Social conservatives often think that their policies are the way to reach out to these voters and bring them into the GOP coalition, but that’s a mistake. These voters are not motivated by social issues; they are, as the conservative Canadian political analyst Patrick Muttart says, “morally moderate.” They will go along with candidates of the Left or the Right who hold their party’s consensus views on abortion, gender identity, or marriage so long as they do not make those views their priority. Donald Trump’s lack of a firm grounding in traditional Republican social policy was, for these voters, a plus, as it signaled to them that advancing the Evangelical Christian social agenda would not be high on his agenda.
I’m sure many people reading this are thinking, “Adding these voters to the conservative coalition can’t be done.” But in fact it can be done, as Wisconsin governor Scott Walker showed. Walker cut taxes and reduced the rate of spending growth while taking on public-employee labor unions. He also expanded government-funded health-insurance coverage by taking advantage of his state’s very generous Medicaid program to cover more poor people publicly and push working-class people into Obamacare’s exchanges. All factions in his coalition got something they valued.
Walker rode this balanced approach to two important political victories, winning a recall battle and then reelection despite being targeted by national progressive groups. He won virtually all of the historically Democratic white counties that Trump won in his three elections, often running only a couple of percentage points behind Walker. Trump Democrats could also be called Walker Democrats.
Walker’s subsequent political missteps also show how one can lose these voters’ support by becoming too conventional a Republican. Walker veered to the right as he prepared his presidential campaign, catering to tea-party and Christian-conservative groups in nationally covered speeches in Iowa. He also tried to reduce funding for the University of Wisconsin system. His approval ratings dropped sharply and remain mired around 42 percent.