Based on some comments — as well as royal stenographers declaring that Trump WON THE WEEK, which I might return to later — I think it might be useful to go back to Yglesias’s typology of Trump voters:
Roughly speaking, vague references to “Trump voters” tend to end up falling into one of three buckets:
- Trump’s primary voters: These are the true Donald Trump fans. The people who decided to throw tradition to the wind and turn out and vote to nominate a person who didn’t have the basic attributes of a traditional presidential nominee. That amounts to about 14 million people who voted for him — only 45 percent of Republican Party primary voters.
- The typical Trump voter: This is a very boring but numerically large group of people — basically Republicans. Most Republicans didn’t vote in the 2016 GOP primary, and most 2016 GOP primary voters didn’t vote for Trump. But most of these Republicans who weren’t especially enthusiastic about Trump did what they do every four years and voted for the GOP nominee, just as Hillary Clinton coasted to easy wins in states like Vermont and Washington where the primaries showed her to have few enthusiasts.
- The marginal Trump voters: Typical Republican Party voters are a much larger group of people than swing voters who defected from the Democrats to vote for Trump. But winning the votes of people who always vote GOP isn’t enough to make you president. The converts were small in number, but they made the difference between winning and losing.
Indeed, exit polls show that a staggering 60 percent of voters said they had an unfavorable view of Trump on Election Day. Clinton’s problem was that she only got 77 percent of the votes of Trump-disapprovers, likely because her own favorable ratings were also terrible.
Trump pulled off the impressive feat of crushing Clinton among voters who disapproved of both candidates, while another large chunk of them opted to vote for a third-party candidate.
The marginal Trump voter — and the median American — already doesn’t like him. He was able to win in 2016 thanks to a combination of third-party voting, Clinton’s unpopularity, and the quirks of the Electoral College. Under the circumstances, keeping up a drumbeat of criticism that “Trump supporters don’t care about” is actually a perfectly reasonable strategy.
There’s no particular need to find a magic formula to lift the scales from the eyes of Trump’s biggest supporters or to shatter his stranglehold and Republican Party loyalists. Democrats don’t necessarily need to convince a single Trump fan to stop liking him. What they need to do is find a way to convince the people who don’t like Trump to support their nominee instead.
It is, of course, true that even as disgusting and poorly implemented a plan as Trump’s racist immigration ban won’t damage and might even mobilize support among his base. But those voters are permanently beyond reach anyway. Some ordinary Republican voters might find it distasteful but will always pull the GOP lever anyway, and Trump has proved that these voters are also largely unreachable. But the key are the smaller but crucial number of voters who didn’t like Trump and considered not voting for him but decided they liked Clinton even less. How exactly to apportion the blame between Clinton herself and the influential media members who relentlessly hyped inane bullshit about Hillary Clinton — in many cases, despite being well aware that a Donald Trump presidency would a political, constitutional, and moral crisis — and opened up the field for the FBI to throw the election isn’t important — what matters is that Trump got a crucial number of marginal voters who didn’t like him even when they voted for him.
So what matters going forward is how actions like the racist immigration ban affect group #3 — and, as Dave says here the reaction is likely to be overwhelmingly negative. Another thing that matters gong forward is mobilizing potential Clinton voters who stayed home, and Trump’s actions are also likely to mobilize these voters for the same reason that John Kerry was the one Democratic candidate of the millennium Cornel West decided to endorse.
And, finally, remember that groups 1, 2 and 3 still weren’t a majority coalition — he still needed to draw an inside straight in the undemocratic mechanism that selects the president. One of the favorite factoids of the don’t-bother-nothing-matters left is the fact that Sam Brownback won re-election despite being an unmitigated disaster. Well, yes, but in his first election Brownback won by won by 29 points and in his second he won by less than 4, despite the advantages of incumbency. Trump, to put it mildly, doesn’t have that kind of margin of error to work with. He’s already unpopular, and can be made more unpopular. And while nothing will stop the Republicans from passing upper-class tax cuts, the more unpopular Trump is the harder it will be for the clown car to proceed with ACA repeal. Trump is very unpopular, and despite this is marginal support is very soft. This matters, and not only for 2018 and 2020. That Trump’s base will like what he does is beside the point.