The Conventional Wisdom About 2016 Is Wrong, and It's Likely Wrong About 2020 as Well

AP Photo/John Bazemore

Many political observers see Donald Trump’s surprise victory in 2016 as an aberration. Democratic nominee Joe Biden has described Trump’s whole presidency as an aberration. Yet The Washington Examiner‘s astute political analyst Michael Barone busted the idea that 2016 marked a death knell for the Republican Party — and he explained the real way America’s political parties work. If Barone’s thesis is true, it bodes well for Trump this year.

Barone’s excellent and short book How America’s Political Parties Change (And How They Don’t) explains that Trump’s victory in 2016 was not a seismic political realignment but a reversion to the mean. It did not change the fundamental DNA of the Republican Party or make it so that the Democratic Party will win indefinitely into the future.

Barone hit on “something fundamental” to how the two parties “provided voters with a yin-yang alternative in what has always been a diverse nation—diverse regionally, economically, religiously, racially and ethnically, culturally—from its colonial beginnings.”

“The Republican Party has always been formed around a core of people who are considered, by themselves and others, to be typical Americans, although they are never by themselves a majority: northern Protestants in the nineteenth century, married white people in the twenty-first. The Democratic Party has always been a combination, a coalition, of people who are not thought of, by themselves or others, as typical Americans, but who together often form a majority: southern slaveholders and big-city Catholics in the nineteenth century, churchgoing and urban blacks and affluent urban and suburban liberals in the twenty-first.”

President Trump is leaning into this binary, while also seeking to expand the Republican coalition.

As rioters toppled statues of America’s Founders in the wake of the George Floyd protests, Trump championed the Founders and American history in a powerful speech at Mount Rushmore, while Biden refused to condemn antifa or Black Lives Matter by name. As Biden seems to have taken black voters for granted, Trump has actively courted them. As Democrats have cracked down on religious believers — mostly Christian and Jewish — in coronavirus lockdowns, Trump and his administration have stood up for their religious freedom.

Meanwhile, the coalition of atypical Americans has proven wobbly. Biden ran as a moderate during the 2020 primary, but he has sidled up to outright socialists like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) in the lead-up to the general election. In response, the Trump campaign ran ads in Spanish, showing Biden identifying himself as “progressive,” the term many Latin socialist dictators used to further their government oppression.

Trump is working overtime to expand the circle of “typical Americans” to include blacks, Jews, Roman Catholics, and Hispanics — long considered typical Democratic voters. His gambits will not likely result in minorities of blacks, Jews, or Hispanics voting for him, but they may be enough to swing the election in key states.

Polls show Biden far ahead of Trump, and many observers expect the Democrat to win in a landslide. Even media mogul (and Fox News owner) Rupert Murdoch predicted a Biden landslide.

I wouldn’t be so sure. For all his faults, Trump has vocally seized the pro-American side of many key issues, from law and order to the Founders to free speech. He is running on a far more solid policy platform than Joe Biden — who seems determined to make his policies seem vague so he can appeal to the radical Left and to less radical Democrats and independents. Trump still has many advantages that the legacy media seems unwilling to acknowledge.

I wouldn’t count him out just yet.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

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