Jonathan Bernstein: Trump's harsh views could sink Republicans

Jonathan Bernstein, Bloomberg View on

Published in Op Eds

What will be the long-term electoral effect of a president who acts as a bigot?

We can't definitively explain why Trump had the worst approval numbers of any first-year president, but it seems like that this is at least one major factor. It obviously wasn't enough to prevent his election -- but then again, it was almost certainly part of why Trump underperformed fundamentals models and received only 46 percent of the vote and almost 3 million fewer votes than the unpopular Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton.

Almost certainly, Trump's support from the groups he's attacked since beginning his presidential campaign in 2015 has been capped at very low levels. It's also presumably responsible for permanently alienating people from groups he didn't attack who simply reject prejudice.

Will Trump's alienation of these groups hurt Republicans even if they don't act like bigots? There's really no way to know because Trump's style of governing is unprecedented. We've never had a president who was willing to write off such a large percentage of his constituents.

On the one hand, memories are short. Watergate destroyed the Republican Party from 1972 through 1974, but by 1978 the party had re-emerged and won big in 1980. Similarly, Democratic landslides in 2006 and 2008 as George W. Bush seemed to have ruined the party's reputation yielded a major reverse in 2010, and by last year Republicans were as strong as they had been for almost a century.

But on the other hand, we know that groups can vote in close to unison, and we know that voting habits are sticky. Ten years ago I believed that the theory of an emerging Democratic majority was wrong, because Latino voters and other growing immigrant groups would, over time, begin voting less with their ethnic group. Trump's bigotry complicates that, and may well delay it indefinitely. Of course, this isn't new with Trump; Asian Americans have trended sharply towards Democrats for some time, for example. But Trump almost certainly accelerates it.

Republicans could overcome this, if it happens, in one of two ways: Manage to turn what we in Texas call the Anglo vote (white non-Hispanic) into a solid bloc for Republicans -- or reverse the demographic trends. Neither seems very likely. But if everyone else turns sharply against the party for a generation, leading Republican may see few good choices. Perhaps they should have fought harder against Trump during the nomination process in 2016.

Fair or not, Trump has been consistent on his racist views for decades. Nominate someone with a record like that, and it's likely the whole party will be held responsible in the short run. In the long run? I guess we'll just have to wait to see.


About The Writer

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

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