‘The Trump base is far bigger & stronger than ever before,” the president declared in a series of tweets Monday morning, and that “will never change.” Many observers were quick to point out that this assertion isn’t borne out in the polls.
Such nitpicking, however, overlooks a more important part of this story. In the 1990s and 2000s, Trump had political ambitions, but the traditional two-party system and the media landscape served as impenetrable barriers. It was the breakdown of the old ways that opened a path for someone interested in breaking them down even more — in part by embracing a new base of mostly non-college-educated whites.
As Politico’s Charlie Mahtesian recently chronicled, Republicans have been steadily losing market share in these crucial districts and counties for decades, as suburbanites become a bit more liberal and a lot more hostile to Republican populism on cultural issues.
Georgia’s sixth congressional district illustrates the trend. Mitt Romney carried the highly educated suburban district by 23 points in 2012. Trump squeaked out a win there by one point in 2016. That same year, Republican representative Tom Price won reelection, receiving 61.7 percent of the vote. In the recent special election to replace Price after he was named secretary of health and human services, Republican Karen Handel beat Democrat Jon Ossoff by less than four points.
But opposition to Obama accelerated the defection of rural, working-class, and older whites to the GOP cause, costing Democrats 63 House seats and roughly 1,000 elected offices nationwide.
Now, both parties have similar dilemmas: Their new bases are too small to guarantee electoral success but too strong to allow fundamental rethinking of how the parties do business.