How did Donald Trump win in 2016? Can he use that formula in 2024?
Former President Donald Trump’s success in capturing the Republican Party can be attributed to being at the right place at the right time.
Trump’s rise can be attributed to frustration with the Bush administration’s war in Iraq and years of broken promises by Republican leaders.
Under George W. Bush, Republicans controlled the presidency and Congress for the first time since the Eisenhower years. Bush talked conservative but didn’t act conservative, hence why he is hated by Trump’s MAGA movement.
Paul Weyrich, the founder of the modern conservative movement and the Christian Right, lamented during the Bush years that there was a Republican majority and not a conservative majority.
They talked about conservative principles, but they did not deliver conservative policies. The national debt doubled with a Republican Congress. Conservative values did not find their way into public policy.
Veteran Reaganite and Weyrich ally Morton Blackwell referred to them as “content-free Republicans.”
At election time, Republican politicians promised conservative policies, but they never delivered. The Christian family values rhetoric that had been the mainstay of Republican politicians since the Reagan era became throwaway lines. Republicans talked about undoing Roe v. Wade, but they never delivered.
The Christian Right suffered politically from its embrace of the Iraq War. The war became an albatross for Republicans that got President Obama elected in concert with the 2008 financial crisis, and anyone who supported Bush was blamed.
Obama set the stage for Trump with the following comment made during the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries during a stop in Pennsylvania.
“They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations,” Obama said of the white working class that had been the backbone of the Democratic Party since FDR.
Why Donald Trump?
Blue-collar white working-class voters felt like they had a champion who would fight for them.
Trump dominated the debate stage in 2015 and 2016 against his Republican challengers because they were viewed by rank-and-file Republicans as politicians who had no principles.
When Trump mocked former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, they saw him aiming at a man who symbolized a family they hated, which they believed had squandered the gains of the Reagan movement of the 1980s.
The GOP managerial class took the blame for the financial crisis, which Trump capitalized on.
Donald Trump would not have happened to the Republican Party without the Iraq War and the 2008 financial crisis. He latched onto the frustrations of the traditionally Democratic white working class in a way that no Republican had since Ronald Reagan. As recently as the Clinton years, working-class West Virginia had been solidly Democratic. Still, the Democrats’ embrace of the values of Left-wing academia and corporate elites alienated blue-collar voters.
These included the embrace of radical environmentalism, open borders, prioritizing the interests of multinational corporations over the American workers, disdain for traditional Christianity, and LGBT issues.
Blue-collar Democrats were economically liberal but socially conservative. They felt betrayed by outsourcing that had been championed by the managerial corporate elites from both parties. Trump’s talk about bringing back manufacturing, energy independence, and making America politically independent appealed to them. Democrats meanwhile came to look at their Blue-collar voters as backward and unsophisticated, which alienated them.
The AFL-CIO strongly opposed illegal immigration until the 1990s. Trump’s seal the borders rhetoric was championed by union boss Lane Kirkland, the union movement’s boss during the 1980s and early 1990s. Democrats scream “racism,” but opposition to illegal migration was their party’s issue not long ago. Even Hispanic union leader Cesar Chavez, a hero of Joe Biden’s, strongly opposed it.
Donald Trump Fights Obama
Trump’s revival of Reagan’s “Make America Great Again” slogan was a reaction to Barack Obama’s “leading from behind.”
Under Barack Obama, Republicans watched as the president surrendered America’s unquestioned post-Cold War dominance. Trump used resentment against Obama’s belief that America was just another nation among many to build his movement.
Trump Hits Brick Wall With Suburban Voters
Trump’s inability to broaden his base to include suburban voters and to maintain the Republican coalition led to the defection of millions of socially liberal Republicans to the Democratic Party in suburban counties that had been reliably Republicans.
The Republican Party under Trump has become a working-class party. Hispanics have begun gravitating toward the Republican Party in the wake of Trump to the chagrin of Democrats.
The real beneficiary of Trump’s inability to appeal to Centrist suburban voters will be Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis who has proven he can govern as a conservative and attract Centrist suburban voters in Florida.
Ron DeSantis could become the next generation of the movement Trump started if he positions himself correctly.
John Rossomando is a senior analyst for Defense Policy and served as Senior Analyst for Counterterrorism at The Investigative Project on Terrorism for eight years. His work has been featured in numerous publications such as The American Thinker, The National Interest, National Review Online, Daily Wire, Red Alert Politics, CNSNews.com, The Daily Caller, Human Events, Newsmax, The American Spectator, TownHall.com, and Crisis Magazine. He also served as senior managing editor of The Bulletin, a 100,000-circulation daily newspaper in Philadelphia, and received the Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors first-place award for his reporting.