Donald Trump clearly won voters that had backed Obama 4 years ago. He also lost many voters that backed Romney in 2012. That’s good for the Donald because it means his coalition is something unique to him and that his coalition might be stable in 4 years when he runs for reelection. But, it’s bad for the broader party.
Exit polls and results bear this out. Trump overwhelmingly won the 39 percent of voters who rated change as the most important factor in their vote. But, these are the same voters who have shown little allegiance to the GOP in the past and might have been drawn to the non-ideological nature of Trump. Trump showed a consistent ability to not be painted into a specific corner on an issue and that flexibility made him hard to pin down on taxes and other issues.
This partly explains how Trump and Senate Republicans could all win the same states but in different ways. For example, In Pennsylvania, both Trump and Pat Toomey won the state. But they won it in different ways. Whereas Toomey’s path to victory was carved in the Southeastern Philly suburbs Trump found his path to victory in the majority-white and blue-collar Western and Central Pennsylvania. Toomey’s coalition was made up of consistent Republicans and suburban moderates. Trump’s coalition included many former Democrats and voters who did not vote consistently.
Anecdotally, this makes sense. Many media outlets hammered home the idea that Congressional Republicans were caught in a catch-22 with Trump. Everytime the Donald made an outrageous comment or statement and Congressional Republicans were asked their opinion they were told if they backed off Trump they would lose his backers support. If they did not though they would lose Independent voters.
To some degree this is true. It is established that both Kelly Ayotte and Joe Heck lost some Trump supporters because they disavowed the nominee after the Hollywood Access interview. In Nevada, Heck won fewer than 17,000 voters than Trump and earned a full percent less of the vote. In New Hampshire, Kelly Ayotte earned 8,000 more votes than Trump but a right-wing candidacy from Independent candidate Aaron Day siphoned off over 17,000 votes. Considering Day’s stances on guns, gay marriage and abortion it is safe to say if he had not run and Ayotte had fully supported Trump she would have won over many of these voters (perhaps enough to overturn her 1,017 vote loss). But, it’s also important remember Senate and Presidential results were highly correlated this election as well.
Even so, this makes for an interesting dichotomy in the party. Congressional Republicans were elected by a different group of voters than Trump. Right now, at least 14 districts voted for Congressional Republicans and backed Clinton (10 Democratic districts backed Trump). Trump’s supporters do not necessarily heed to the idea globlization and trade are good while many Congressional Republicans were elected by voters that do. Additionally, Trump backers are not necessarily hawks and want to sanction Russia or get more involved in the Middle East but many Congressional Republicans supporters do/are.
This will have serious consequences for the party in both the short and along term. While Democrats have their divisions so will Republicans. Trump and Congressional Republicans will find much to agree on related to Obamacare, taxes and regulations. But, on trade and national security the party could find itself split in different factions just as Democrats have sometimes been under Obama.
Obama, pretty darn close to a political neophyte, found himself unable to navigate these differences. It is unlikely Trump will be able to do much better. The benefit for Republicans in 2018 is the Senate map is extremely favorable to them. The downside, many of these states feature a combo of Trump backers and more traditional conservative voters. If Democrats play their cards right (so far they are not) they could exploit this divide.
To be fair, any national political party in America faces these challenges. In 2009, Obama was largely elected by urban, liberal voters but Democrats Congressional majorities were based on wining rural, conservative voters. Democrats could not placate both sides of their party and now find themselves in the minority and out of the White House. So far, Republicans have been able to manage these differences for at least one election.
But, there is no guarantee Republicans will be able to negotiate these differences indefinitely. For while it is true that the parties are becoming more ideologically cohesive and stable they still, to win, must bring in voters not traditionally to the left or right on some issues. That can help lead to candidates to like Trump. Right now, that’s a problem for Republicans.