Does Trump More Accurately Reflect the GOP Coalition Than Elites Do?

Friday’s posting received a fair amount of discussion on Twitter over the weekend, due to Jay Cost, John Podhoretz and Rich Lowry (thanks, gents).  Although I was chiefly concerned with whether conservatives should stick with the GOP, an interesting side point — or assertion — was made by Avik Roy:

I tend to agree with this in some ways, but not in others. And much depends on how the terms are defined.

On Friday, I agreed with the general proposition that conservatism can be a tough sell for many Americans.  And to quote myself: “It’s been plain for years that Republicans aren’t big on decreasing government spending outside foreign aid and welfare; but Trump made this inconvenient truth impossible to ignore.”  I’d even add that part of Trump’s appeal to voters during the primaries was in his seeming rejection of George W. Bush’s more interventionist foreign policy (whatever Trump may be doing now).

OTOH, referring again to “The Five Types of Trump Voters,” as I did on Friday, I would note that attitudes toward Hillary Clinton were one of the four big issues distinguishing Trump voters from non-Trump voters.  Among the two largest segments of “Trumpier” voters — American Preservationists (20%) and Anti-Elites (19%) — nearly half had positive views of Clinton in 2012.  That view — held by approximately one-fifth of Trump voters — was probably not a general view of the GOP coalition.

Similarly, top Democratic Party strategists now believe Obama-Trump voters effectively accounted for more than two-thirds of the reason Clinton lost.

It is probably fair to say that Obama voters and those favorable to Hillary in 2012 are not all that representative of the GOP coalition.  I suppose you could argue for including such people in a GOP coalition, but they were not there before.

Eakins also noted that during the most active stretch of the 2016 GOP primaries, Trump won only 36% of the vote.  He had the lowest percentage of internal party support for a GOP nominee (below losing nominees like Mitt Romney and John McCain) in decades.  That weakness didn’t stop Trump from winning the Electoral College, but it is not a sign that someone represents the GOP coalition particularly well.

Moreover, as I have noted on several occasions, down-ballot GOP candidates generally outpolled Trump, frequently with a different “map” than Trump, appealing less to working-class whites and more to college-educated whites.  As I’ve also noted, John Judis — a progenitor of the Emerging Democratic Majority theory — charted the GOP’s overall improvement with white voters, but particularly college-educated white voters, back in 2015.

While it’s true that that the Democratic Party has been conceding working-class white voters since 1992 (at least), if people want to say Trump did disproportionately well with this group, it is difficult to simultaneously argue that the excess non-college educated whites were part of the existing GOP coalition.

Of course, all of the above may be true and it may still be possible to argue that Trump is nonetheless more representative of the GOP coalition than GOP elites.  But this argument depends on how you define the Republican elites.

Trump might be more representative of the GOP coalition than the elite conservative commentariat (though National Review, for example, has been hawkish on immigration for years).  He may be more representative than the party’s donor class (though he often seems comfortable with or acquiescent to their priorities).  And Trump is moving to assert influence and control over the party apparat in key states.

But it is difficult to say that he is more representative than the Congressional party which (as noted above) generally got more votes than he did.  Granted, the Congressional party has the flexibility to offer Charlie Dent and Mark Meadows to different constituencies, whereas a President must appeal across districts and states.  But a pattern so consistent, including demographically, tends to suggest approval of those elites at a higher level than Trump.

Even then, it might be argued that his agenda is more popular than that of Congressional party (which is ostensibly influenced by the commentariat and the donors).  The problem with this is that Trump’s success generally tends to show how little voters care about the details of policy in the first instance.

This, in turn, makes the entire issue of who is more representative of the GOP coalition a questionable exercise.  Trump delegates much to a relatively conventional cabinet that often seems to be on a different page, and his failure to nominate people at the sub-cabinet level tends to cede influence to the permanent bureaucracy.  The quality of the White House staff is such that Congress must take the lead (such as it does) on major legislation.  In this environment, does it matter how much more representative Trump may be?

The answer may be “yes,” if you’re thinking about the future, as I was.  But then you’re back in Friday’s discussion of whether anyone, including Trump, can maintain the coalition he assembled.  Even if you assume Trump got elected by being more representative of the GOP than the elites were, maintaining a particular broad coalition is difficult for any President, let alone any potential successor.

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