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It’s a good thing President Trump is not an expert.
During the midterms, big-brained Republican strategists, such as Bill Kristol, Paul Ryan, and Jeff Flake, advised him with their censorious disapproval to tone it down and stick to economic issues. But Trump just kept on keeping on . . . and winning.
In my home state of Florida—with Trump’s help and presuming Democrat shenanigans in the coming recount are foiled—Republicans won every statewide race. This includes Rick Scott’s election to the U.S. Senate (unseating long-time incumbent Bill Nelson) and Trump acolyte Ron DeSantis’ victory in the governor’s race, where he faced the well-funded and charismatic progressive, Andrew Gillum.
While these presumed victories were accomplished with only razor-thin margins, they were minor miracles in light of the full court press of the media and big donor money deployed against Trump and Republicans more generally.
The usual line of criticism against Trump is familiar: he is destroying the Republican Party’s core support by by alienating women, particularly educated “suburban” women. Suburban is code here for married middle and upper-middle-class white women. They are supposed to be bolting from the party, offended by Trump’s crude remarks, his divisive rhetoric on immigration, and his confrontations with the media.
Intuitively, this makes some sense. We all know women like this, who really, really dislike Trump. His style is undeniably masculine and blue collar and, at times, even uncouth. But he won in 2016, and the GOP did remarkably well for a midterm in 2018, picking up several seats in the senate and losing fewer in the house than Republicans did in 2006 (30 in the House 30 and six in the Senate) and the Democrats in 2010 (a whopping 63 in the House; and six in the Senate).
Many of the GOP’s strategists have succumbed to wishful thinking and Bush-era nostalgia. They would prefer to avoid immigration and other divisive issues, and instead talk about tax cuts, health policy, and economics.
Yet, the belief that Trump’s focus on these issues hurts the GOP among women hinges on a false premise. The economically libertarian Republican Party of yesteryear also did not do so well with women. As the Pew Research Center has shown, the Democratic presidential candidate outpolled the Republican candidate among women in every election since 1980. No Republican presidential candidate has obtained a majority of the women’s vote since 1996. The gender gap is just part of the political terrain, a consequence of the divergence of men and women’s lives, accelerated by declining marriage rates and various anti-family policies that ongoing Republican weakness only exacerbates.
Diversity Among the “Women’s Vote”
The notion of a “women’s vote” is itself something of a misnomer. Young blue-collar waitresses, stay at home suburban housewives, unmarried professionals, and widows depending on Social Security all live very different lives and have very different concerns from one another. If you distinguish among different groups of women voters—married versus unmarried, nonwhite versus white, old versus young, and Republican versus Democrat—the landscape changes dramatically.
Trump won 52 percent of white women in 2016. And while he underperformed Clinton with college educated white women (51 percent vs. 44 percent), he got 61 percent of the share with the more numerous cohort of non-college educated white women. In Florida’s midterm races of 2018, things went similarly, with Ron DeSantis getting 57 percent of non-college educated white women.
At the same time, DeSantis got 73 percent of non-college educated white men, and 65 percent of college educated white men. Those who obsess over the “gender gap” seem to forget the political truth that all votes are created equal. While Republicans do worse with women, they do much better with men. The gender gap among men affected Gillum worse than the women gap did with DeSantis; Gillum only won 41 percent of the male vote, while DeSantis won 43 percent of the women’s vote.
While pundits seem concerned that otherwise Republican women are bolting from the party—because their pundit class friends say they are—DeSantis obtained 90 percent of Republican women and 93 percent of Republican men. Republican women have proven themselves reliable votes for Trump and other Republican candidates, both in 2016 and in 2018.
Finally, being married is a critical factor both for the demographics of the suburbs and for voter support of the Republican Party. The reasons are obvious: what helps the single women and other dependent classes that make up the Democratic coalition, often hurts families by increasing their tax burden. DeSantis obtained 47 percent of married women of all races (and almost certainly obtained the lion’s share of his 51 percent majority among white women through an even higher share of married white women), and he also received a whopping 65 percent share of married men of all races. Trump also got 47 percent of married women (of all races) and married women delivered disproportionately to compromise his 52 percent share of white women overall.
The Republican Party is Emerging as the Pro-Family, Middle Class Party
The outsized support of non-college educated white men and women for Trump and Republicans in Florida is part of the realignment of the party that is underway. Historically, the GOP has been the party of the rich, the businessman’s party, whose 20th century identity was forged in opposition to the New Deal, the Great Society, and the “tax and spend” schemes of the Democrats. The old coalition included more of the college educated, when a degree was the privilege of the elite and a ticket to the upper-middle class. At the same time, the Democrats were for everyone else: the poor, the working class, labor unions, and ethnic minorities.
In the earlier realignment of the 1960s, white Southern Democrats and culturally conservative “ethnic whites” went Republican, and an uneasy coalition emerged comprising the rich and the cultural conservatives. National security policy loomed large, at least during the Cold War. The Democrats too underwent an identity crisis, becoming the party of urban progressivism, particularly on social issues, while also being the party of the have-nots, i.e., the prime “clients” for government welfare programs.
Trump has dumped many of the Republican Party’s post-1960s social issues. You don’t hear him railing against a general moral decline or gay marriage. And while Trump’s proven reliably pro-life in practice, it’s not his chief rhetorical area of emphasis. Instead, he is emphasizing the issues of nationalism: borders, trade, and an America First foreign policy. In the process, he has not tried to sell watered-down traditional Republican positions to appeal to the mythical “economically conservative, socially liberal” urbanites.
Instead, he has softened the economic libertarianism and counseled the need to take care of the middle class, including through his embrace of tariffs and immigration restrictions. His appeals to the “economically moderate, socially conservative” group worked. In the process, some of the more socially liberal economic conservatives—men and women alike—have left. But they have been replaced by a much larger group of nationalist-oriented voters in the middle.
Thus, the Republicans are now a party of the middle class and the middle of the country, and the Democrats are a party of the extremes, the rich and the poor, whose bases are chiefly on the East and West Coasts. Both parties and their voters have become more partisan and farther apart from each other in the process.
Men and women, suburban or otherwise, are uneasy about a world where anti-white ethnic chauvinism is now acceptable by the mainstream Democratic Left, a trend that began under Obama. Perhaps the media’s fawning coverage of the caravan backfired, as the imagery of a large group of hungry, angry military-aged men looked like an invasion without the need for any amplification by Trump’s rhetoric. Floridians, particularly older Floridians, frequently gripe about how Miami feels like a foreign country. The media’s glee at the fast-emerging minority status of whites, along with their explicitly anti-white women rhetoric, has tended to get whites of both sexes to feel anxious, circle their wagons, and vote more like an ethnic bloc. As Vox has reported, “The threat of demographic change—and the loss of status that comes with it—provokes a broad sense of wanting to hunker down.”
Politics Requires Realism, Not Wishful Thinking
The politics of 2018 may not be pretty. There is an understandable desire among intellectuals and individualists to return to the “age of ideas.” But those who would rather be talking about marginal tax rates should consider supporting Trump and his agenda as the fastest way to return to such a politics. Ideas-based political disagreements are something of a political luxury good that emerge only in a country where national identity is already settled. National unity would be enhanced by an immigration moratorium and nationalist economic policies that spread the prosperity of the coasts to the country’s middle.
The only person who seems to be hearing the murmurings of anxiety and discomfort that come from the middle, including among suburban women, is Trump and his realigned Republican Party. In a country made artificially more diverse and disunited by immigration policy, the nonideological ethnic politics that began in our high-immigration northern cities will become the rule nationally. Perhaps this is why Trump, a New Yorker who grew up in this world, is so adept at national politics in our changing nation.
And as for his success with women, he’s always seemed pretty capable in that department, as well. I wouldn’t bet against him prevailing with them in the end.
Photo Credit: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images