We know that impeached Cheeto Donald Trump is losing. When I first wrote those words a couple of months ago or so, liberals freaked out. I’m sensing that most of us can accept that now (without getting complacent). Things have only gotten worse for him since then, and it’s threatening to rout Senate Republicans and expand Democratic leads in the House. Trump has been the worst thing to happen to the GOP since … forever.
So given the political climate, Trump’s troubles with key core constituencies like seniors and non-college whites, the Republican collapse in the suburbs, and a fiercely energized liberal base, how would you advise Trump and his campaign to turn things around? If you said “demand even more ideological purity,” then you have a bright future in the conservative movement!
You see, conservatives are livid at the “betrayals” they see in Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Neil Gorsuch after a term that delivered brutal conservative defeats on topics like LGBTQ rights, immigration, and abortion rights. Therefore, they aren’t just cheering Trump’s promises to release a “list” of future judicial candidates: They are demanding it be whittled down through a purity filter. “There are few new judges who are very good and could be added to the list, but the main thing that needs to happen is to cut the list way down by removing anyone who has not been proven to be a rock-ribbed conservative,” one Republican told Politico. “The whole purpose of the list is to give hardline conservatives a guarantee that we will not be betrayed again.”
Think about it—these guys are demanding that “hardline conservatives” be appeased. But where are they bleeding support? These days, the dam is about to collapse because of the coronavirus pandemic and Trump’s bungling of the nationwide movement for racial justice. (Humping statues of Confederate generals does not build a winning electoral coalition, especially at a time when even Mississippi ditched the Confederate battle flag from its state flag.) But short-term electoral movement can quickly swing back. The GOP’s core problem is college-educated, suburban white women.
There are lots of ways to illustrate the GOP’s suburban collapse, but none communicates the dynamic better than this one simple stat: 38 of the 41 House seats Democrats picked up in 2018 were suburban districts. It was suburban voters (again, mostly women) who helped Democrats win 2019 governor races in blood-red Kentucky and Louisiana. Those formerly Republican women aren’t swinging back. Instead, they’ve put Trump deep in the hole, created an opportunity for a massive Democratic landslide in the Senate, and shored up both those 2018 House pickups while giving Democrats several dozen new opportunities.
And what do those suburban female voters want? A NARAL poll on the eve of the 2018 midterm elections showed that on choice, what they want is certainly not aligned with “hardline conservatives.”
A new Public Policy Polling survey finds that 78% of women across all political parties in suburban swing Congressional districts polled said they don’t believe government should prevent a woman from having an abortion, while just 20% of those polled said they think abortion should be illegal,” according to the polling memo. “A majority of suburban women in swing districts -52%- say they are also more likely to vote for a candidate for Congress who supports reproductive freedom, including access to abortion. Only 29% of suburban women said they would be less likely to support a candidate who supports reproductive freedom.”
How about immigration? A Priorities USA (Democratic Super PAC) poll found that “while Trump’s record and rhetoric on immigration, border security, race relations and corruption are top issues for Trump’s base to support him, they are also reasons for a majority of suburban voters to vote for somebody else.” Indeed, those 2018 Democratic victories came after a concerted effort by Trump and his party to ramp up anti-immigrant hysteria. Remember the Honduran “caravan”? Or these guys?
In fact, one study claimed that fully one-quarter of all Republican ads late in the 2018 cycle featured anti-immigrant fearmongering, just like this one (the Democrat being attacked in that ad won). Yet that heavy focus on scary brown people failed to make a dent with those suburban white women.
The third issue in which the Supreme Court “betrayed” those “hardcore conservatives” was LGBTQ rights, and once again, those conservatives are on the wrong side of the suburbs. On same-sex marriage, a great proxy for questions revolving around equality issues, suburban Americans approved 59-39, not too far off from the 63-35 numbers among urban Americans. It was 46-52 in rural America, home to the dwindling number of “hardcore conservatives.”
So in the suburbs, key to the GOP’s electoral collapse, voters are pro-LGBTQ rights, pro-immigration, and pro-choice. And the Republican response is to weed out any conservatives who might harbor any such sympathies?
I’ve been arguing that Trump is incapable of doing the things he needs to do to win. Throw this in the pile of evidence that when it comes to charting a path toward Election Day, Trump and his party are still incapable of broadening their coalition. They don’t want to do it, and so they won’t.
Quite the opposite, in fact.