There is a dirty little secret Democrats don’t want to admit to: it was old-school Reagan Democrats that made Donald Trump president in 2016 – On Election Night 2016, the “Blue Wall” was surprisingly breached. It shocked political pundits and cost former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton the election when Donald Trump won Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
It shouldn’t have come as a complete surprise, actually.
Clinton – who has blamed nearly everything for her loss – simply ran a bad campaign in those states. She expected the voters across the Blue Wall to support her and didn’t see that any would become the crucial battlegrounds to determine the election.
Between 1992 and 2012, those three states were among the 18 states and the District of Columbia that the Democratic Party consistently won in every presidential election. In fact, George W. Bush became the only Republican elected (twice) during that time by only winning states outside of the blue wall.
But again, Trump’s victory in 2016 should have been seen coming – at least if anyone paid attention.
There was frustration among the old-school blue-collar voters in places like Macomb County, Michigan (where this reporter now resides). The Trump lawn signs showed up early, and more than once, you would have heard, “I never voted Republican before, but I’ll never vote Democrat again.”
Donald Trump and The Return of the Reagan Democrats
Macomb County, just north of Detroit, was the land of “Reagan Democrats” who, in the 1980s, no longer saw the Democratic Party as champions of their working-class aspirations. The county – and much of the rust belt – swung back to their Democratic roots with Bill Clinton in the 1990s and supported Barrack Obama in 2008 and again in 2012.
Yet, while they may have been drawn to Bill Clinton’s message in 1992, they were equally driven away by Hillary Clinton in 2016. It might have gone differently, too, had another Republican candidate faced Secretary Clinton, a sentiment noted earlier in the year by Lara Trump, daughter-in-law of the former president, who maintains that Donald Trump “changed the face” of the current Republican Party.
It was those Reagan Democrats that turned the tide for Donald Trump.
“He created the current party that we have today; he, of course, spearheaded the Make America Great Again movement and putting America first, and I think people are yearning for that,” Ms. Trump told Sky News host Erin Molan.
“They need somebody to come in there who has done this job before, has excelled at that job of leading our country and getting things back on track here in America,” Lara Trump added.
Enter the Biden Republicans
What is also notable is that the new “Trump Democrats,” which increasingly became the core of the MAGA base, stuck with Trump in 2020. At the start of that year, it certainly looked like President Donald Trump would sail to an easy reelection.
Then the Covid-19 pandemic, which shut down the country and crashed the economy, upended everything.
But even as the country began to recover, Trump’s campaign – and MAGA voters – may have missed something. Just as the Trump lawn signs showed up unexpectedly across America in 2016, Biden signs were sprouting in upscale neighborhoods.
Lara Trump is absolutely right. Her father-in-law changed the face of the GOP – and in the process, drove many suburban white-collar voters to choose Joe Biden over Trump in 2020. This block had just as reliably voted Republican for decades, but as Stan Greenberg of Politico Magazine noted in 2021, they were driven away by the “nativism” of Trumpism.
It is unclear how those “Biden Republicans” would vote in 2024, or more importantly, whether the MAGA Republicans would support a GOP candidate that isn’t Donald Trump.
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Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.
Andrew M Winter
February 11, 2023 at 1:06 pm
Lots of folks do not understand that conservatives voted for Trump knowing he was not a conservative. What turned them was, oddly, Ted Cruz’s win in Iowa. Trumps advisors told Trump not to show up because Cruz had a massive head start in campaigning there. Yet without showing up at all Trump fought Cruz to a single digit win in the poles.
Conservatives who called Rush explained. (paraphrasing several), “Cruz is MY GUY ideologically. But he has never won a fight he picked. He darn near lost to TRUMP without Trump even getting in the ring. Trump only holds to 25% of my conservative values, but I know he will fight like a cornered rat them and most likely win. Cruz would lose them all.”
That is why I voted for him and will again. There is no conservative candidate with Trump’s ability to scratch and claw his way to victory, which is what is needed against the Liberals.
My assessment from Day One, when Trump first announced was that at best TRUMP himself was actually a Reagan Democrat himself.
February 12, 2023 at 12:18 am
when you sleep with dogs you get fleas
February 12, 2023 at 5:36 am
It is fascinating to see how the Republican party has evolved.
It always seemed as if the GOP was not a fully conservative party. The racial angst, the too open attitude to ugly conspiracy theories (like Barack Obama not being born in the USA), the jingoism and the utter inability of the GOP to acknowledge that hot-button social issues often have promising forward-looking conservative aspects to them.
Take gay marriage: this is in crucial ways a highly conservative idea. It is literally a pro-marriage idea. It is about people’s private lives. It is about two consenting adults make the free moral choice to promise to love one another until death. These are powerful conservative ideas.
Or the confederate statues. An honest American conservative would recognize them for what they in most cases are: statues erected by people in the early 1900s who wanted to celebrate and defend white supremacy. Statues of people who fought for a state that explicitly saw human bondage as a core moral good and repeatedly emphasized so in its founding documents and most celebrated speeches. Those are just historical facts. White supremacy and human bondage are fundamentally anti-conservatist ideas.
Or take policing. One core tenet of conservatism is a distrust of state power. Yet when it comes to police brutality and police abuse of power, the GOP all too often embraces it and sometimes explicitly calls for more of it. A true conservative would immediately see police brutality for what it is: state officials abusing their power because they are not held accountable.
On moral values, well, the GOP now goes with “They let you do anything” Trump and Marjorie Taylor “Jewish space laser” Greene. They even lack the moral clarity to kick out George “Jew-ish” Santos.
With gay marriage, conservative statues, police brutality and moral values, Republicans are not conservative: they are reactionary, hypocritical and all too often simply morally empty.
And now the GOP has thrown away what remained of their conservative positions:
A small state and a more self-reliant American populace? Dead now that the GOP has officially embraced Social Security and Medicare as untouchable.
Debt and deficits? Dead since George W. Bush. Dead as a Dodo since Trump. Would anyone who is intellectually honest claim that another Trump Presidency will this time really reign in the deficit?
The one true conservative victory where Republicans really stood up for their position and saw it through was abortion. There is a clear conservative case to be made for the life of a foetus. But the moment they won their biggest conservative victory in decades with the Supreme Court’s decision to end Roe v Wade, they ran away from the issue as if it were kryptonite!
Philosophically, Republicans are not conservative. They will for sure continue to use the name, but it simply does not match the deeper ideas that animate the party now, the fundamental worldview that political and thought leaders hold.
So, what does Republican philosophy, the Republican worldview, consist of?
My best guess is a mix of populism, reaction, nativism, fear and despondency about the future, sprinkled with authoritarian, paranoid, conspirational, racist and antisemitic ideas.
Mind you: this is just the new, honest Republican philosophy and worldview. Philosophy and worldview only have so much influence in a big American political party. The main party structure will – as always – be much about power, money, special interests, electoral tactics, individual quirks, institutional inertia and drift and so on.
But the ideas that will drive the party forward and that will most clearly shape the loftier claims and the big ideas, will come from these ways of thinking and seeing the world: populism, reaction, nativism, fear and despondency about the future, sprinkled with authoritarian, paranoid, conspirational, racist and antisemitic ideas.
PS An equally interesting discussion can be had about what the Democratic Party stands for. Here too core philosophical ideas and worldviews are shifting. That may have to wait for another time.
February 18, 2023 at 12:46 pm
It was no secret. She ran an incredibly inept and arrogant campaign, while she abjectly refused to listen to any constructive criticism. Her aides built a comfort wall around her keeping outsiders out and pissing people off unnecessarily.
Seriously, even after polls began sagging in Wisconsin, she never bothered to stop in that state. She was not well served by her campaign folks, but she was not well served by her tin ear, either.
She could have won, saving this country and this flat earth from 4 horrific years of a grifting, lying, conman. She beat herself.
February 19, 2023 at 12:27 pm
Why didn’t we know the seriousness of this ahead of the election? I mean it totally makes sense now how Hillary lost. How different our country would look right now had Gore and Hillary had won.
February 19, 2023 at 12:35 pm
Harmen Breedeveld your post is enlightening. Maybe as much or more so than the article. Thank you. How can I follow you?
February 19, 2023 at 5:43 pm
Well, maybe one reason is that the Hilary Clinto campaign was not as strong as it could have been.
But I find it interesting that no one has focussed on the, what I think is fact but may be only my opinion, is that the country or people who come to the polls are NOT ready to embrace a women president–irrespective of party affiliation.
Rev. J. Roland Cole
February 20, 2023 at 7:46 am
The key reason Hillary Clinton lost (and therefore Trump won), it seems to me, has been overlooked by practically everybody: FBI Director Comey “did her in.”. In spite of forty years of bipartisan agreement and accepted protocols about (1) investigators not speaking out ((2) but letting the DOJ leadership do so–and (3) no FBI-DOJ speaking the last few months before an election that would affect it, Comey spoke out about Hillary Clinton anyway–three (3) times, in fact. And he said nothing about the other person he was investigating also, Donald J. Trump. (His violations of decades-long norms represented a real double standard, also.)
I remember being surprised that HC suddenly leaped far ahead of DJT in the polls! One poll said she was ahead of him by 13 points, another 15 points! Immediately, HC noticed and announced a change of policy and strategy: she would run “all out” in the red states, too! Since she was looking so good and doing so well, Hillary would do her best to bring more Democratic congressmen in on her coattails and ensure that her proposed legislation as president would be passed more easily and comfortably! Then, Comey dropped his biggest verbal bomb on her. Not charging her, but. instead, he gave her a strong public “verbal chiding!” Comey “dumped” his negative judgments about her actions on her publicly. He ignored Trump, but “dressed Hillary down”–when it was too late for him to be talking at all, ethically speaking and according to historical and Department of Justice rules and protocols!
After Comey’s uncalled for and unethical behaviors, in my opinion–his violating decades of accepted norms and bipartisan agreements and perhaps even a direct order, I believe, definitely his “speaking out” when he had two good reasons not to so (!)–guess what happened?! Hillary’s “great surge forward” and her 13-15 point advantage in the polls vanished. Or they went back to “normal” the next day. Hillary said no more about “going all out” in red states, too! She remained only a few points higher than Trump in the polls. She stayed higher, and Hillary won the popular vote for the Presidency by some three (3) million more votes than Trump got.
But, as John McCain’s Campaign manager, Republican Steve Schmidt, declared: “An imbecilic candidate (Donald Trump) won the Presidency by a fluke”—78,000 votes in three states (out of many millions by which he lost) gave Trump the Electoral College Victory. Comey successfully killed Clinton’s “big surge” forward and ahead! And, I believe, Comey’s “speaking out” cost and lost Hillary the Presidency! (I read once that Hillary came to that same assessment.)
Rev. J. Roland Cole, 2-20-23
February 20, 2023 at 5:17 pm
Third party votes made Trump President. Neither Hillary nor Trump got 50% of the popular vote.
Maine has the right idea with ranked choice voting. More states should use it.
February 20, 2023 at 8:21 pm
Replying to Robert Kezelis: HRC is a lying, grifting conwoman who should be in prison or worse. Point of fact: they are ALL lying, grifting gamers whose only reason for being in government is to line their pockets. At least DT didn’t do as much damage as the current failure in chief and his henchmen.
February 20, 2023 at 8:31 pm
I pray a republican doesn’t win in 2024 because of the Magas look what they’ve done to our country they have divided it.We don’t need any trumps or trump wanna be’s”.Let the democrats in and get their work done we need to clean the magas out of the house all they want to do is investigate the Bidens talk about wasting money.Wait and see repugs will not get anything done not one bill passed because they only want revenge.They are not out to help the american people.
February 21, 2023 at 7:04 am
You can’t just jump from “Trump was a shoe-in for re-election in 2020 until the pandemic” to “something was missed and Trump “nativism” was the reason Trump lost 2020. If the FBI and big tech and 51 members of the ‘intelligence community’ hadn’t colluded to suppress the Hunter Biden laptop polls have shown 17% of Biden voters would of not voted for Biden.