Over at Politico, John Austin of the Brookings Institution has an interesting theory. A strong economy will not help but actually hinder Trump. You can check out the full article there but at its core the article rests on the demographic premise the 2018 midterm’s impacts will be permanent and run into 2020.
To bolster such an argument, Austin looks at two suburban and exurban districts in Michigan, strongly Republican and somewhat pro-Trump in 2016, which turned leftward, MI-8 and MI-11. Both districts elected Democrats for the first time in decades.
What made these districts unique, well, okay, unique compared to many districts which voted Trump in 2016 and Republican in 2018 was they are doing well. What is not different is they are becoming younger and more demographically mixed though still predominately white.
In districts across the country which elected Democrats to Congress, some for the first time in a generation, many saw economic growth rates far in excess of the national and state averages. Arguably, they should have moved rightward under a economically successful Republican President. Except the analysis is overly simplistic and ignores many underlying political factors in 2018.
First, these districts in MI, GA-6, and many others have a sizable number of well-off economic voters. This meant these voters could base their votes on cultural morals and values without worrying about economic outcomes (ie. Trump’s behavior was particularly damaging to down-ballot Republicans).
Secondly, many Democrats, even if they ran as progressives, took great pains to argue they would not raise taxes on the middle class nor did they run on impeaching Trump. This combined with the third factor, Trump would still be President after the midterms meant Democrats would not be in charge of every branch of government if given the keys to Congress. Divided government might lead to gridlock, but it also means minimal shocks to the system, which well-off and middle class voters would react to.
Those dynamics won’ be at play in 2020. Rather, the Democratic Party is likely to be defined on election day by its progressive march and undying urge to impeach Trump. Not even the moderate front-runner, Joe Biden, has proven to be immune from this clarion call.
Of course, the underlying argument of the article is Trump is doomed. Thinking about it rationally, if true, the only way Trump could win reelection would be if he purposely tanks the economy. Which, of course, he won’t, and would doom his reelection.
Rather, it is far more likely, the 2018 midterm results were due to unique set of circumstances where well-off voters, even in traditionally Republican districts, uncomfortable with Trump felt comfortable to vote Congressional Democrats knowing a Republican President would be there to stall their worse impulses.
Also, an analysis by the Daily Kos finds Republicans did not experience their steepest drop-off in the districts they lost but rather the more rural districts they still won. Because, let’s be honest, if Republicans start of the 2020 election in an eight point deficit, they don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning.
While it is probably fair to say these districts are not the Republican strongholds they used to be, nor are they lost causes, even for Trump. They remain the electoral territory where the swing voters who will decide the 2020 election reside.
They already know Trump’s warts (and there are many) but this must now be contrasted against not a moderate, Democratic Congressman/woman, but a full-throated progressive in the White House with a compliant Congress to boot. It’s why Republican’s 2020 election theme is running against “socialism,” even as Trump runs on divisive immigration and a strong economy.
It is also why Democratic Governors are sounding the alarm the dislike for Trump in the beltway and rush to impeachment is not playing the same way in the states. Rather, voters might be expressing dislike of Trump, but just as in 2016, they are not saying or showing they will not oppose him either.
Ultimately, elections are never decided on one issue. Districts which voted Democratic last year were predominately suburban in nature. Again, where the most swing voters reside. It makes sense they would turn to the out of power party if they are dissatisfied with the White House. Suburban districts have done well under Trump, true, but so have rural and industrial Republican areas. Sure, they have not experienced as large of an economic bump, but that contrast surely puts to a lie the idea a strong economy will hurt Trump.
If Trump loses, it will be because voters prioritized other issues over a strong economy. Look at it this way. Trump’s strongest approval is on the economy, and we know from 2016 Trump does not need voters to like him to win his vote. Democrats, on the other hand, need voters to dislike Trump to get their vote. Trump receiving 50 percent plus approval on the economy yet being underwater in his overall approval rating shows he is being damaged due to other issues.
Sorry Austin, a strong economy sure won’t be the reason Trump lost.