The Coalition That Trump Built | Opinion

Eight years ago, members of the GOP establishment wrote a post-election "autopsy" arguing that the only way to recover from Mitt Romney's miserable 2012 performance would be to expand the Republican coalition—specifically, by making inroads among Latinos and the working class. This was quite obviously true—and Donald Trump made it happen in 2016 to the tune of 63 million votes, and then again in 2020 with 74 million votes.

But while Trump accomplished the autopsy's goal of expanding the electorate, he did it by largely rejecting its proposed solutions. Rather than double down on Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan economics, Trump ran against "globalism" and "bad trade deals." Instead of abandoning social issues, Trump signed an anti-porn pledge, promised to sign a religious freedom bill and explicitly declared that he would nominate pro-life judges.

And on immigration? After Romney's historically awful performance with Latinos, the autopsy argued that amnesty for illegal immigrants was the way to Latino voters' hearts. Trump completely repudiated that by calling for a "big, beautiful wall." Trump bested Romney's share of the Latino vote in 2016, and then improved on his own performance by several percentage points in 2020.

Don't blame the authors of the autopsy for getting it wrong. Some folks aren't very good at building things. But Trump happens to be a great builder, and The Coalition That Trump Built is here to stay—multiracial, working-class and growing in number by the election. It's only in the rarefied air of academia or TV punditry that people can still cling to the old notion that the Republicans are the party of the wealthy elite. Anyone living in the real world can see that it just isn't true any longer.

Ask David Shor, a Democratic data expert and Obama 2012 alum. He told Politico recently: "The joke is that the GOP is really assembling the multiracial working-class coalition that the Left has always dreamed of."

Part of building something new is undergoing a process of creative destruction. And there's no question that Trump's arrival coincided with many elites leaving the Republican Party. Just think of all the most famous millionaires and billionaires in the country. Think of all the mega-corporations. Think of all the anti-Trump TV pundits, think tankers, academics and politicians. They're not exactly fans of Donald Trump—or conservatism. They've left to join the Left.

But in losing the smug sophisticates, the GOP created room for the more numerous working-class voters who are finally coming home to the Republican Party. That's a trade offer conservatives should be happy to accept. The pundits were right—demographics are destiny—but they've been focused on the wrong demographics. It's not about race. It's about class. A multiracial, working-class coalition, properly cultivated, will always and everywhere beat an elite-class coalition. Why? Because of the numbers. There are far more working-class Americans than there are elites.

President Trump campaigning in Michigan during election
President Trump campaigning in Michigan during the 2020 presidential election Kamil Krzaczynski/Getty Images

This political realignment is evident from county-level election results, too. Loudoun County, Virginia—the wealthiest in the country, as of 2018—voted for Bush by 12 points in 2004. In 2012, it voted for Obama by a five-point margin. In 2020, the margin for Joe Biden was 25 points. On the whole, the margin of victory for Democrats in the 100 richest counties in America has grown by about 10 points since 2012.

In exit polls, Romney won voters making more than $100,000 a year by 10 points, while in 2020 these voters went for Biden by four points—a 14-point swing. Meanwhile, since 2012, voters making less than $50,000 have swung toward Republicans by the same margin—14 points. The nation's 100 poorest counties, which voted for Obama in 2012 by a margin similar to that of the 100 wealthiest, have swung about 16 points in the opposite direction; this year, they cumulatively voted for Trump.

The Republican coalition under Trump has grown more diverse too. Trump was propelled to victory in Florida this year in part due to huge gains among Hispanic precincts in Miami-Dade County. Or look at Starr County, Texas, the most Hispanic county in the country and also one of the poorest. In 2012, Obama beat Romney in Starr County 86 to 13; Trump closed the gap to 52 to 47.

The toughest challenge lies ahead, of course. The realignment is not finished. Republicans are increasingly a multiracial, working-class party, representing the socially conservative and economically populist quadrant of the political map. But do they know it? Can establishment Republicans be convinced to deny their reflexive pro-corporate, pro-Big Tech, pro-academia instincts and instead represent the interests of a newly-configured GOP base?

Republicans have lost the elites under Trump, and they're not coming back. Now it's time to adapt. Trump has already made incredible gains among the rest of the country. The next four years should be about doing everything possible to solidify those gains and expand them.

Jon Schweppe is the director of policy and government affairs at American Principles Project. He is also a 2020 alumnus of the Claremont Institute's Lincoln Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter: @JonSchweppe.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.