Trump was a winner and a loser – but he only needs to do a little better to get re-elected in 2020
The signals from the midterms were mixed. The Democrats won the House of Representatives but Republicans tightened their grip on the Senate – and the president tightened his grip on the party. The brutal truth is that Trump’s divisive rhetoric, racial dog whistles and mendacious fear-mongering about a migrant caravan moving towards the US-Mexico border, which he branded an “invasion”, appears to have worked – up to a point. White men in rural areas turned out for him. Red states became redder. He demonstrated that his staggering victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016 was no fluke. Frank Luntz, a Republican consultant and pollster, said: “All the states that Trump went to, the numbers were better on polling day.”
Trump again showed himself to be a formidable campaigner. Full of sound, fury and lies, his rallies still make a visceral connection with people wanting to be part of a movement bigger than themselves. Luntz added: “He tells them they matter. He tells them their votes count.” And yet beneath the banner headlines, the picture of Trump’s impact was more complicated.
An analysis by the Brookings Institution thinktank found that of 75 House and Senate candidates endorsed by the president, only 21% had won their races as of noon on Wednesday, though 58% of the candidates he actively campaigned for prevailed.
Democrats won the popular vote by more than seven percentage points. The gender gap was huge: exit polls found that white women with college degrees went Democratic 59% to 39%, whereas white men with college degrees favoured Republicans 51% to 47%.
Henry Olsen, a senior fellow at the Ethics & Public Policy Center thinktank, said Trump had both won and lost. “The voters who made him came back and he maintained a 46% coalition. He lost the voters he lost two years ago in slightly bigger numbers. The Clinton coalition is strong and growing stronger but it’s electorally inefficient. Trump has kept his minority coalition together and all he needs is a slight improvement to be assured of re-election.”
Olsen noted the growing percentage of women in the Democratic party and suggested: “I think it’s very likely that Donald Trump will be facing a woman. And if Trump wanted to change the odds in his favour, I think he should dump Mike Pence and select [his former UN ambassador] Nikki Haley.”
Two years ago Trump lost the popular vote by nearly 3m votes. His victory in the electoral college turned on just 77,000 votes in three midwestern states: Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Notably in 2018, Republicans suffered major setbacks in all three, for example, losing the governors’ races in Michigan and Wisconsin. If Democrats find the right candidate to win these in 2020, Trump will almost certainly join Jimmy Carter and George HW Bush as a one-term president.
Some argue that the former vice-president Joe Biden, born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, is ideally placed to win back blue-collar voters. Others contend that a septuagenarian white man steeped in the political establishment sends precisely the wrong message at a moment when the party elected more women and people of colour than ever before.
White women with college degrees went Democratic 59% to 39%. White men with degrees voted Republican 51% to 47%