Why MAGA Without Trump Could Deliver Landslides to Republicans | Opinion

We are stuck in a slow-moving political realignment in the United States, a period where party voting coalitions are being altered in often dramatic ways. The new battle lines that are forming look to increasingly pit the working class against the woke class in a manner that could well see Democrats on the losing end of this shift in alliances should the Republican Party make only modest reforms, something it is likely to pull off if it can only free itself from the grip of Donald Trump.

Ironically, while Trump presents the biggest threat to the Republican Party's vibrant future, his 2016 election was the first sign that a realignment could be afoot. When multiple Rust Belt states that Democrats had reliably won for six straight presidential elections went red, their "blue wall" crumbled and with it went their advantage in the Electoral College. It soon became clear that Trump had won these states, albeit by the slimmest of margins, by eroding Democratic margins among the white working class.

The notion that the GOP is a racially homogeneous group is largely true, for now, but that looks ripe for change, particularly with the GOP's recent gains among Hispanics. Further, Trump actually did better with Black people in 2020 than he did in 2016, that's in spite of a widely held perception that he was racist. Democrats can ill afford losses with either of these demographics, let alone both, if they want to remain electorally competitive at the national level. This begs the question, why are Republicans gaining ground with voters they have historically struggled with?

Generally, realignments have occurred when an issue isn't being resolved well in the current party system. Essentially, when both parties have a significant number of supporters that are unhappy with their party's stance on an important matter, they are ripe for the picking should one party change its platform to win these disgruntled voters over en mass.

"Make America Great Again" hat
A man wears a "Make America Great Again" hat. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

In the past, we saw slavery upend the party system that destroyed the Whig Party and gave rise to the Republican Party, which took a much stronger abolitionist stance than its predecessor. Another race-focused realignment happened starting in the 1960s, when the Democratic Party finally got behind the civil rights movement, seeing its southern wing decimated in short order after its change in policy.

The most obvious culprit of today's realignment seems to be focused on the effects of globalization. Starting in the 1990s and up until Trump won the GOP nomination, we saw both parties being largely content with the globalist creep in our economic system. In the process, we lost millions of jobs, including millions of high-paying manufacturing jobs, that mostly impacted the working class, namely people who never went to college. Black people and Hispanics, underrepresented in higher education relative to white people, have actually been even more negatively impacted than white people by the offshoring of jobs that comes with a free trade policy set.

Democratic elites, supporting a globalist free trade agenda, cannot then be shocked to see that for many of these minority voters the most salient issue to vote on no longer stems from their race but the threat that free trade presents to their economic livelihood. This is a trend that will only continue as they become the party of those with a college degree. This is also a policy position the Democratic Party is probably unable to reverse given that their voters actually benefit from a more globalized economy. While someone with only a high school degree has to fear for their job when a free trade agreement is signed, a college graduate is highly unlikely to see it as anything other than an opportunity for lower priced goods.

Republicans would do well to try to accelerate what has so far been a glacially paced realignment by focusing more on bringing back jobs that went overseas. That would be an especially well-timed message given the supply chain disruptions caused by COVID-19 which are still fueling inflation to record highs. Goods made in America wouldn't be dependent on another country's COVID policy and wouldn't get stuck in a clogged port for months on end. Hence, this message wouldn't just appeal to the working-class folks of all races who see globalization as a direct threat to their jobs, it would also curry strong favor in the suburbs where grocery bills have been climbing at an uncomfortable pace over the last two years.

What will not help move this realignment along in favor of the GOP is a continued focus on grievance politics or culture war issues, both hallmarks of Trump's political identity that prevented his message from finding wider appeal. A candidate free of his baggage, but echoing his core MAGA message to "bring the jobs back" in a 2024 run for office, could well upend the political map in a dramatic fashion by accelerating the realignment that is already underway.

Nicholas Creel is an assistant professor of business law at Georgia College and State University.

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