Republican party can’t afford to chase away its own
Politics is about addition, not subtraction.
I don’t know who first said it, but it’s an iron law of politics, not just democracy. You gain power by adding forces to your coalition, and you lose power by subtracting forces from your coalition.
That’s the lesson of the recent election results in Virginia and elsewhere across the country.
For years now, the GOP has been losing support among its natural primary constituency — middleand upper-middleclass suburban voters — while it has been gaining support from lower-income and working-class whites. Donald Trump cobbled together a coalition of the two, in specific swing states, to win the Electoral College while still losing the popular vote.
Trump pollster Tony Fabrizio noted just after the election that his client won by carrying five crucial counties, four in Florida and one in Michigan.
Contrary to a lot of spin from Trump and his boosters, who claim that “Trumpism” is a new ideological force transforming the country, the president owes the bulk of his victory to the simple fact that he was not Hillary Clinton — a figure who singularly unified the Republican Party. “America First,” “build the wall” and all the issues most frequently associated with Trump’s victory may have attracted some new white working-class voters to the party, but they divided (and still divide) the traditional Republican coalition.
Trump has been shedding supporters pretty much from the day he took office.
Fired Trump adviser Steve Bannon, the most overrated figure in American politics, championed Republican Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie as proof that the “Trump agenda” is bigger than just Trump.
Gillespie lost by nine points. Suddenly the Bannonites were denouncing Gillespie as an inauthentic swamp creature who failed to embrace Trump sufficiently.
His opponent, Ralph Northam, won because suburban white voters abandoned Gillespie, either because they were turned off by his Trumpish rhetoric or simply because they wanted to protest Trump.
Trump boosters have a legitimate point that Virginia — the only Southern state Clinton carried last year — wasn’t Trump country. Northam lost among non-college-educated whites by a staggering margin: 72 percent to 26 percent. But he more than made up for it among suburban college-educated whites, particularly women. Northam outperformed Clinton by 5 points among college graduates. He finished 6 points better with white college-educated men, and 10 points better with white college-educated women.
Bannon seems to believe that Republicans can afford to subtract educated suburbanites by boosting turnout from rural and working-class non-college-educated voters.
This theory was always absurd. Majorities are determined at the margins, by candidates who can win in “purple” districts and states, by adding moderates, independents and registered voters of the opposing party. A Republican coalition that chases away significant numbers of white voters while unifying traditional Democratic voters in opposition is destined for minority status.
The Virginia election looks like the first of many defeats in elections to come, as the GOP seeks to sell off chunks of its coalition like assets in yet another Trump bankruptcy.