The Trump Realignment
Posted on May 3, 2017
(This originally appeared in The Hill)
President Trump has an unprecedented opportunity to split the Democratic coalition and deliver a radical restructuring of the political landscape, not dissimilar to Ronald Reagan and Franklin Roosevelt.
Never before has the liberal leadership of the Democratic Party been so emotionally and economically isolated from the rest of their party.
The question today is simple: Does Mr. Trump have the courage of his convictions to take advantage of this opportunity?
Democratic political activists have cleverly changed the subject when it comes to Donald Trump’s best political brand, that of the nonideological businessman who can get the economy moving again.
They have accused him of being a racist, an anti-Semite, a rapist, a tool for the Russians, a white nationalist, a fascist, a crook and worse.
Manhattan liberals and Hollywood progressives seem to hate him the most. Democrats in Washington are at times amused by and at other times appalled by him.
But it is the Democratic political activists who are most alarmed by the rise of Trump. They know how vulnerable their coalition is. They know how fraught the internal dynamics are in their party, how tense things are, how difficult it is for them to keep their majority coalition together.
The Democratic Party is made up of white union members, African-Americans, Hispanics, Jews, gays, feminists and those who think of themselves as progressive. The white Catholics who used to have a commanding position are now fleeing the Democratic Party in droves. You can’t be pro-life and thrive in the Democratic Party anymore.
But the biggest point of tension within the Democratic Party comes with economic security. Rich liberals don’t care that much about economic security as a political issue, because they are already have it, in spades.
The reason Hillary Clinton didn’t talk much about jobs during the campaign is because her political base cares mostly about other issues, such as abortion, same-sex marriage and amnesty.
To successfully realign the political parties, Mr. Trump must strike at this soft underbelly of his chief opposition. He must focus like a laser beam on economic security as the most important deliverable of his administration to the traditional Democratic coalition partners who most need the help.
Three of these constituent groups — white union members, middle-class African-Americans and Hispanic voters — are especially gettable when it comes to jobs and the economy. They don’t necessarily buy into the progressive vision of the future, especially when it comes to social issues such as gay marriage, abortion, school choice and antipathy towards organized religion.
Republicans have been successful, at times, in attracting white union members. They were the hard hats in the Nixon years, they were the Reagan Democrats, and they helped to deliver the Rust Belt to Trump in the last election.
But to truly realign the parties, Republicans must attract much more than the pittance they get from black and Latino voters. The GOP has been bedeviled by the painful legacy of the so-called Southern Strategy, which obliquely at times and obviously at other time used the race card to coalesce white voters against anybody of color.
Black voters care about jobs. But they won’t listen to Republicans or to Trump about his plans to create well-paying jobs if they think he or his administration is racist.
Hispanic voters also care about economic security. But they won’t listen to Trump’s plan on jobs if they think he wants to deport them all back to Mexico or Central America or Cuba, for that matter.
There are two things the Trump administration can do to give itself a better chance with these constituent groups. The president can demand that Congress pass an update of the Voting Rights Act, which the Supreme Court has found is necessary. And he can put immigration reform on his to-do list for next year.
White union voters already like Trump’s message on jobs. Black and Hispanic voters may be open to that message as well, but to get their support, he needs to show that he is on their side on issues that are vitally important to them.
If he can make the sale, he will realign the parties. If not, the rich liberals who now dominate the Democratic Party will continue their domination, uninterrupted.