J Robert Smith
- Nov. 19, 2019
- 4 min read
For his part, the president has accepted that path — choosing not to broaden his appeal by tapering his temperament to one that might suit the two-income, two-degree Republican-leaning suburban families who split their tickets in 2016 and then chose Democratic congressmen in 2018. These voters crave predictability and civility at a gut level, two things in short supply in Trump’s style, but they tell pollsters they are wary of the lurch toward socialism in today’s Democratic Party. Thus far, their hearts have overpowered their heads in off-year elections in the Trump era, and Democrats are banking on the same result in 2020. [Bold added]
There’s no disputing that Democrats made gains in suburbs in the 2018 midterm elections and 2019 off-year elections. Republicans should be concerned. The big question for 2020: Will the presidential race pivot in the ‘burbs? Will Democrats make enough inroads in suburban areas in key battleground states to defeat Trump? Will Trump be the first president since the elder Bush to get a “one and done” edict, thanks to the drift of suburbanites?
Selena Zito & Brad Todd have written a book: The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition. Both are smart and fair analysts. While they draw no definitive conclusions in their article for the Examiner, they clearly raise a warning flag.
This insight from their Examiner article:
Trump’s unwillingness to play to these suburban sensibilities, far tamer than the rousable crowds who attend his rallies, may cost him his winning electoral margin. While he underperformed Mitt Romney in suburban jurisdictions in 2016, he did hang on to just enough college-educated voters to squeeze victory out of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. We profiled these voters as “Silent Suburban” women — and their small-town counterparts “Rotary Reliables” in The Great Revolt. Trump does not need Romney-sized margins in these demographics, but he can’t do worse than he did with them in 2016 and win Michigan or Wisconsin. [Italics added]
Before assuming that the 2020 presidential contest is decided, let’s take stock of some facts that put the brakes on any assumption that Trump’s fate is sealed.
1. Donald Trump wasn’t on ballots in 2018 and 2019. That matters greatly. Voters weren’t faced with a stark choice. In 2020, they will be. Keep in mind, that it was Trump who helped the GOP hold the Senate majority. It was House Republicans, running absent a free market alternative to healthcare reform, who fumbled away the majority. They also had a lot of incumbent retirements. Don’t underestimate the importance of healthcare to female suburban voters. Something usually beats nothing, and the GOP offered a lot of healthcare nothing in 2018. Trump needs to tackle healthcare with his own comprehensive reform package.
2. In 2020, will suburban voters reject Trump, with a record of success – emphasis on his unqualified economic achievements – and elect Democrat X, who, of necessity, must run to the left to hold the party’s base? Zito and Todd make much of suburban voters being turned off by Trump’s rough and tumble style. But will style trump substance?
3. Are suburban voters prepared to elect a Democrat who’ll repudiate Trump’s economic policies? A nominee who, of necessity, embraces more radical – and costly – environmental and healthcare proposals? That’s the “Green New Deal” and “Medicare for All.” Even if the Democrat nominee tries to moderate his or her party’s radical positions, would those positions still be too extreme for suburbanites? Remember, the Democrat nominee will face intense cross-pressure from his or her party’s leftist base. Alienating moderate independents is a death knell.
4. Why isn’t it possible for Trump not only to consolidate his 2016 gains among blue collar voters in previously strong Democratic jurisdictions, but to make gains? Clearly, working class voters have benefited significantly from the Trump economy. Culturally, most are aligned with Trump on key hot-button issues like gun control, patriotism, and political correctness. Trump has a chance to expand his vote among this critical cohort.
Amy Walter, writing for the Cook Political Report last September undercuts the “suburbs are destiny” analysis of Zito and Todd. Walter wrote:
Boston College political scientist David Hopkins has measured this suburban disparity in a paper he wrote called “The Suburbanization of the Democratic Party, 1992–2018.” He argues that using ‘suburban’ as shorthand for anywhere that’s not a city or small town/rural is missing the real story of the suburban vote.
Then this from Walter’s analysis:
But, suburban success for Democrats has come almost exclusively in the areas in and around big cities, like Denver, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Detroit. There have been fewer inroads into suburbs surrounding smaller cities like Cincinnati, Ohio; Spokane, Washington; or Indianapolis, Indiana.
And finally, this and this:
“In every presidential election since 1992, the Democratic candidate has carried the suburban vote inside the Top 20 metro areas,” writes Hopkins, “while the Republican candidate has prevailed across the remainder of the nation’s suburbs. The partisan gap between these two suburban electorates has increased over time: from 4 percentage points in 1992 to 13 points in 2016.”
And, while Democrats won the 2018 election in the suburbs, Republicans still hold “71 percent of all suburban seats outside the Top 20 metro areas (as well as 82 percent of the nation’s rural districts). “
So, will Trump lose the 2020 elections in the suburbs? He’d be the first president with a roaring economy to lose a reelection, period. As Walter’s analysis bears out, if Trump holds suburban voters per the pattern, dominates in rural and small-town America, and, at least, consolidates working class votes, he’ll be reelected. Oh, and Trump may even enjoy a bigger margin of victory than he did in 2016.
What do you think? Weigh in!