Friday, July 10, 2020


Sarah Longwell, publisher of the Never Trump online journal The Bulwark, tells us that there's widespread disgust with Donald Trump among women who voted for him in 2016, and many of them are quite comfortable with the idea of voting for Joe Biden.

That's the good news for Democrats. The not-so-good news is that it took Trump's ongong repulsiveness and the coronavirus crisis and the racial justice crisis and the nomination of a familiar Democratic moderate to get these women to this point -- which suggests that we might not be seeing a real political realignment just yet.

Longwell (who opposed Trump in 2016 as well) writes:
One of the great mysteries of 2016 was why so many women voted for Donald Trump.

Despite being caught on a hot mic talking about grabbing women “by the pu**y,” nearly 20 sexual assault allegations, and well known accounts of treating his multiple wives horribly, Trump still received the votes of 44 percent of white college-educated women and 61 percent of non-college-educated white women....

But that mystery has been easy to solve. Over the last three years I conducted dozens of focus groups with both college-educated and non-college-educated female Trump voters. And the answer given most commonly for why they voted for Donald Trump is “I didn’t vote for Donald Trump. I voted against Hillary Clinton.”

In 2016, Democrats understood that Hillary Clinton was a deeply polarizing candidate. But even they didn’t grasp the full magnitude of it. Right-leaning and Republican female voters had spent more than a decade hating both Clintons, and they didn’t stop just because Hillary’s opponent was an unrepentant misogynist.
Support for Republicans declined in the 2018 midterms among both college-educated and non-college-educated white women, and Trump's numbers have continued to declined among both groups. However, until recently, many Republican women who loathed Trump still weren't quite ready to vote for Democratic presidential nominee.
In late 2019 and early 2020 with a roaring economy and a bunch of abstract foreign policy scandals consuming the media and the elites whom these voters generally despise and distrust, even Trump-voting-women who rated the president’s performance as “very bad” weren’t entirely sure what they would do in 2020. There was still a crowded field of Democratic candidates—many of whom were living, breathing representations of the far-left caricature that Republicans paint of Democrats.

But by March of 2020, everything had changed.

First, Joe Biden blew out Bernie Sanders and the rest of the Democratic field.

In my focus groups, Biden had consistently outperformed all other Democrats among the female Trump voters who were souring on the president. In hypothetical head-to-head matchups, almost none of the women would take Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren over Trump, but a handful would typically (if not enthusiastically) pick Biden over Trump.

It cannot be overstated how much better of a candidate Joe Biden is for attracting disaffected Republican voters—especially women—than any of the other Democrats who ran this cycle.
And then came the pandemic and the killing of George Floyd.
Interestingly, in the early days of the pandemic the women in the focus groups were frustrated with Trump, but didn’t necessarily hold him responsible for everything that was happening. He hadn’t done great, they said, but it was a tough situation for any president to handle.

It wasn’t until the killing of George Floyd and the resulting protests that the bottom started to drop out.

Two weeks after Floyd’s death I ran a focus group with seven women from swing states—all of whom voted for Trump but currently rated him as doing a “very bad” job.

Only one was leaning toward voting for him again. Three were definitely going to vote for Biden. The other three were still making up their minds. But even these undecideds were unequivocal in their distaste for Trump’s posture on race and his handling of the protests. They actively recoiled.

One of the Trump voters who had decided to vote for Biden said, “The stakes are too high now. It’s a matter of life and death.”

That’s a pretty a good distillation of why Trump has been shedding support from women over the last few months. The multiple crises laid bare the fact that Donald Trump isn’t the savvy businessman these women voted for. Instead, they see him as a divisive president who’s in over his head.

And they see that his inability to successfully navigate this environment has real-world consequences for actual people.
I'll grant that Democrats seemed to be in good shape for 2020 even before the virus and the Floyd killing. Joe Biden has been leading Trump in head-to-head matchups since last year; the margins were so great even last summer that the president fired several pollsters for telling him he was losing.

On the other hand, polls taken in the first part of the year suggested that Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and Amy Klobuchar led Trump by 2 points or less -- in other words, by Hillary Clinton's popular-vote margin -- while Bernie Sanders led by 4. (And I assume that Trump would have had some success in associating Sanders or Warren with left-leaning rioters and statue-topplers, which is much harder to do when Biden is the nominee.)

Republican Senate and House candidates are also in trouble, but if that's just the Trump effect, I hope it's sustainable after he's gone. My fear is that Republicans are very good at demonizing Democrats such as Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren, but Democrats have been good only at demonizing Trump, so there's an opening for Republicans who aren't seen as Trump enablers to revive the party very quickly, especially if Biden struggles to repair the damage Trump and his fellow Republicans have done.

Then again, it's quite possible that Republican voters will respond to a 2020 rout by insisting that the next wave of GOP leaders has to be even more uncompromising than Trump and his crew were. So maybe the realignment won't really come until Vice President Tammy Duckworth, running for president after Joe Biden decides not to run for reelection, wins forty states against the explicitly white nationalist Tucker Carlson/Donald Trump Jr. ticket in 2024.

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