2018 elections, African Americans, Democrats, election 2020, establishment Republicans, Im-Politic, Immigration, impeachment, Jacob Blake, Joe Biden, Joseph Simonson, Kamala Harris, Kenosha, law enforcement, Mickey Kaus, Obamacare, Open Borders, police shooting, race relations, regulations, Republican National Committee, Republicans, riots, RNC, Rust Belt, tax cuts, trade policy, Trump, Washington Examiner, white working class
Since the early months of Donald Trump’s presidency, I and many of those who backed his election have been frustrated by his frequent support for and even prioritizing of issues and positions championed by orthodox Republicans and conseratives. After all, there was little reason to believe that he won the Republican nomination, much less the White House, because he was focused laser-like on cutting taxes and regulations or eliminating Obamacare. If that’s what either Republican or overall voters wanted, then you’d think that an orthodox Republican would have wound up running against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton – and triumphing.
One reason I came up with to explain the early burst of conservative traditionalism from Mr Trump (highlighted by a failed effort at healthcare reform and a successful full court press waged to pass the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017) was his need to make sure that the establishment wing of his party stayed with him if he faced an impeachment.
His gambit worked, but even though the impeachment threat is gone, I still hear the President talking up the tax cuts and regulation thing way too much for my tastes. So it’s more than a little interesting to have just learned that, at least according to a report last week in the Washington [D.C.] Examiner, I haven’t been alone. (Or, more accurately, I and a handful of nationalist-populist analysts like Mickey Kaus haven’t been alone.) In this article, Examiner correspondent Joseph Simonson contends that some folks connected with the Republican National Committee (RNC) came to the same conclusion in the late summer and early fall of 2018. And just as important – their analysis came just before the GOP suffered major setbacks in that year’s Congressional elections after doubling down on conventional Republicanism.
Among the highlights of the report (whose existence the RNC denies):
>”Voter data from areas such as Kenosha County, Wisconsin, [we’ll return to this astonishing coincidence below] and other exurban communities, the individual said, showed a troubling trend. Although voters there very narrowly backed Trump in 2016, President Barack Obama’s margins were in the double digits in 2008 and 2012.”
>”Unlike members of Trump’s base, who can be trusted to vote for just about any Republican candidate, these voters feel no strong affinity toward the GOP. Moreover, the interests of those who live in communities such as Kenosha differ greatly from those who live in the Philadelphia suburbs in Pennsylvania.
“These Rust Belt voters favor stronger social safety nets and hawkishness on trade, rather than typical GOP orthodoxies such as lower tax rates and an easier regulatory environment for businesses. That is not to say these voters oppose those things, but the rhetorical obsession from GOP donors and members of the party do little to excite one-time Trump voters.”
>“Back in 2018 the general response to the report from others who worked at the RNC, said one individual, was, ‘well, we have socialism’ as an attack against Democrats and boasts about their new digital voter turnout apparatus.’”
>”Steve Bannon, the former aide to the president who was indicted last week on fraud charges, had viewed the same report a year ago and concluded that the upcoming election against Biden looked like a “blow out” in the former vice president’s favor.”
But let’s get back to the Kenosha point – which of course is unusually interesting and important given the race- and police-shooting-related violence that just convulsed the small city recently. It’s also interesting and important because the alleged report’s treatment of racial issues indicates that the authors weren’t completely prescient.
Specifically, they faulted the RNC for wasting time and resources on a “coalition building” effort aimed at “enlisting the support from black, Hispanic, and Asian voters who make only a marginal difference in the Midwest and [that] can prove potentially damaging if more likely Republicans are neglected.”
Explained one person quoted by Simonson (and possibly one of the authors): “Lots of these people at the RNC are in a state of denial. The base of the GOP are white people, and that gives the party an advantage in national elections. You could not have a voter operation in California whatsoever, and it wouldn’t make any difference, but the RNC does because they don’t want to admit those states are lost forever.” .
Yet even before the eruption of violence in Kenosha (and too many other communities), this analysis overlooked a crucial reality: There was never any reason to assume that, in the Midwest Rust Belt states so crucial to the President’s 2016 victory and yet won so narrowly, that significant portions of the African American vote couldn’t be attracted without alienating the white working class. For both blacks and whites alike in industrial communities have been harmed by the same pre-Trump trade policies strongly supported by his chief November rival Joe Biden and many other Democrats. (For one example of the impact on African Americans, see this post.) Moreover, among the biggest losers from the Open Borders-friendly immigration policies now openly championed, instead of stealthily fostered, by the Democratic Party mainstream, have been African Americans.
It’s not that the President and Republicans had to convince massive numbers of African Americans with these arguments. A few dozen thousand could be more than enough to make a big difference this fall. And there’s some polling data indicating that the strategy was working even before the opening of a Republican convention that featured numerous African American speakers.
Now of course we’re post-the Jacob Blake shooting by Kenosha police and the subsequent rioting and vigilantism. We’re also post-the Biden choice of woman-of-color Kamala Harris as his running mate. Will those developments sink the Trump outreach effort to African Americans and validate the 2018 memo’s arguments?
Certainly the Harris choice doesn’t look like a game-changer. The California Senator, you’ll remember, was decisively rejected by African American voters during the Democratic primaries. I’m less certain about the Kenosha Effect. On the one hand, Mr. Trump has expressed precious little empathy for black victims of police shootings. On the other hand, he has villified the rioting and looting that are destroying the businesses – including African-American-owned – relied on by many urban black neighborhoods in cities that have long stagnated, at best, under Democratic Mayors. And this poll I highlighted a few weeks ago presents significant evidence that most African Americans have no interest in fewer police on the streets where they live.
It’s not hard to imagine a Trump campaign message developing over the next two months that strikes a much better balance. And an early test case looks set for tomorrow with the President’s planned visit to Kenosha. Somewhat harder to imagine is Mr. Trump significantly downplaying issues like tax and regulatory cuts, and ending Obamacare. As for his priorities if he wins reelection? At this point, the evidence is so mixed that I feel clueless. So stay tuned!