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The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - Jonah Goldberg

I don’t know who first said it (the In­ter­net of­fers many pos­si­bil­i­ties), 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. But again, that’s the les­son of pretty much ev­ery elec­tion, be­cause of that whole iron-law thing. It’s not com­pli­cated.

For years now, the GOP has been los­ing sup­port among its nat­u­ral pri­mary con­stituency — mid­dle­and up­per-mid­dle-class 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.

Take Clinton off the bal­lot, and sup­port for “Trump­ism” — and for Trump him­self — drops among tra­di­tional Repub­li­cans and plum­mets among in­de­pen­dents, mod­er­ates, and, of course, Democrats.

Trump has been shed­ding sup­port­ers pretty much from the day he took of­fice. A lit­tle more than a year af­ter his elec­tion, he has un­prece­dent­edly low ap­proval rat­ings for any pres­i­dent, even within his own party.

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 had “closed an en­thu­si­asm gap by ral­ly­ing around the Trump agenda,” Ban­non told the New York Times just days be­fore the elec­tion. “In Gille­spie’s case, Trump­ism with­out Trump can show the way for­ward.”

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 col­legee­d­u­cated women.

Ban­non seems to be­lieve that Repub­li­cans can af­ford to sub­tract ed­u­cated sub­ur­ban­ites by boost­ing turnout from ru­ral and work­ing­class non-col­lege-ed­u­cated vot­ers.

In a state like Alabama, that may be pos­si­ble, given the de­mo­graph­ics there. That’s why Ban­non sup­ported Roy Moore over Luther Strange, a more con­ven­tional and electable Repub­li­can in­cum­bent, in the re­cent Se­nate pri­mary. As of this writ­ing, Ban­non’s pre­ferred can­di­date is mired in a scan­dal, as he’s been ac­cused of sex­u­ally prey­ing on un­der­age girls sev­eral decades ago.

Re­gard­less, na­tion­wide, 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.

It’s un­clear whether Ban­non un­der­stands this and just doesn’t care, or whether he’s clue­lessly work­ing on the as­sump­tion that the GOP can af­ford to lose more vot­ers than it gains. Ei­ther way, 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. Jonah Goldberg is a fel­low at the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute and a se­nior ed­i­tor of National Re­view.

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