Wherever you are on the right, be it hardcore MAGA, ambivalent Trumper, or even Never Trump, you should find encouragement in the fact that the GOP coalition is a bit more racially diverse today than it was yesterday. For Trumpists, his gains with Latinos and African-Americans suggest that Trumpism is the most viable path to keep the GOP competitive as the country’s demographics change. Check this out:
GOP share of non-white vote, presidential elections (%)
2020: 26 (preliminary)
— Adrian Gray (@adrian_gray) November 4, 2020
For those on the right less keen about Trump, take heart in the fact that these gains will check the inclination within the party to double, triple, and quadruple down on “white identity politics” as its organizing principle as America’s population turns browner. Many righty populists have traditionally believed that Latinos are a lost cause to the GOP and that, if illegal aliens are amnestized, Democrats will inevitably weaponize racial consciousness to convert those newly legalized voters into a permanent liberal majority. Under that theory, the country is on a path to having elections between a growing “brown party” versus a shrinking “white party,” which would be poisonous to America’s political culture. But last night the candidate who can never quite bring himself to denounce white nationalists *too* vociferously ironically proved that it doesn’t need to be that way. Something about Trump brought more Latinos and black voters into the fold.
We’re going to spend the next four years having heated arguments over what that something was. But for now, it’s worth taking a moment to gawk at just how dramatic some of his gains were:
results from starr county, texas, the most latino county in the united states (96% latino)
2020: biden+5 with >98% reporting
we are witnessing a dramatic and historic realignment pic.twitter.com/PxC7ofJYL7
— Thao Nguyen (@nguyenthevote) November 4, 2020
I still absolutely cannot believe that Trump won Zapata County 52-47 in the Rio Grande valley of Texas which he lost to Clinton 65-32%
There is no other national Republican in America who could have done that. Just incredible pic.twitter.com/hytFLEZf8d
— Saagar Enjeti (@esaagar) November 4, 2020
Trump’s weak point last night, it turns out, was … white men:
According to the exit poll, Trump did better in 2020 with every race and gender except white men.
Change from 2016:
White Men -5
White Women +2
Black Men +4
Black Women +4
Latino Men +3
Latino Women +3
Other +5 pic.twitter.com/hUc17Iy1ip
— Matt Bruenig (@MattBruenig) November 4, 2020
Let the debate commence: What was Trump’s secret to making inroads with nonwhite voters? One possibility is that it was personality-driven. Lots of hot takes have been written over the past month amid reports that he was overperforming among nonwhite voters in Florida that there was something about his alpha-male bravado that appeared to black and Latino men — not because they’re black or Latino but just because they’re men, as many white men are drawn to Trump for the same reason. That is, maybe there’s something specific to Trump’s political persona that refocuses voters’ attention from one form of identity onto another. And once that refocusing has taken place, it’s easier to win them over.
Another possibility is that nonwhites were driven towards the GOP not by anything Trump did but by the radicalization of the American left. When you celebrate socialists like Bernie and AOC; when you choke on straightforward condemnations of rioting; when you kick around inane ideas like “abolishing the police,” you’re asking for trouble among voters of all races who find those priorities wacky. It’s worth noting that some Democratic operatives in Florida believe left-wing fringiness hurt Biden badly last night even though Sleepy Joe hasn’t adopted any of those positions as his own:
Miami-Dade Democrats had sounded the alarm about Biden’s standing in the county, but were ignored by campaign officials who thought that the loss of the Cuban American vote there could be made up elsewhere with white voters.
“It’s proof positive Democrats couldn’t rebut the socialist attack and that the Biden campaign just didn’t know what it was doing,” said Alejandro Miyar, a Biden donor and Democratic strategist from Miami who was Barack Obama’s 2008 Hispanic and South Florida communications director…
“We must have gotten obliterated by Hispanics,” said one Miami Democrat who was reeling from the party’s terrible showing in the county Tuesday night. “We came out strong for BLM and then saw the Hispanic push back and went lukewarm and got killed.”
“In four years I never changed my mind about Trump’s unfitness for office. But I found the left’s relentless identity politics increasingly repellent. I wasn’t alone,” sniffed Andrew Sullivan this afternoon. Maybe Trump’s secret sauce is that, by inflaming the left so consistently, he inadvertently baited them into overreaching on issues that ended up alienating the very people whom they hoped to win to their cause. He’s fought a culture war for four years and he maneuvered the enemy into a nearly catatrophic miscalculation.
The third possibility is that it’s not Trump’s persona or his culture-warrior pitch that won over some nonwhites. It’s economic populism. Republicans like Marco Rubio who want to veer away from austere fiscal conservatism towards a more family-friendly economic policy seized on Trump’s numbers as proof that they’ve been right all along:
#Florida & the Rio Grande Valley showed the future of the GOP
A party built on a multi-ethnic multi-racial coalition of working AMERICANS https://t.co/1t2IJldqjH
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) November 4, 2020
It’s a working-man’s party now with working-class policies! Except … that’s not quite true. David French notes that the exit polls last night showed Biden winning voters who make less than $50,000 a year by 16 points and voters who make between $50,000 and $99,999 by 13 points. Trump won those who earn $100,000 or more by 11. (Whether we should trust exit polls to tell us anything meaningful after this year’s full-spectrum polling debacle is a separate question.) Biden actually *improved* on Hillary’s advantage among those who make $50K or less. She won them by 12 points against Trump four years ago.
Besides, the dirty little secret of Trump’s vaunted economic populism is that he’s just not all that populist. The signature economic achievement of his first term was a Ryan/McConnell tax cut that mainly benefited wealthier earners. He’s fought a trade war with China haphazardly and it failed to reverse declines in U.S. manufacturing. He’s never sounded very engaged about the sort of pro-family policies, like an expanded child tax credit, that righties like Rubio champion. Economic populists who look at Trump and see their pet issue being vindicated in his popularity remind me a bit of fiscal conservatives who looked at the success of George W. Bush and concluded that it meant there was some sort of serious public demand for small government, including Social Security reform.
That’s not to suggest that a more populist economic approach wouldn’t benefit the GOP. Maybe if Trump had aggressively pushed for a larger child tax credit — or, er, a timely COVID stimulus — he’d be over the hump today in Michigan and Wisconsin. But if Rubio’s thinking he’s going to jump into the primary in 2024 and sweep to victory running on a platform of big-government conservatism, I think he’s kidding himself. Persona and culture-war may not explain the entirety of Trump’s appeal but they sure as hell explain some of it.
And that comes at a potential cost. I’ll leave you with this, from Philip Klein: “The big question for Rs is whether you can have a candidate who has appeal to those same [nonwhite] Trump supporters without the attitude that turns off suburban voters and other theoretically gettable voters for GOP.”