After his unexpected victory in 2016, many Republicans predicted — or wished — that Trump would moderate the P.T. Barnum aspect of his persona in favor of a more serious, more presidential identity that would appeal to a broader cross section of voters. Instead, Trump doubled down, playing only to his base, rolling the dice that his core supporters’ enthusiasm and dedication would be enough to again carry him over the finish line.
The only indication of a broadening of Trump’s appeal on Tuesday was his performance with Hispanic and African American voters, who apparently moved toward the president in surprising numbers — not because he changed his message, but because he directed his message, especially on economic issues, directly at them.
The strategy of sticking with such a narrow appeal looked as though it was shockingly successful, but it comes at a cost. Trump will almost certainly again lose the popular vote. If so, it could mean that in three of the past four elections won by a Republican, the victory came despite losing the popular vote.
A longtime friend who is a former Republican official opined to me recently that the nation could not be expected to tolerate such outcomes forever. The answer, he said, is not to eliminate the electoral college, but to find a way to broaden Republicans’ appeal. One could just as easily wonder why Democrats find it so difficult to win the states they need to build an electoral victory.