How did Donald Trump assemble the second largest voter coalition in American history? He won more than 74 million votes, which is more than the entire population of France.
To illustrate the breadth of his appeal, you can drive from the Idaho-Canada border to Key West and from the Rio Grande to Lake Erie and not have to cross a single blue state. Had 65,000 voters in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Wisconsin voted for Trump instead of Biden, Trump would have won the Electoral College majority and been reelected.
This question will be dissected for many years by many people, including yours truly, so consider this a first draft and a plea to indulge some provocation. I’m giving it the acronym NEWWS, pronounced “news.”
N is for Nationalism, or, in its disreputable form, Nativism. Trump’s unabashed “America First” themes, especially his anti-immigration, trade and defense policies, resonated with ordinary Americans and caught the elites off guard. It did not matter that the trade wars actually hurt the American economy and his insults of foreign leaders damaged alliances. They were his cornerstone to MAGA.
E is for Evangelicals. I have looked at and discarded several theories about why four of five Evangelicals voted for Trump. I now think it boils down to their deep belief that Christianity is actually under assault in America -- legally, politically and culturally – and only Trump, perhaps the least religious president in history, could save it. To form an alliance with Trump, Evangelicals had to overlook, even defend, his defiantly un-Christian behavior. Their vote was transactional. In a jaw-dropping way.
WW is for White Women, 55 percent of whom voted for Trump, an eight percent increase over 2016. Among white women with no college education, arguably those most vulnerable to the predations of men, Trump got 60 percent support. Provocatively, journalist Liz Lenz says:
· White female rage is better at enforcing patriarchal norms than dismantling them . . . [white women] benefit from the status quo, while change would require burning down that system and building a new one – one where they and their children might lose the shared superiority and protection they get by being attached to powerful White men . . . and allows women to cast others (men and mean feminists) as being responsible for societal problems and dodge their own complicity.
Whew. Heavy stuff. If you come up with a better idea, let me know.
S is for Shameless. New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman said: “His shamelessness is an edge . . . he was willing to say the dog whistles through a bullhorn.”
Author Andrew Sullivan elaborated:
· Otherwise decent people . . . took all his assaults on democracy as simply bluster from the kind of car salesman he is. They deal with this kind of BS all the time. . . Everything makes sense if it is preceded by the following words: ‘And now, Donnie from Queens, you’re on the air.’ Many people heard Trump exactly that way and couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. They weren’t endorsing his madness. They were looking past it.
Be sure to tune in next week when Kyle Felling and I host a musical commentary, Trump’s Going Away Party.
Dr. Terry Smith is a Political Science professor at Columbia College and a regular commentator on KBIA's Talking Politics.