From An Angry Reader:
Dear Prof. Hanson,
I read your analysis of Trump’s electoral prospects with some interest:
Since I’m a centrist Democrat, I will emulate your advice about Trump’s tweets – namely, I will ignore the barb-filled bromides you level against Democrats. (Which may greatly satisfy you and/or your audience emotionally, but add nothing to the persuasiveness of your argument.)
That said, I was the only one of my liberal friends who believed that Trump had a real shot. That might arise from my extensive experience as a volunteer for my party in a deep red state. (Indiana, which we local Democrats affectionately refer to as the “Northernmost Southern State.” Remember what JFK said about DC? Here, we are blessed with northern winters and southern culture.).
I am most certainly not saying that Trump is doomed. However I think your analysis, while insightful, is missing a number of critical factors. My bottom line is that Trump has essentially no margin for error. He has to pick up one or more voters for every voter he loses.
You get credit for observing that Trump’s support is probably little diminished since election day. However you fail to note that there is a very small slice of his voters who are definitely gone: these are the disenchanted Democrats who either voted against Clinton, or who felt that Trump was on the side of the “little guy” against the “Wall Street elites.” Will economic growth (such as it may be), trade tweaks, or massive deportations keep them? Not unless their own personal situation improves. And it’s unlikely that it will if they live in the “forgotten America:” the only sector that appears to be benefiting is mining and minerals, and this is probably not enough to compensate for the collapse of retail.
You imply that minority voters are going to ignore Trump’s tweets and dog whistles to the same extent as white voters due to economic growth (speculative) among other things. Perhaps, although if we continue to see these racially-tinged episodes such as what happened recently in Virginia, the African Americans who stayed home in some of these urban areas like Detroit, Philly and Milwaukee might not do so again. They are also going to notice some changes at DOJ, such as the return to more severe sentencing policies and increased enforcement of marijuana laws (which African Americans rightly see as a cudgel).
Asian-Americans like myself are not impressed by Trump’s push to restrict legal immigration. We remember the Chinese Exclusion Act, and are not as easily influenced by economic growth (such as it may be), since we are already better off than the population as a whole. We also skew Democratic as you know, and are just as influenced by Trump’s exploitation of ethnic animus for political purposes as other voters of color.
Latinos and Chicanos might like some of Trump’s policies on illegal immigration, and might also be influenced by whatever economic growth he achieves, but Trump’s ambiguous stance on DACA, his battle against sanctuary cities, and his objective of making immigration enforcement more unpredictable are sewing a great deal of fear into their communities. Ironically, Trump is actually deporting fewer people than Obama, but he is unlikely to make that argument. And as far as restricting legal immigration goes, that’s not likely to play well with these voters.
Everyone who will now fail to get a raise because of DOL’s rejection of Obama’s rule that changes the minimum salary for “managerial” workers (who will not get overtime) is going to notice it.
GLBTQ voters, while a small share of the population, are not going to forget Trump’s tweet about transgendered members of the military. This group is obviously particularly sensitive to such things and unlikely to dismiss it as another example of Trump’s “erratic” tweeting behavior. Those of us who are heterosexual may not notice this, but Trump’s tweet represents the first step backwards after decades of progress. It’s a bit like a synagogue being burned down: trust me, Jews notice such things. (Mormons probably think likewise, it comes from the perspective of being a historically despised minority.)
Speaking of being a historically despised minority, I don’t have to say anything about Muslim voters, do I? Some may have neglected to show up last year because they thought Trump couldn’t win. Won’t happen in 2020. And BTW there are a lot of Muslims in Michigan.
There will be 15 million potential new millennial voters in 2020. Broadly speaking, they skew more liberal and more Democratic in their preferences than the population as a whole, and are much more concerned about the “hoax” of climate change. At the same time, Trump’s core age demographic of senior citizens will represent a smaller segment of the voting population, as older boomers and “silent generation” voters die off. The rural areas that are seeing alarmingly high rates of premature deaths among whites will be most severely affected.
You do make a good point about the possibility of new voters from Trump’s core demographics, especially rural white Evangelicals. Many of these voters believe that Trump is a “blessing” from God, and may even regard him as part of a new “Holy Quaternity,” or at the very least share the “Flight 93” concerns of Anton (i.e. America is being overrun by un-Godly and un-white people to the point where the foundational culture of the nation is at stake – you know, like the Irish and Italians were threatening it back in the nineteenth century). White Evangelicals already vote at much higher rates than the general population, and skew Republican by a 5-to-1 or greater margin. If Trump is re-elected, this asymmetry will have to become even more extreme.
I’ll close by making one final point about the Democratic party. No screed penned by you or anyone else is going to change the fact that Democrats are likely to put their chips down on health care, which is an issue that affects everyone. The chances of Trump and Republicans in Congress working with Democrats to remedy defects in the ACA seem remote at best. The American health care system is going to continue to deteriorate, and Republicans will have little to offer here except blame and deflection.
So here’s the bottom line. Trump has the devotion of rural white Evangelicals plus other elderly white voters to count on, and there is always the possibility that their already-stratospheric turnout rates can be pushed even higher. He may stand to gain from economic growth (although this might not help him much in the parts of the country where he’s strongest). But at the same time, he has no margin for error, he is not broadening his base, Clinton’s not going to be on the ballot, and there are a lot of demographic groups which might be more inclined to turn out against him next time.
I agree with you that no one should be counting their chickens here. But your presentation (minus the mean-spirited nature of the invective) fails to acknowledge the entire panoply of potential factors.
Victor Davis Hanson’s Reply:
Your letter is long so I cannot answer it in detail. When you allege “barb-filled bromides” and “mean-spirited nature of the invective” you must give examples to have any credence.
I have always said in a 50/50 country that Trump has no margin of error; my argument was instead that forecasts of his demise are premature given that the formula that won him the election of 2016 so far has not disappeared.
His chances hinge on the economy continuing to improve, rallying his base, curbing his erratic and extraneous editorialization, and appealing to minority and women voters to increase his respectable prior margins (in Republican terms).
But your exegesis leaves out a point I made; Trump will be running against somebody and he or she may be even worse a candidate than Hillary. As I wrote, look at recent DNC heads—Perez, Ellison, Wasserman-Schultz, Brazile; they are either unhinged, profane, or mired in ethical scandal. The Democratic Party is also at war with itself, in the fashion of 1972 when McGovern ensured a Nixon victory. Never underestimate the stupidity of either party to nominate a candidate that cannot win (McGovern, Dole, Mondale, etc.).
When activists go after Lincoln busts, or demand the end of the Jefferson Memorial, they do Trump an enormous favor. The country was rightly repelled by Nazi and Confederate regale in North Carolina, but also by the now serial leftwing violence on campuses and the sort of assassinations that we saw at Fort Hood, and Dallas, and shootings against the House leadership in DC. As I also wrote, some of Trump’s policies that are caricatured—ending illegal immigration, bringing back jobs, a muscular foreign policy, and lowering taxes—appeal to all people regardless of their ethnic identifications.
Your analysis is marred by psychodramas. Returning legal immigration to a meritocratic, legal, and diverse enterprise at levels common of 15 years ago of 500,000 a year (we are at record levels of foreign born currently in the U.S. in a manner that has not been typical of our long history) is hardly exclusionary. Why the exaggerations, given the U.S. is the most welcoming of all nations to immigrants and will continue to be, albeit in legal fashion?
Obamacare, passed without a single Republican vote and with serial mistruth about the inviolability of doctors and plans, is going broke on its own. Trump did not create that monster.
And why the patronizing caricatures of Trump’s so-called white evangelical voters? You sound like those who slurred them as clingers, deplorables, and irredeemables. Past groups did not arrive illegally. And the melting pot not the salad bowl was the model.
Trump’s base rallied to Trump not on the basis of race (most of his primary challengers and Hillary were white), but because his campaign appealed to those dispossessed by globalization and caricatured (as is your wont as well) as ignorant. When Obama was elected, were you worried he appealed to racial solidarity (remember his faux-inner city patois, though not as clumsy as Hillary’s), and therefore achieved record bloc voting at unprecedented rates? I think his “get in their faces,” “punish our enemies,” “bring a gun to a knife fight,” etc. were all intended to rally his base. Racial polarization was part of the Obama electoral plan and it worked well for him twice, although disastrously for his party that lost most state offices, Congress, the presidency, and the Supreme Court.
Democrats’ problem, as I wrote, was that Obama’s base was not transferrable to Hillary, given that some of it was based on racial fides, but his downside (polarizing the white working class by associations with the like of anti-Semites and racists like Rev. Wright or Al Sharpton) was.