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.
A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.