Trump built his base in the insurgent anti-government, anti-immigrant movement that, during the last recession, came to prominence as the Tea Party. Then he forged a pact with evangelical Christians, to whom he promised a steady supply of socially conservative federal judges, including on the Supreme Court. He also built a strong alliance with his party’s anti-abortion-rights observant Catholics—a constituency epitomized by Attorney General William Barr. So Trump campaigns unbowed atop a coalition that, by my estimate, constitutes 65 percent of his party. He has lost swing voters but kept his most avid fans. Among the voters who approve of Trump’s job performance, about 70 percent do so strongly.
Today’s Republican Party dominates all branches of government in about 15 states that will keep sending successful political leaders to the U.S. House and Senate to fight against immigration, social liberalism, multiculturalism, and equal voting rights. But the party is battling to hold on to states—such as North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Texas—that have large metropolitan areas, growing populations of immigrants and college graduates, and greater political engagement among Black and Latino citizens. And Republican leaders in those states appear poised to follow the self-destructive lead of their California counterparts a generation ago.
California Republicans were the first to act on the economic and cultural fears raised by immigration. As the Latino population grew, state Republicans put Proposition 187 on the ballot in 1994. It barred undocumented immigrants from attending public schools or using public hospitals and required cooperation with federal immigration officials. Its passage had a huge negative impact on Black and Latino support for Republicans, but more important, it led to immigration crowding out other issues. Republicans became a predominantly white, socially conservative, anti-immigration party with little interest in education, the environment, and other issues of interest to moderate voters. Before Proposition 187, Democrats and Republicans were both competitive in races for president and governor and evenly split the state’s seats in the House of Representatives. But in 2010, Democrats won every statewide office.
What’s instructive is how Republican leaders reacted as their party fell further and further behind. Each year, they fielded fewer moderate candidates; in the 2018 midterm, a Democratic-wave election, California Republicans were annihilated. The Trump-supported gubernatorial candidate got only 38 percent of the vote. In Orange County, once Ronald Reagan’s suburban heartland, every GOP member of Congress lost. Republicans held on to only seven congressional seats in the whole state of California.
Even as Trump’s chances of victory appear to shrink, the GOP is still his party, one that he can rally from outside the White House. That’s why the 43 percent of voters who still think Trump is doing a good job pose such an immense challenge to the country. They—along with like-minded Republicans in Congress, the federal judiciary, and state governments—will have countless opportunities in the months ahead to thwart Democratic efforts to fight the pandemic and repair its economic damage.
Much more dangerous is a new unity and fervor among Trump’s devoted supporters, who believe it unacceptable that abortion is legal in America, according to a values survey I conducted last year for Democracy Corps. They cheer the National Rifle Association and the Second Amendment and hold to an extreme individualism and hatred of government. They side with the militias and the anti-lockdown protesters who menacingly wave their assault weapons and threaten elected officials.
And above all, they are exercised by racial resentments and the idea that America will have a reckoning with its history of racial injustice. [Continue reading…]