The seeds of Donald Trump’s upset victory in 2016 were planted in the 1990s, when Bill Clinton was president and positioned the Democratic Party to the political center.
The New Democrats embraced free trade, cozied up to Wall Street and took up welfare reform and anti-crime legislation. The party became associated with college-educated professionals and inner-city minorities and immigrants, which left Democrats vulnerable to a future Republican populist who could peel off traditional blue-collar workers who felt abandoned.
Along came Donald Trump. It is one of history’s ironies that it was Bill Clinton’s wife, Hillary Clinton, who paid the price when so-called Blue Wall states went for Trump in 2016. Four years later, that wall held, barely, when Joe Biden won Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania and sealed his path to the White House.
Much was resolved over the weekend. Biden is the president-elect. A recount might be merited in the closer contests, but saying the election was stolen is not the same thing as offering proof. Republicans would be wise to beat a strategic retreat and look to the 2022 midterms, where they’re well-positioned after gaining ground in the House.
The bigger question is, what exactly did voters decide on Nov. 3? Did they repudiate Trumpism or just Trump? What happens down the road if Republicans present a national candidate with a similar agenda to Trump — low taxes, light regulation, mercantilist trade policies — but without the repugnant personality? Think Nikki Haley or Josh Hawley. Would the Blue Wall stay blue?
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt had an interesting assessment on “ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” “The Blue Wall is, at best, a blue speed bump now,” he said. “This is a competitive country.”
After the Trump defeat, Republicans must transition from a party of one outsized personality back to a party of ideas. A look at House races across the country show that some of those ideas still resonate with voters in swing districts, even if Trump did not.
Democrats face their own dilemma, as exemplified in a public spat between former Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. McCaskill, on MSNBC, said Democrats “left some voters behind” with too much focus on cultural issues.
The Ocasio-Cortez reply was practically Trumpian in its elegance: “Why do we listen to people who lost elections?”
Because there’s still a lot of the country that looks more like Missouri than Queens. There are still voters in rural areas and industrial settings who long for a candidate who speaks to them rather than at them on core economic issues. The party and candidate that recognizes that is the one that navigates the wall, the speed bump or whatever it is now.