by D.J. McGuire
Amidst the whirl and rush of Trump’s G-20 visit to Hamburg, Mark Penn and Andrew Stein placed on Op-Ed in the New York Times calling on the Democratic Party to “move to the center and reject the siren calls of the left.” As a self-described conservative Democrat, I am happy to read that. Unfortunately, the rest of the column is a hodgepodge of 1990s-era sloganeering and talk of how to “win working-class voters back” – when said working-class voters (the ones who left) didn’t vote for Trump and for Democrats, but rather for straight Republican tickets. For Democrats to truly come to the center, they need to know what the center is now, and rather than white working-class Trump voters who have the zealotry of converts, the party needs to look to suburban Republicans leery of Trump and 2016 Libertarian voters.
A more detailed – and updated – analysis of the Trump voters comes from Emily Ekins, whose study for the Democracy Group found five separate categories of Trump voters. Ekins categories are: American Preservationists (20%), Staunch Conservatives (31%), Anti-Elites (19%), Free Marketeers (25%), and the Disengaged (5%). Among these, the Free Marketeers were the least likely to support Trump in the Republican primaries, most likely to describe their voter as anti-Clinton (rather than pro-Trump), and most likely to disagree with Trump about the cultural issues that now divide the two parties.
Even taking into account the confirmation bias that should be obvious to anyone who listens to us on our weekly podcast, it’s pretty clear that Republicans supporting freer markets are the ones least comfortable with Trump. Of their objectives – “Obamacare” repeal, tax reform, freer trade, and immigration reform – Trump has already rejected the last two, advocated bills that turn “Repeal and Replace” into “Rinse and Repeat” – and made no serious effort to enact tax reform. They are ripe for the plucking if Democrats are willing to move their way on taxes or trade (they’re already closer to Democrats on immigration than to Trump).
Moreover, if one looks at the seven states where Trump won with less than 50% of the vote, Gary Johnson won more votes than Trump’s margin of victory in six of them (Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin). Again, these are not voters Trump can win over with his protectionism and hostility to immigration. Moreover, they can be won over with a focus on addressing police brutality and the revenue-addicted tyranny-writ-small of local governments – issues of a very different kind than what Penn and Stein used as examples in their column.
Lastly, Democrats need to recognize the futility of going after recent pro-Trump converts to the GOP. Had Trump’s victory been a personal one only, we’d have seen Democrats elected to Senate seats in Wisconsin, in Pennsylvania, in North Carolina, and in Florida. Instead, Republicans won all four Senate seats. There is a phrase for Obama voters who switched to Trump: Republican converts – with the requisite zealotry that makes them coming back near impossible.
Democrats need swing voters to win the next set of elections, but if the party looks for them in the wrong place, they won’t be found. We need the modern center to win, and that means moving in a more market-friendly direction.
D.J. McGuire is the conservative Democrat on More Perfect Union podcast – and sometimes feels like he is the lone conservative Democrat in the country.