landslide. But for that to happen, the suburbs need to inch back to Republicans, while the new base (more working class, more colourful) is kept committed and energised. The latter is a harder task – Republicans are comfortable in their heartland, the (successful) minority outreach is a virgin territory. For one, the GOP will need to better utilise its black, Hispanic and Asian Congresspeople as brand ambassadors; God knows there is plenty of talent there, including some new faces of 2020.
The road ahead is long, and nothing can be taken for granted. Voter support is conditional and has to be earned each time. The deck is getting increasingly stacked against Republicans, with all major institutions dominated by the left, including the mainstream media and the social media. The party building will have to be done in spite of them. Just like in the olden days, every conversation with a neighbour, acquaintance, work colleague or stranger can make a difference, break through stereotypes and bring people over to the right-side. Onward and upward.