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Please Ignore This Test

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With 2020 Election Simulations based on known data *

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NOTE:

  • I neither praise nor condemn President Trump. Instead I use data to explain how his coalition determines his governing strategy.
  • Claps and responses go to this story’s permanent URL.
  • For a version with better formatting and useful internal navigation links, go here.
  • If you want to know why I use multiple URLs and why this is formatted differently than other Medium stories, read this.

— raj ( contact info. in profile )

President Trump’s Electoral Genius:
How he Dominates by Dividing and Why his Coalition Drives A Divisive Governing and Effective 2020 and Midterm Winning Strategy (with 2020 election simulations based on known data)

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President Trump combined his fan base with typical GOP voters to win. His coalition represents a little over 40% of the country. If these voters continue to register and vote as they did in 2016, he can be re-elected and possibly even win the 2020 popular vote (with a little more participation from his fan base). He could also increase the GOP’s share of seats in both houses of Congress in midterms. This coalition also explains why he governs the way he does.

How can he be this successful with only 40% of America behind him? The answer is simple: these folks vote regularly, and too many of the people who don’t like President Trump don’t like voting for Democrats (or voting, period).

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(If you’re interested, you can go immediately to the end, and view my 2020 election simulations. That part is designed to stand alone, i.e. it can be read by itself.)

President Trump’s coalition consists of two parts:

  • President Trump’s “fan base” consists of the voters who unconditionally support him.
  • The fan base voters are joined by what I will call “regular (Romney-like) Republicans” who always vote for GOP nominees based on what’s known as the “3-legged Reagan stool”. Some of them may have “held their noses” in 2016, but as long as President Trump continues to deliver for the GOP on judicial nominations, executive branch nominations, and policy generally, there is every reason to think that these voters will continue to support him. Nevertheless, it’s important to note that their support is conditional, and might waver if President Trump were to (for example) support raising taxes on the wealthy.

We liberals complain about gerrymandering and geographical “sorting,” but President Trump won because between 64% and 82% of his fan base registered and voted.

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President Trump can win 2020’s popular vote by increasing the rate at which his fan base registers and votes by about 5%. (That does not mean 5% of 64%-82%, it means the percentage of the fan base that registers and votes has to go up by 5% to 69%-87%.) Of course President Trump doesn’t have to win the popular vote in 2020, but the fact that he could theoretically get there by ramping up his fan base participation rate (i.e. registering and voting) suggests that his chances of an Electoral College victory are not bad.

This is why President Trump is not trying to appeal to the 50–60% of the nation that disapproves of him. Instead, he is doing everything he can to keep his fan base energized, as GOP #NeverTrumper Peter Wehner laments:

The more offensive Mr. Trump is to the rest of America, the more popular he becomes with his core supporters. One policy example: At a recent rally in Phoenix, the president said he was willing to shut down the government over the question of funding for a border wall, which most of his base favors but only about a third of all Americans want. [emphasis added] 

His voters are more strategically distributed than any Democratic nominee’s would be in 2020, so he could win the Electoral College again, even if he falls a bit short on the popular vote. This is because Democrats tend to “waste” votes in big blue states such as California, Illinois, and New York (these states together account for between a quarter and a fifth of the nation’s population).

The left column lists my estimates of the percentage of the fan base among everyone who could register and vote (the “voting-eligible population,” AKA V.E.P.). The next one shows my estimates of the proportion of the fan base among President Trump voters. (I’ll explain how I computed these estimates shortly.)

The rate of registering and voting among the fan base in 2016 is shown next (third column). The 2020 rates of registering and voting needed to win the 2020 popular vote are in the rightmost column, based on an increase of 2.8% — 5% for the Democratic nominee’s vote and the assumption that this increase is matched by the “regular Republicans” who support President Trump conditionally.

Bottom line: President Trump could get re-elected by spurring more of his fan base to register and vote. And if they register and vote for Republicans in midterms at 2016 rates, he could leave office with two of the most successful midterm results in history for the President’s party, even if he remains as divisive and unpopular as he is now.

These conclusions go a long way towards describing why and how President Trump can continue to do well politically, and what his strategy may be, even though 56% of the country thinks he’s tearing America apart (according to a recent poll by conservative-leaning Fox News).

As just one example, don’t expect President Trump to support raising taxes on the wealthy, even though this is a popular position. The same could be said for expanding medicare eligibility and other “economic populist” positions. President Trump needs the support of these “regular Republicans” to keep winning, and he doesn’t want to lose any by deviating from GOP orthodoxy on domestic policy. (Later, I will describe how the nature of his coalition drives the novel manner in which President Trump handles international trade and security agreements and more recently, the debt ceiling: a strategy that I characterize as policy by feint theater.)

Some prominent Trump supporters such as former American Enterprise Institute Vice-President Henry Olsen, have tried to use data about Trump voters’ views on issues to argue that Trump could get too far to the political right. While that might be theoretically possible, I think in practice Olson is wrong, because he fails to consider the nature of Trump’s coalition. The “regular Republicans” who support President Trump conditionally are already probably rather conservative. The unconditional supporters in the fan base may not be that concerned about policy, because their support of him is fundamentally tribal or cultural in nature. They are not going to walk away from their roots and their identity as human beings, which is something that Trump clearly understands.

So while President Trump does everything possible to please defense hawks, the NRA and white evangelicals plus the Heritage Foundation and other similar organizations, we can expect him to keep “doubling down” on his tendency to identify those who are not native-born white Judeo-Christian cishet Americans as “the other”, in order to please his fan base.

That’s my central thesis about the link between his coalition and his governing strategy, and why he can continue to dominate by dividing.

Later, I will argue that with another Supreme Court appointee, this coalition of white, conservative and mostly rural and evangelical voters can rule America for decades after President Trump leaves office, even while they become a smaller and smaller minority of the population. If so, President Trump will become the most consequential Republican President since Lincoln, and his coalition could prove to be as durable, persistent and influential as that of Franklin Roosevelt’s, in spite of the fact that it will be composed of a shrinking minority of American adult citizens whose views are regarded as extreme if not abhorrent by the vast majority of the country.

2) Some Distinctions

You’ll frequently see the word “turnout” used in articles about election results. I will not be using this term, which often is used to denote the percentage of already registered voters who actually voted. Instead, I will use the phrase “register and vote” to make it clear that I’m talking about the electoral power of a group of people. (Political scientists refer to this as electoral participation.)

Furthermore, I compute what political scientists refer to as the V.E.P. (voting-eligible population). So comparing my numbers to participation rates that are computed based on the V.A.P. (voting-age population) will yield a difference attributable to non-citizens (about 7%), and disenfranchised felons (about 2.5%).

I’ll use the term fan base instead of the phrase “core Trump supporters,” because the latter is used frequently and has no universally-accepted definition. For my purposes, the “fan base” consists of those who support President Trump unconditionally.

When I mention GOP voters as opposed to elected officials, I also include Republican-leaning self-described “independents.” Many self-described “independents” vote primarily for one party. For my purposes, a voter is a Republican if they nearly always vote for Republicans for federal office. The fact that they might vote regularly for (probably conservative) Democrats at the local level is irrelevant, as is their party registration.

I’ll refer to “regular Republicans,” i.e. those President Trump supporters who support him conditionally. Many of these folks reluctantly voted for President Trump in 2016, and may continue to do so, as a result of President Trump’s very conservative policies and appointees (at least in the domestic arena). Later, I will delineate the “three legs” of “the Reagan stool,” which I will argue has now become the “four legs of The Trump chair,” by being augmented with what I call ethno-cultural-nationalist populism. The “3-legged Reagan Stool” characterizes what Romney and McCain ran on, so if you’d rather think of “regular Republicans” as “Romney Republicans,” that amounts to the same thing.

If you like Mitt Romney and don’t like President Trump, you might object that Romney was extremely critical of President Trump last year, and continues to speak out about him. But that’s precisely my point. If Romney himself had lived in a swing state, might he have “held his nose” and voted for President Trump anyway, based on President Trump’s anticipated adherence to Republican orthodoxy, at least on domestic policies?

Moreover we now know just how conservative President Trump’s appointees to the executive and judicial branches are. We also know that President Trump has no apparent intention to deviate from equally conservative positions on domestic policy. So would a swing-state Republican vote for President Trump in 2020, provided they shared both Romney’s views on policy and Romney’s overall attitude towards President Trump? It’s a decent bet that this hypothetical Republican would “hold their nose” and vote for President Trump in 2020, no matter whom Democrats nominate. Granted, President Trump doesn’t seem to be very good at working with Congress. But there can be no question that on federal judicial appointments and on executive branch appointees and policies, President Trump is delivering the goods for the GOP.

In The Atlantic, Harvard Law Professor and Senior Hoover Institution Fellow Jack Goldsmith observes:

Trump is a Frankenstein’s monster of past presidents’ worst attributes: Andrew Jackson’s rage; Millard Fillmore’s bigotry; James Buchanan’s incompetence and spite; Theodore Roosevelt’s self-aggrandizement; Richard Nixon’s paranoia, insecurity, and indifference to law; and Bill Clinton’s lack of self-control and reflexive dishonesty.

All of that may indeed be true, but none of it is relevant for my present purposes. I will assume that President Trump knows exactly what he’s doing politically, and argue that he is in fact a (politically-expedient) Madman with a Method. In other words, he’s “crazy like a fox.” His coalition is what drives him forward, and it can win for him in 2018, 2020, and beyond. All he needs to do is keep it intact and energized — which explains how and why he governs the way he does.

3) How Large is the Fan Base?

To understand why and how President Trump’s fan base — i.e. those who support him unconditionally — can determine the outcome of federal elections in the US, we need to know two things:

  • How big is President Trump’s fan base as a percentage of his voters/supporters? (My answer: 61–66%.)
  • How big is President Trump’s fan base as a percentage of people who could register and vote? (My answer: 23–27%.)

In a recent Monmouth University poll, self-identified President Trump supporters were asked an open-ended question. Could they think of anything that would cause them to stop supporting him? 61% said that they could not. This is going to be my “low” number for the percentage of President Trump voters and supporters who support him unconditionally.

There are several reasons to be suspicious of this result. First, the poll was taken in mid-August, and shows President Trump with a net 7% approval deficit. It’s not consistent with other polls taken during this period (even Rasmussen), and thus we might conclude that it over-samples President Trump supporters. Moreover, the sample size is small: only about 300 registered voters who support President Trump were included.

However, a recent YouGov poll showed that only 34% of Republicans thought that President Trump should be impeached “if he collaborated with Russian agents himself.” I think it’s fair to say that the remaining 66% are members of President Trump’s “fan base” (i.e. those voters who support President Trump unconditionally).

Finally, recent daily polling numbers from Rasmussen, show President Trump with a “strong approval” rating that holds fairly steady at roughly two-thirds of his supporters, generally between 25–27% of the respondents overall. (This rate was higher in the early weeks of his Presidency, but voters tend to support a newly-inaugurated President. And in President Trump’s case, it wasn’t certain until the late spring that “President Trump 2.0” was not on the horizon.)

So this accounts for my range of 61–66% of the percentage of President Trump supporters/voters in his fan base.

How big is the fan base as a share of the people who could potentially register and vote? I will take my maximum of 27% from Rasmussen, and use Nate Silver’s number of 23% as my minimum. As a benchmark, I’ve used the two midpoints (25% and 63.5%) for comparison.

If we minimize the proportion of President Trump’s fan base among those who could register and vote (the “voting-eligible population”), and also maximize it among President Trump’s voters, we get the highest rates of registering and voting (first row in the table). We get the lowest rates of registering and voting if we do the opposite (last row in the table). My midpoints are in the middle row:

(NOTE: If you’re a member of President Trump’s fan base, you may believe that voter fraud is a huge problem because about 3–5 million non-citizens supposedly voted illegally for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Hence you may reject my analysis because I’m not counting all that alleged massive voter fraud. I’m not going to waste my time trying to persuade you otherwise, although I’ll note in passing that the “massive voter fraud” hypothesis has been unequivocally rejected by Republican county clerks and other GOP election officials all over the nation. There is no more truth to it than birtherism.)

4) How Much Does the Fan Base Register and Vote?

Let’s review that table again:

Remember, the left column is the percentage of the fan base among the total adult population of potential voters, i.e. the “voting-eligible population” or V.E.P. The second column shows the proportion of the fan base among President Trump supporters (the rest are “regular Republicans”). The third column is the rate at which members of the fan base registered and voted in 2016. For comparison, consider two other groups:

  • The population as a whole — 58.2% in 2016 (that’s the two-party vote, the overall rate is 61.9% based on US Census data, the 75.6% of the population who are adults, the 93% who are citizens, and the 97.5% who are not disenfranchised as a result of being felons.) Note: if you multiply the latter three numbers, you will find that 68.55% of the entire population is eligible to register and vote. If you’d rather look at the data more closely, you can browse to the United States Election Project, whose numbers differ slightly from mine.
  • White evangelicals — over 80% appear to have registered and voted overall, 84% of them for President Trump. This means that at least 67% of voting-eligible white evangelicals actually voted for President Trump. Which lines up nicely with my numbers in the above table, and is hardly a surprise given that white evangelicals are the core of President Trump’s fan base, and many believe that President Trump was anointed by God. (Which may help us understand their unconditional support — how can one be “conditional” about supporting “The Hand of God,” if one is a devout believer?)

You could object to these rough computations on many grounds. For example, is the percentage of children larger or smaller among citizens, as compared with non-citizens? I will set such quibbles aside, because the differences between the propensity of President Trump’s fan base to register and vote as compared to the rest of the population, are so substantial that the bottom line is unlikely to change much.

5) Adding a “Leg” To Reagan’s “Stool” — The “Four-Legged Trump Chair”

(Readers who aren’t interested in political ideology can skip this part.)

Prior to Trump, Republicans would talk about the “three-legged Reagan stool”. Since I’m not a political scientist, and because a rigorous analysis could fill a tome, I’ll be brief and provide a minimum of links. If you want to skip ahead to the “Trump Chair,” (scroll down and look for the bold faced heading), you can save yourself some reading by thinking of Romney and McCain as quintessential Republicans who campaigned based on the “three legs” of the “Reagan stool.”

Let’s take a quick stroll down “memory lane” …

  • Since Calvin Coolidge said “the business of America is business”, the Republican party has always been associated with policies that favor the wealthy and big business. We’ve all heard the slogans: “lower taxes, less regulation and smaller government.” (Liberals such as myself might observe that government is supposed to be “small” only outside of the arenas of defense/national security and the enforcement of conservative Christian moral values such as abortion or the status of GLBTQ people. But that’s a subject for another day.)
  • The political battle between Taftian isolationists and “Eisenhower Republicans” was fought during the beginning of the Cold War. Needless to say, Taft lost and Eisenhower won. Since the Cold War, the GOP has stood for a “strong national defense,” and a foreign policy that relies extensively upon the use of overt and covert force. (Later, I’ll explore the tensions between this orthodox Republican approach and President Trump’s stance on international trade and security agreements — and more recently the debt ceiling — by describing how his strategy of “theatrically feinting” is determined by his coalition.)
  • We’ve all heard the phrase “God, gays and guns.” However it might surprise you to discover that the open embrace of social issues by the Republican party is a relatively recent trend, from the Reagan era. Socially liberal Republicans, who used to be known as “Rockefeller Republicans” are now essentially a thing of the past (especially outside the Northeast). The bond between white evangelicals and the Republican party was forged during the Reagan era (see: Falwell, Jerry Sr.; or Robertson, Pat.). As a striking example, George H.W. Bush was pro-choice before becoming Reagan’s VP nominee. More recently, Giuliani fared very poorly in the 2008 nominating contest in part because he was pro-choice.

Behold: the “three legs” of the “Reagan stool.” With one more “leg” it becomes the “Trump Chair.” I will refer to this fourth “leg” as ethno-cultural-nationalist populism.

This fourth “leg” was not fabricated out of thin air. Since the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s, ethnic issues have lurked in the background of Republican party politics. People in my generation recall Nixon’s “Southern Strategy.” School integration (and/or bussing to achieve desegregation), plus “dog whistles” likecrime” and “individual responsibility” have been around since Nixon, although Reagan’s use of the phrase “welfare queen” and his opposition to AIDS research among other things made this aspect of GOP dogma more prominent. As the late GOP strategist Lee Atwater put it in a 1981 interview:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “N*****, n*****, n*****.” By 1968 you can’t say “n*****” — that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites … “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N*****, n*****.” 

The Fourth “leg” of the “Trump Chair”
President Trump is the first Republican President and nominee to openly target just about every group besides native-born cishet Judeo-Christian white Americans as “the enemy” or at least “the other.” (Note that cishet is a modern term that simply means not GLBTQ, i.e. heterosexuals who identify with their birth gender.)

To see how extreme President Trump’s approach has been to what I’m going to call ethno-cultural-nationalist populism, I went to PolitiFact and reviewed the list of the 69 false statements by President Trump that received their highest rating of “pants on fire”. Of these 69, 33 (almost half!) were statements about illegal voting (presumably by non-citizens), crime committed by immigrants and African Americans, the dangers posed by terrorism, the poor treatment of America by its trading and security partners, and so forth. (The New York Times has a similar list.)

We all remember how he opened up his campaign:

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people. 

The other examples here are too numerous to list, but President Trump rose to prominence in the Republican party by enthusiastically embracing birtherism. He retweeted false and misleading statistics about the amount of crime committed by black people against whites and by immigrants against citizens. (His abuse of the Kate Stinely case was especially noteworthy.)

And then there was the “Muslim ban.” Plus his false claim that “thousands of Muslims” were celebrating in New Jersey when the Twin Towers fell. Or take his assertion that a federal judge born in Indiana couldn’t rule fairly on the Trump University case because the judge’s parents were born in Mexico (“the textbook definition of racism” as Speaker Ryan pointed out).

In other words, this targeting of those who are not cishet native-born Judeo-Christian white Americans as the “other” was a core component of President Trump’s campaign and continues to be a core component of his style of governing. (You can quibble that his targeting of transgendered service members was something that he’s governing on, but didn’t campaign on. Yet given his closeness to white evangelicals, you’d have been prescient to have suspected that he wouldn’t be a very LGBTQ-friendly President.) The pardoning of former Maricopa County Sheriff Arpaio, and his winking and nodding directed towards neo-Nazis and the Klan in Charlottesville (or at least the “very fine people” who were allegedly marching side-by-side with protesters who chanted “Jews will not replace us!”) are just the most recent examples.

How do we label this? My favorite definition of the term “populism” is an appeal to the majority that identifies a perceived minority as the “other,” or the “enemy.” For example, Bernie Sanders’ populism was economic. His message was directed towards the “ninety-nine percent” and those who are not members of “the billionaire class.”

President Trump’s populism is ethno-cultural-nationalist. It’s an appeal to cishet white native-born Judeo-Christians, particularly white evangelicals, many of whom view President Trump as being anointed by God, and his election as a result of the “Hand of God”.

Voilà! — ethno-cultural-nationalist populism, AKA the “fourth leg” of the “Trump chair,” now augments the “three legs” of the “Reagan stool:” pro-business/pro-wealthy tax and regulation policies, a hawkish stance on national defense, and social issues. Many have argued that this is the logical extension of the “dog whistles” that Republicans have been using since the 1960s, but President Trump is the first GOP nominee or President to use a bull horn.

President Trump’s world is full of enemies and tormentors, both at home and abroad. Cishet native-born white Judeo-Christian Americans are being shafted by them. Black people and immigrants are murdering whites. Immigrants (especially Mexicans and Muslims) are here to bring crime, drugs and terrorism while they vote illegally and steal the jobs of native-born white people. Transgendered people are signing up for the military in order to scam the hapless taxpayer into paying for their surgery and therapy. Foreigners and the “elites” have crafted trade deals that ship working-class jobs overseas. Our security partners are taking us to the cleaners by mooching off the involuntary largess of the American taxpayer. And what’s even worse is that they’re all laughing at us because we’re such suckers. Well, not anymore! President Trump “alone can fix it.” (Compare that to Reagan’s “shining city on a hill.”)

Let me note again that the “nationalist” aspect of President Trump’s ethno-cultural-nationalist populism doesn’t quite fit with the traditional Republican emphasis on free trade and international security arrangements such as NATO.

The one word you hear President Trump use often is “unfair” — NATO is “unfair” because American taxpayers are shouldering too much of the financial burden. NAFTA, and other trade deals such as KORUS (US/S. Korea) are “unfair” because US workers have allegedly lost their jobs because of trade deficits arising from these arrangements. This is “nationalist” in the sense that these foreign countries are (supposedly) taking advantage of American taxpayers and workers, just as immigrants are taking US jobs and committing crimes against Americans, black people are murdering whites, Muslims are here to commit terrorism, etc.

Later, I’ll provide details about my explanation — which is that President Trump caters to his fan base by theatrically feinting, i.e. by threatening big changes to international trade and security agreements (and more recently threatening to hold approval of an increase in the debt ceiling hostage to funding for his southern border wall), but never actually following through in a way that might offend the “regular Republicans” (or threaten Trump’s own personal wealth portfolio or the profits of big corporations, etc.). I also describe why the Paris Climate Change Agreement is not like NATO, NAFTA, KORUS, or the debt ceiling with regards to Trump’s coalition.

6) President Trump Will Likely Run Again

There are good reasons to think that President Trump will run for re-election, unless conditions change dramatically. (Of course the usual caveats apply. We could end up in a disastrous unpopular war with Iran. Or the economy could go south in a big way. Perhaps there will be another natural disaster that’s even worse than Harvey or Katrina, which President Trump’s administration will mishandle. And so forth.)

President Trump can either fire Special Counsel Mueller or restrict the scope of Mueller’s investigation (in which case Mueller would probably resign). Any law that Congress passes to interfere with such efforts on President Trump’s part can be vetoed. What are the chances that a veto will be sustained by one-third-plus-one votes in either the House or the Senate? Given the intensity of support that President Trump gets from his fan base, I’d be prepared to conjecture that Mr. Mueller’s investigation is not long for this world.

Even if you don’t agree with that, there is scant likelihood that President Trump will be removed from office by the Senate prior to 2020. Even if Democrats “ran the table” by holding all their current seats (I’m dubious about that), and managing to win in Nevada (possible) plus Arizona (a bit of a lift), they’d still need the support of at least 17 GOP senators to remove President Trump from office in 2019, unless they manage to defeat Republicans in some very red states. Currently they would need the support of even more Republican Senators, i.e. 19, to remove President Trump from office.

Of course there’s an outside chance that President Trump will not interfere with Mueller, and that Mueller’s report will be so damaging that GOP leaders in Congress convince President Trump to resign, perhaps in exchange for a face-saving phony medical excuse, the right to pardon anyone he chooses, a pardon for President Trump from Pence, a promise that Mueller’s report will be sealed until President Trump’s death, and maybe even a deal that state attorney generals won’t file charges against President Trump or his associates (e.g. NY’s Schneiderman, who is said to be working with Mueller on some aspects of the investigation).

And yes, perhaps President Trump will become medically incapacitated, or he’ll just get fed up with being the President and either resign or not run for re-election, or his administration will somehow implode completely, or the 25th Amendment will be used to remove him. These scenarios all strike me as possible, but not likely.

7) How President Trump Can Be Re-elected

(If you’re interested, you can go immediately to the end, and view my 2020 election simulations. That part is designed to stand alone, i.e. it can be read by itself.)

I can never emphasize enough that President Trump doesn’t need to win the popular vote in 2020 to win the Electoral College, for the simple reason that his votes are more strategically distributed. This fact was reflected in the 2016 general election simulations run by Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight. Basically there were very few ways that then-nominee Hillary Clinton could’ve won the electoral college without winning the popular vote, but then-nominee Donald Trump had many more ways to win the Presidency while losing a plurality of the popular vote. This is because Democratic Presidential nominees tend to “waste” votes in big blue states like California, Illinois and New York (combined, they have between a fifth and a quarter of the US population).

So it’s clear that if President Trump does win the popular vote in 2020, or comes close, an Electoral College victory is almost assured, barring the eventuality of an unusually effective third-party candidate on the right. (The last third-party candidate to win a state’s votes in the electoral college was George Wallace in 1968.) Yet it’s very hard to see how any third-party candidate could get to Trump’s political right, at least on domestic policy, or why many “regular Republicans” would risk a third-party vote when the result could be a Democrat in the White House.

To win the popular vote in 2020, President Trump needs to get about 5–6% more of his fan base to register and vote, and he needs to keep his popularity among “regular” Republicans, under some minimal assumptions. (In particular, I assume that the votes from “regular” Republicans and for the Democrat will both grow by up to 5%, and the total voting-eligible population will grow at the current rate of 0.7%/year, for a total of 2.8%. My 2020 election simulations are at the end.)

To keep “regular Republicans” on board, and ensure that he will never have a threatening right-wing nomination or third-party challenger in 2020, President Trump merely has to continue governing as far to the political right as possible, at least on most aspects of domestic policy. He doesn’t seem to have a problem here.

So the bottom line is that President Trump has to keep energizing his fan base. And that’s exactly what he’s doing. To make sure more of his fan base registers and votes, he has to continue his ethno-cultural-nationalist populism, i.e. “dominating by dividing.” Let’s review again what Republican #NeverTrumper Peter Wehner wrote:

The more offensive Mr. Trump is to the rest of America, the more popular he becomes with his core supporters. One policy example: At a recent rally in Phoenix, the president said he was willing to shut down the government over the question of funding for a border wall, which most of his base favors but only about a third of all Americans want. [emphasis added] 

(Note: Peter Wehner’s definition of “core supporters” is apparently identical to my concept of the “fan base.” He also cites the very same Monmouth poll.)

In fact, it’s possible that President Trump will add states to his 2016 haul, such as Maine (statewide), Minnesota, New Hampshire, and perhaps even Nevada and Virginia. Granted, his margins in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were razor-thin. But those states are full of rural red areas from which he can milk more votes in 2020. And remember that he had a margin of 36 electoral votes in 2016. He could win by repeating that performance except for losing both Pennsylvania (20 Electoral votes) and Michigan (16). If he also loses Wisconsin, he could replace it with Minnesota (both 10), which Hillary Clinton won by 1.5%. If so, he would eke out a narrow 270–268 Electoral College victory.

8) How President Trump Might Lose By “Doubling down” on the Loyalty of his Fan Base

However I’m not suggesting that President Trump is a shoo-in. Here are some plausible scenarios, which are by no means mutually exclusive. The first three are the ones you already know about, but the fourth relates to Trump’s coalition.

  • The Mueller report.
    If Mueller is allowed to finish his report (and I doubt that will occur) and it gets leaked, and it’s incredibly damaging, but Republicans in Congress cannot get President Trump to resign or force him out, then this might create the political and electoral equivalent of the closing scene in Cape Fear.
  • Low-propensity Democratic eligible voters participate in huge numbers.
    Perhaps Democrats will find another talented nominee along the lines of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. Or maybe by November 2020, five and a half years of Trump being Trump will have a cumulative effect.
  • “The Usual Suspects.”
    The economy could go south in a big way, we could get into a disastrous unpopular war with Iran, etc.
  • Participation increases to record-breaking levels, and President Trump somehow manages to alienate low-propensity “regular Republicans” because he goes too far in trying to please his fan base.
    In the last part, I run the numbers for three 2020 simulations. The third simulation involves an assumption of a 64% 2-party participation rate, which is even higher than the comparable rate for 2008 (62%), four points higher than 2016’s 58%, and at least three points higher than any election in recent times. Suppose that occurs, and President Trump is so focused on his fan base that he alienates low-propensity conservative “regular Republicans” who are not in his fan base. President Trump cannot extract more than a certain number of votes from his fan base. How could he offend low-propensity GOP voters who are not in his fan base? It seems doubtful that “shooting someone on Fifth Avenue” would be enough, and President Trump is unlikely to use a racial slur. Could he nuke an American city? (Extremely unlikely, but that’s what it might take.) But it’s still theoretically possible that if voter participation rises dramatically in 2020, President Trump’s “doubling down” approach might not work if he goes “too far” to please his “fan base.”

I think this final possibility is very unlikely for two reasons. First, beyond the absurd scenario in which President Trump drops the bomb on an American city, I cannot think of any reason why “regular Republicans” would not show up to vote for the policy issues they support, nor can I imagine President Trump failing to govern as far to the political right as possible on domestic policy (or roiling the markets by ripping up trade deals, or pulling US troops out of Europe, etc.). Second, I’m not optimistic about the likelihood that Americans as a whole will enjoy participating in elections any more than they do now, no matter what President Trump does to please his fan base.

Recently, we’ve seen a smattering of pieces like this one by The Atlantic’s David Graham, in which the authors argue that President Trump is losing popularity among self-identified Republicans, but not among what Graham calls Trump’s “fanatical base,” which is presumably synonymous with my notion of the fan base. Does this mean “regular Republicans” are starting to pull away, and might not vote for the President in 2020? Perhaps some who live in very red or blue states will cast a protest vote for the Libertarian or write in Ronald Reagan. But would those who live in swing states, even the lower-propensity ones, risk the possibility of a Democrat in the White House?

Too many of the people who don’t like President Trump simply don’t like voting for Democrats (or voting, period), whereas “regular Republicans” tend to be very consistent voters.

9) Can the 2020 Democratic Nominee Do Much Better than Hillary Clinton?

Granted, Hillary Clinton had historically high negatives for a major-party nominee (second only to those of President Trump himself). But it’s worth noting that many of the voters who said they were voting “against Clinton” as opposed to “for Trump” could have been “regular Republicans” who “held their noses.” Some of them might even have been fan base members who loathed Clinton even more than they loved Trump.

There is an obvious peril for Democrats in 2020. If they nominate a “leftist” candidate like Elizabeth Warren who adopts Bernie Sanders’ policy positions, they risk the possibility of driving up the rates at which both parts of President Trump’s coalition register and vote (i.e. the fan base and the “regular” Republicans).

On the other hand, if Democrats nominate a centrist candidate, they risk alienating the left wing of the party, which has already demonstrated its willingness to refuse to “fall in line” by voting for a centrist nominee. (Arguably we saw this in both 2000 and 2004 as well.)

These structural ideological problems make it unlikely that the 2020 Democratic nominee will do much better than Hillary Clinton, no matter how unpopular President Trump is with the vast majority of a country that doesn’t tend to register and vote very much. Granted, it’s possible that Democrats could nominate someone like Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown who might get support from both wings of the party (Brown faces a potentially tough fight for re-election next year in a state President Trump won by more than eight points). But there are very few such possible nominees. Even the two touted African American potential candidates (California Sen. Kamala Harris and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker) have already been attacked for being too close to Wall Street. (Booker has many such ties, and the rap on Harris is that she failed to crack down on Steve Mnuchin’s bank and others for illegal foreclosures when she was the California Attorney General.)

We can also think about this in more traditional political terms. Remember the “swift boating” of John Kerry in 2004, or the “Willie Hortoning” of Micheal Dukakis in 1988? In The Week, Damon Linker argues:

[To re-elect President Trump,] the Trump campaign (and the RNC, and Fox News, and Rush Limbaugh, and Breitbart, and the rest of the right-wing media complex) will work to convince Republican-leaning voters that however much they dislike (or have ambivalent feelings about) Donald Trump, they should hate and fear his opponent far more. “Come home, Republicans!” will be the message. “Yes, it’s been a messy four years, but at least Trump isn’t one of them!
[link and italics in original]

Linker is certainly prescient about the effectiveness of right-wing media. They are well-funded and reach out to a large share of the public. Hillary Clinton’s ardent supporters might (rightly) argue that the “Clinton Scandal machine” has been operating for decades. But as we learned in 1988 and 2004, a Democratic nominee can be easily defeated, even if they are new to the national stage.

All of that said, another Bill Clinton or Barack Obama may emerge as a dark horse and unite the party. It’s not impossible. But I’m not betting on it.

10) The Fan Base and “Regular Republicans” Can Supercharge Midterms for the GOP

Given how unpopular President Trump seems to be with most of the country, can we assume that Democrats will do well in the midterms? Some recent polling data suggests otherwise.

President Trump’s coalition between the fan base and “regular Republicans” could help him to disprove much of the conventional wisdom. Let’s start with the notion that his attacks on fellow Republicans are a bad idea. Phillip Bump wrote recently in The Washington Post that President Trump is imperiling GOP control of the House, by attacking Republicans in Congress, a strategy that could lead to his impeachment:

President Trump’s advisers contend that the strategy [of attacking Congressional Republicans] will inoculate him from blame if Republicans lose big-time next year. But what they don’t seem to take into account is that constantly blaming GOP leaders for their failures could depress conservative participation rates next year and ensure a Democratic takeover, at least in the House, which current election ratings place within closer reach of Democratic control than the Senate. 

His colleague Dan Balz questioned President Trump’s decision to attack Sen. Majority Leader McConnell:

President Trump would say that McConnell started all this with what was a rather bland statement that the president perhaps had excessive expectations about the process of enacting legislation. That set the president off with a series of tweets and comments about the Senate leader. What President Trump might regard as a little prodding from afar, however, others see as one more step outside the boundaries of what is considered presidential or politically wise. 

Let me side-step the obvious question about impeachment, i.e. if Democrats take the house next year, and President Trump is impeached but not removed from office on a virtually straight party-line vote prior to the 2020 election, would that reduce or increase the intensity of his support among his fan base? (I think it would help President Trump in general, and his 2020 re-election odds in particular. In fact, it might even be a political disaster for Democrats in 2020, if both “regular Republicans” and Trump’s fan base register and vote at incredibly high rates as a result of what they regard as an attempted “legislative coup”.)

But what if President Trump’s strategy is simply to “take some scalps” in primary contests — as Roger Stone has argued? (He’s targeting more folks than just Sen. Dean Heller and Sen. Jeff Flake. There are also moderate “Tuesday Group” House Republicans in President Trump’s cross-hairs. One of their leaders, Charlie Dent, recently denied that his decision to retire was influenced by the President. Steve Bannon is apparently teaming up with billionaire Robert Mercer on this effort.)

The conventional wisdom is that targeting Republicans in primaries is a waste of money needed for the general election:

“The issue is: Do you invest your time and energy in attacking people who are carrying this president’s water in Congress to the benefit of people who are trying to impeach him? That seems like an incredibly short-sighted strategy,” said Josh Holmes, a former McConnell chief of staff. 

But given that President Trump’s coalition between his fan base and “regular Republicans” is so stable and reliable, why would this be a problem in the general election? As we discovered in 2016’s Presidential nominating contests and in November, elections are won with votes, not money.

Imagine that after successfully demonstrating his dominance by defeating one or more sitting GOP House members or Senators in a primary, President Trump then “pivots” to the general election, and implores his fan base to turn out for every Republican on the general election ballot? Will, for example, white evangelicals heed the call from their President who was anointed by God, and who represents the “Hand” of God? I suspect the answer is “yes,” as it will be for the other members of his fan base.

But is it plausible to believe that the rest of President Trump’s fan base will register and vote at 2016 rates in 2018, just because he says that he needs more support in Congress? Here’s what FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten, penned about the Alabama Republican Senate runoff, that pits President Trump’s incumbent Twitter-endorsed candidate (Luther Strange) against Roy Moore. And which (as of this writing) Sen. Strange seems poised to lose:

The lesson of these different endorsements should be fairly clear: President Trump voters aren’t mindless drones. They’ll take cues from the President when he’s selling them on something it makes sense for them to back. Indeed, much of the reason President Trump won in 2016 was because he defended positions that were already popular among the base, even if they weren’t popular among the party elite. [emphasis added] 

There are some obvious differences here, of course. As Enten correctly points out, Roy Moore is in the President Trump mold, an “outsider” running against “The Establishment.” Also, Luther Strange is possibly damaged by his association with the former Governor who appointed him (Bentley had to resign as a result of a scandal). Plus, this is only a primary runoff. As Enten observes, “[Trump voters will] take cues from the President when he’s selling them on something it makes sense for them to back.” And that’s precisely my point.

President Trump’s appeal to his fan base in the 2018 general election will likely emphasize the reluctance of Congress to pass or fully fund his priorities, such as his proposed southern border wall or the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. And surely if Democrats win the House, they will be tempted to initiate impeachment proceedings against him, or at least hold searching hearings on “the Russia thing.” (Which is exactly what President Trump’s fan base does not want to occur. He doesn’t have to warn them about it, they’ll already know.)

Let’s also not give short shrift to President Trump’s signature issue of immigration. Some recent analysis by Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight suggests that it played a critical role in Trump’s Republican nomination victory. His bill, which would halve the rate of legal immigration, seems to be dead in the water due to the likelihood of a filibuster by Democrats. Plus there’s the sanctuary cities bill passed by the House. These aren’t issues that most Americans care much about, but they are definitely going to get the fan base excited. What about a revised immigration bill that uses different quotas for certain countries or which ends birthright citizenship? How about making Attorney General Sessions’ directives on charging and sentencing into statutes, or expanding the number of federal offenses that carry mandatory minimum sentences? What about using the threat of withdrawing federal funding as a tool to force states to comply with President Trump’s Election Integrity Commission, or implement the controversial Crosscheck program to remove voters from the rolls?

To keep the “regular Republicans” on board, President Trump could augment this appeal by going “full Heritage”. What about major changes to environmental laws? Repealing the capital gains tax (or other tax proposals)? Subsidizing fossil fuels — it’s a jobs program, right? It doesn’t matter how unpopular or downright ridiculous these ideas are, as long as midterm voter turnout and overall participation rates continue to be low among those who disagree with such notions.

It’s also worth mentioning that there are five 2018 Democratic Senate seats up for re-election in fairly red states (Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, and West Virginia), as well as five more in swing states won by President Trump (Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin). To those ten we might also add Minnesota, a state that Hillary Clinton won by just 1.5%. New Mexico is more of a long shot, but it does have a GOP governor. And if President Trump really manages to push his fan base to stratospheric levels of registering and voting, perhaps even Virginia might be in play. (I’m not going to put Maine on the list — Angus King is a Maine institution, having won two gubernatorial elections and a senate election as an independent. He does caucus with the Democrats in the Senate, and surely President Trump would love to see him replaced by a reliable Republican. But if King runs again, the President will probably not get his wish.)

Therefore, Republicans could net as many as 13 Senate seats, for a super-majority of 65 seats. That would be the most commanding Republican majority since the 61st Congress (1909–11), and the result would be all the more surprising given President Trump’s divisiveness and unpopularity.

In the House, there are 12 seats held by Democrats in districts won by President Trump. At least one of those members is planning to run for the Senate next year (Jacky Rosen in NV-03).

In other words, President Trump could lead the Republicans forward in a successful effort to increase their current majority of 46 House seats and gain a filibuster-proof majority of 60 or more seats in the Senate. (More than 60 votes could also give the GOP a moderate-proof majority. Given what’s happened with the Affordable Care Act recently, Trump will likely make this point.) If President Trump can get his fan base to register and vote at the same rate as they did in 2016, this scenario is not only plausible but likely — due to lower overall voter participation rates in midterms.

If President Trump is re-elected in 2020, the door remains open for him to repeat this strategy in 2022. As long as the 50–60% or so of the country that doesn’t like him remains lukewarm about registering and voting (or just doesn’t like Democrats very much), President Trump’s coalition — consisting of his fan base and the “regular Republicans” — can keep on winning House and Senate elections.

11) Demographics and Electoral Destiny

But you ask … what about millennials, i.e. voters born after 1980? It’s certainly true that millennials don’t seem to like President Trump much. Unfortunately for us Democrats, millennials also don’t seem to be terribly enthusiastic about registering and voting for Democrats either. The same goes for people of color, who seem to prefer Democrats, but aren’t that inclined to register and vote.

What about all those 2016 senior citizen voters who are going to either be too old to vote or just plain perish before 2020? And what about all those rural white voters who are dying prematurely?

There’s no question that these trends will help Democrats in 2018, and hurt President Trump in 2020. But they’ll have to be very pronounced indeed to overwhelm President Trump’s coalition built from his fan base and “regular (nose-holding) Republicans.”

Long-term, there may be hope for Democrats. It’s not unlikely that millennials will start registering and voting more as they age, although pessimists will note that the oldest non-voting millennials will be 40 in 2020, at which point the habit of scrupulously avoiding polling places may be well-ingrained.

We boomers are going to die off eventually. and most of the “greatest generation” (born before 1946) will pass away before we do. (As John Maynard Keynes said: “In the long run, we are all dead.”)

Perhaps Democrats, in tandem with President Trump’s need to support his coalition, will serve to convince millennials and voters of color that registering and voting for Democrats is a good idea. Furthermore it’s not at all clear that anyone else in the GOP will be able to run on the four “legs” of the “Trump chair” in 2024 and beyond. I conjecture that President Trump’s fan base will not be satisfied with “dog whistles,” instead they will likely require a full-fledged “bull horn.” It’s hard to imagine any of the currently prominent Republicans of national stature replicating President Trump’s strategy. And even a Republican who echoed President Trump’s approach might need to ramp up the intensity. (Will the GOP “elephant” have to be replaced by a Confederate Flag, perhaps with a Crucifix in the center?)

But in the near term, many purple states are getting redder, with the possible exception of Nevada and New Hampshire. (By winning both, Hillary Clinton netted the princely sum of 10 electoral votes.) And with the exception of a few southern and southwestern states, most red states aren’t getting much bluer. (Arizona could be an exception, but Texas and Georgia are going to take quite a while indeed.)

Gerrymandering will likely continue unabated, even if the Wisconsin case yields a victory for the plaintiffs. (A Supreme Court with another Trump-appointed Justice would likely reverse any such decision.) So will voter suppression. Both could become even more helpful for Republicans if President Trump gets another Supreme court appointee, and one of Baker v. Carr or Reynolds v. Sims is overruled. (Without Baker, gerrymandering cases cannot be heard by the federal courts. And without Reynolds, states do not have to re-district their legislative seats periodically, in accordance with the one person/one vote principle. Even though Reynolds appears to affect only state legislatures, state legislatures can ultimately affect the federal constitution. (I’ll discuss Baker and Reynolds in much more detail below.)

Still, there may be one arena in which the country decides that it doesn’t wish to be governed by the wishes of a smaller and smaller share of the population, and that’s at the Presidential level.

If trends continue, we might see Mike Pence re-elected as President in 2028 with under 40% of the vote, while the Democratic loser wins 55% or more. If that keeps on happening, perhaps eventually America will get fed up and the National Popular Vote Compact will become law. Yet anyone who is waiting for that had better be very good at holding their breath, because Republicans are going to fight it tooth-and-nail nationwide, just as they fought nonpartisan redistricting in Arizona. It’s also possible that a Supreme Court with many very conservative Justices might rule that the National Popular Vote Compact is unconstitutional.

12) A Madman with a Method: What Roy Cohn and Heather Heyer Reveal About President Trump

Marie Brenner writes in Vanity Fair:

For author Sam Roberts, the essence of Cohn’s influence on President Trump was the triad: “Roy was a master of situational immorality … He worked with a three-dimensional strategy, which was: 1. Never settle, never surrender. 2. Counter-attack, counter-sue immediately. 3. No matter what happens, no matter how deeply into the muck you get, claim victory and never admit defeat.” As columnist Liz Smith once observed, “Donald lost his moral compass when he made an alliance with Roy Cohn.” 

Heather Heyer, the counter-protestor who was murdered in Charlottesville by a Nazi-inspired lunatic, wrote this on her Facebook page: “If you’re not outraged, then you’re not paying attention.”

This “outrage” is exactly what President Trump wants the “elites” in the GOP, in the business community, in the (responsible) media and everyone else in the country besides his supporters to feel. (In fact, if a few “regular Republicans” feel that way, it’s okay. They’ll keep on holding their noses for conservative governance.)

The more President Trump’s attacked, the more tightly his fan base clings to him. By “not being a politician” and “saying what regular [old white, ignorant, lying bigoted] guys say” and just being Trump, not only is he perhaps enjoying himself and dominating news cycles, but he’s increasing the zeal of his fan base. That’s precisely what he needs to do, in order to get them to register and vote in 2018, 2020 and (if he’s re-elected) 2022.

This is why I think the critics of Trump’s strategy cited in this piece by reporter John Wagner and the quoted analysis from strategist John Weaver in The Washington Post are simply wrong:

[…] many in the GOP are openly questioning Trump’s words and actions on issues that are divisive, even among Republicans. Trump’s assertion that many “fine people” marched alongside white supremacists in Charlottesville drew condemnation across party lines.

And some in the GOP say other recent choices appear designed to bolster the president’s standing only among his most loyal supporters […]

“It’s almost as if he’s the pilot of a plane that’s in a terrible downward spiral and he’s insisting on continuing to do things to make it worse,” said John Weaver, who was chief strategist for the 2016 presidential campaign of Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio). “You can’t govern like that, and you can’t win reelection like that, and you can’t take your party into the 2018 midterms like that.” 

Certainly President Trump could “tack to the center” and try to get more moderate voters to support him. But would they actually register and vote for him over the 2020 Democratic nominee? Would they turn out to vote for Republicans in Congress during midterms? And would that help him get more “regular Republicans” to support him? (My answer: probably NOT.)

President Trump will continue to govern as far to the political right as possible on domestic policy. “Regular Republicans” will support this in 2018 and 2020 and beyond, no matter how offensive President Trump may be to the 50–60% of the nation that doesn’t support him. And to his fan base, President Trump will communicate the message that future elections are all “Flight 93” elections, and that supporting America, American ethno-cultural-nationalist “values,” “Real Americans” (and of course Jesus himself, or Israel in the case of conservative Jews) requires his fan base to turn out in ever-more stratospheric proportions.

But it’s not just his fan base that matters. What’s critical is President Trump’s coalition. Here’s what Peter Robinson, a Hoover Institution Fellow and former President Reagan speechwriter said about Trump recently in Real Clear Politics:

Yes, I know. Donald Trump is impulsive, vain, profane, shallow, loudmouthed, inconsistent, and overbearing. But when you look at him through a pinhole, so to speak, you can see that in his way he loves the country; that his instincts run to smaller government, lower taxes, and respect for the Constitution; and that he has surrounded himself with many serious and accomplished people. Who knows? A lot of good may yet come of this strange moment. [Emphasis added] 

For Robinson, Trump might be an “imperfect vessel” for the GOP agenda that Robinson favors, but Robinson expects President Trump to continue delivering conservative judicial appointments, sign legislation providing tax cuts for “job creators”, and increased defense budgets, plus deregulation, and of course gun rights and pro-life policies. Apparently, that this former Reagan speech writer is enjoying one of the best meals of his life, although he frets just a tad about the chef’s character and perhaps even his manners. (But no matter, Robinson finds the cuisine to be quite superb.)

Not all former speech writers for Republican Presidents are quite as pleased, because President Trump’s coalition needs the fan base to function in an electorally-effective manner. As Michael Gerson, the former G.W. Bush chief speech writer wrote recently in The Washington Post about President Trump’s decision to pardon former Maricopa County Sheriff Arpaio:

Arpaio made a career of dehumanizing prisoners in his charge. His pardon sends the signal that some people are less than human. In one sense, this is perfectly consistent. Trump has employed dehumanization as a political tool from the start — of refugees, of migrants, of Muslims. By his pardon of Arpaio, he has metaphorically pardoned his own cruel and divisive approach to politics. It is a further step in Trump’s normalization and entrenchment of bigotry in our public life. [emphasis added] 

Whether you agree with Gerson or not, the fact remains that President Trump’s strategy worked for him in 2016, and could easily work well again in 2018, 2020, and 2022. This is what I believe many pundits miss when they end up gobsmacked by his outrageous statements and behavior, and wring their hands about the divisive nature of his politics. President Trump’s governing and winning strategy might not be good for the country, and perhaps he truly is (as so many have speculated) mad.

But if so, he’s a madman with a method, i.e. he’s crazy like a fox. 2020 election simulations suggest that his strategy can continue to work electorally as long as enough of the 50–60% of Americans who don’t like him happen to either like Democrats even less, or not care very much for polling places. And the unconditional support he receives from 23–27% of the Voting-Eligible Population plus his proven ability to use executive branch actions to deliver on the Republican agenda gives him an opportunity to lead Republicans to victory in midterms.

This is what President Trump understands, and what those who question the electoral effectiveness of his strategy ignore. His coalition’s electoral achievements may continue to baffle those who fail to comprehend the method behind his alleged madness, as he continues to dominate by dividing.

Later, I will argue that with another very conservative Trump Supreme Court appointee, this coalition of white, conservative and mostly rural and evangelical voters can rule America for decades after President Trump leaves office, even while they become a smaller and smaller minority of the population. If so, President Trump will become the most consequential Republican President since Lincoln, and his coalition could prove to be as durable, persistent and influential as that of Franklin Roosevelt’s, in spite of the fact that it will be composed of a shrinking minority of American adult citizens whose views are regarded as extreme if not abhorrent by the vast majority of the country.

13) Related Issues

For completeness I’ve included three extra parts.

First, I look at the curious way that President Trump is handling international trade and security arrangements. He resolves the apparent conflict between orthodox GOP approaches and the “nationalist” part of his ethno-cultural-nationalist populism by pretending to push back on what Steve Bannon might refer to as “globalism,” yet President Trump rarely seems to deliver on these threats. (The Paris climate agreement is the only exception, and President Trump’s decision is also easy to explain by looking at his coalition.) His use of what I will call “theatrical feints” is rooted in the very nature of President Trump’s coalition between his fan base and the “regular Republicans” (and in the case of trade deals, or the debt ceiling, his basic selfish desire not to harm his investment portfolio, the economic fortunes of wealthy GOP donors, and certain key industries such as agriculture).

After that, I look at potential future trends in Republican ideology which President Trump’s fan base as well as many “regular Republicans” may welcome, including Dominionism and a discussion about the (economic) theory of Exernalities, and its present status in the GOP. (Namely: all regulations and forms of wealth redistribution such as publicly funded K-12 education are by hypothesis bad.) I also examine the expanding role of the Christian church in governance.

Then I look at the potential electoral impact of what may be the most conservative Supreme Court in a century (assuming President Trump gets another appointment). This is how President Trump’s Coalition may be able to Dominate by Dividing at the state and national levels with a decreasing minority of the voting-eligible population for decades after he leaves office.

In the last part, I “show my work” for readers who want to see the underlying computations, and run three 2020 election simulations.

14) Policy by Theatrical Feint — The Trump “Three-Step” on International Trade and Security Arrangements, and even the Debt Ceiling

When it comes to NATO, NAFTA and now KORUS (the US-S. Korea trade deal), it seems that President Trump uses a three-step process to reconcile the “nationalist” aspect of his ethno-cultural-nationalist populism and the traditional views of “regular Republicans” (who generally favor trade and security deals). Recently, he’s extended this strategy to increasing the debt ceiling.

Step 1 — Create a Ruckus by Threatening to Pull Out
President Trump did this with NATO when he initially failed to make the customary declaration that the US stands behind its mutual defense guarantee (Article V) for NATO nations. He also has threatened to pull out of NAFTA on multiple occasions. And then there was his threat to shut down the government by vetoing an increase to the debt ceiling if Congress didn’t adequately fund his border wall. More recently, POLITICO and other outlets broke the story that President Trump is considering pulling out of KORUS.

Does it Help Him To Create a Ruckus?
You can come up with your own reasons here, but the most obvious one is that President Trump can score points with his fan base by claiming how “unfair” the arrangement is. He’s done it with NAFTA, NATO and now KORUS. The central message is clear:

Because of the incompetence of other Presidents (especially the hated Obama), these foreigners and the domestic elites have been giving us a raw deal and laughing about playing us for suckers — but now President Trump is here to STAND UP for America and save the day, and he is not going to tolerate the worst deal in the history of deals anymore! 

When the “chattering classes” rush to condemn him for being unwise, impulsive, or short-sighted, this gives members of his fan base a chance to revel in their righteous indignation about the “elites” and the “media” whom they view as unfairly ganging up on their hero, just because he’s looking out for “forgotten Americans.” Then of course there’s President Trump’s incessant pursuit of news cycles and the fact that creating a ruckus burnishes his image as an “outsider who’s shaking up Washington.”

Defenders of President Trump will argue that he can get better “deals” this way, by effectively following Nixon’s “madman theory,” although this rationale is by no means universally accepted among foreign policy professionals, and his behavior seems to be having an impact already on the stances of other nations. (But neither of those things will matter much to his electoral strategy, unless they backfire in a dramatic way that causes low-propensity “regular Republicans” not to vote for Trump or other Republicans. It’s hard to imagine such scenarios as long as President Trump governs as far to the political right as feasible on domestic policy, and there is no sign that he won’t continue to do just that.)

Finally, given what we know of President Trump, he does seem to get enjoyment from torturing even his most loyal supporters and closest associates. Why wouldn’t he want the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to send out an urgent notice to its members to “respond with all hands on deck?” One is reminded of a little boy poking an ant hill with a stick. The kid doesn’t really want to destroy the ant hill, he just wants to see the ants frantically scurry around in response to his prodding. And many of his fan base members enjoy the schadenfreude of watching him give heartburn to both the “elites” and the foreigners who have supposedly been laughing at us and playing us for suckers. That is, after all, a big reason why they voted for him.

Step 2 — Pull Back From The Brink
Although the threat to withdraw from KORUS is still too recent for him to rescind as of this writing, we did see President Trump retreat from his threat to withdraw from NAFTA. In Poland, he reaffirmed his support for NATO’s Article V. And President Trump cut a deal with Democrats on the debt ceiling (as far as I can tell, he didn’t mention the funding for his southern border wall).

Step 3 — Declare Victory
For example, President Trump is now making minor changes to NAFTA, which he will undoubtedly herald as the “greatest trade victory ever.” And he’s taking credit for NATO countries’ defense increases, which were planned long before he stunned onlookers by initially refusing to affirm US support of Article V. And yes, it seems that the debt ceiling “deal will be very good.”

Step 4 (optional) — ‘Rinse and Repeat’
Even as President Trump is renegotiating NAFTA, he is yet again threatening to pull out. After all, if creating a ruckus is such a good idea, why not just keep doing it? Well, the obvious answer is that the other nations involved might see through Trump’s theatrical feints and not view them as a credible threat. But to the extent that Trump is mainly trying to satisfy his fan base, that’s of little importance, as long as he gets or claims to get some minor concession. This winter, there’s more Trumpian Celebrity Apprentice-like entertainment coming for the fan base on the debt ceiling. (Don’t miss the new season, in which Donald Trump makes the business “elites” and Republicans in Congress squirm and grit their teeth while they “wet themselves”!) As long as the government doesn’t actually get shut down, “regular Republicans” will be happy enough.

Why Trump Rarely Follows Through
Free trade and international security arrangements are still favored at least by the “elites” in the GOP, if not by many rank-and-file “regular Republicans.” Imagine if President Trump got fed up with NATO, pulled US troops out of the Baltic States, and then Putin annexed territory based on some manufactured excuse such as a border dispute or the status of Russian speakers. Tearing up NAFTA or KORUS would roil the markets and likely hurt Trump’s own investment portfolio, not to mention those of his rich friends. And of course the business community (on whose support he and the GOP financially depend) would be up in arms. Nor would they be happy if President Trump fulfilled his initial threat on the debt ceiling, and the nation’s credit rating was downgraded again.

Does the Fan Base Care Whether He Follows Through?
I’m not even going to try to transcribe this brilliant Micheal Moore video. (Warning: it contains the f-word.) If you don’t want to watch it, the bottom line is that the fan base doesn’t care whether President Trump follows through on his threats. They just want to see him “poke the ant hill” on their behalf. (By the way, this video was posted before the election. Although Moore is hardly clairvoyant.)

Why the Paris Climate Change Agreement Was Different
The most obvious reason why Trump pulled out of the Paris Climate Change Agreement was that his fan base hated it, and loved the idea that President Trump was trolling the world (and liberals). But “regular Republicans” didn’t care for it much, either — which is why President Obama never even tried to get it through Congress. Sure, there were a number of business leaders who liked it, but given the nascent stage of its implementation, Trump’s decision had very little financial impact.

DACA
While President Trump’s about-face on DACA, the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals program surprised many, it fits very nicely into my Policy by Theatrical Feint framework. In fact, the business community was solidly behind it, for reasons that must be obvious. (What employer wants to lose a valuable and dedicated employee who may have cost thousands of dollars to train?) In the wake of Trump’s Sept. 14th deal with “Chuck and Nancy,” his level of support didn’t discernibly move on Rasmussen. (I will provide a more detailed analysis of this in the next couple of days, by Sept. 28th or so. I have my links ready, but I don’t have the time to finish it right now. But since you’ve read this far, you probably follow politics and current events closely, so you can fill in the blanks easily enough.)

Could Iran Be Different?
President Trump has repeatedly indicated that he wants to “de-certify” Iran’s JCPOA compliance, i.e. to announce that Iran is violation of the nuclear accord. This raises some interesting questions. Certainly labeling Iran as a “cheater” will please his fan base, and send the “ants” frantically scurrying: “… it would likely enrage Iran and rattle U.S. allies in Europe and beyond who fear that Trump wants to unravel the agreement without actually declaring that the U.S. will no longer honor it.” However, in addition to the obvious risk of stumbling into an escalating confrontation with the mullahs (who have shown little patience for President Trump), there are serious economic implications for US firms, and Wall Street will probably not like it much. Furthermore, Iran is unlikely to play President Trump’s game by offering concessions. As of now, it looks as if he will de-certify, but avoid following through on ending the agreement, by leaving it up to Congress: “Haley said that, should Trump not certify Iranian compliance, he may choose to leave the decision on whether to quit the deal to Congress.” This is a great way for him to show off for his fan base, but keep the business community on board. So he has already taken the first two steps in my scenario, and he may find a way to “declare victory” as well. (Given that the truth is rarely a stumbling block, that shouldn’t prove difficult.)

As the situation with the JCPOA (the Iran deal), the debt ceiling, and KORUS unfolds, we’ll see whether my theory of Trump’s use of “policy by theatrical feint” is accurate. But if I’m correct, his actions are in fact carefully calibrated to keep the coalition between his fan base and “regular Republicans” intact.

15) How “Neo-Republicanism” Can Bring Us Closer to the Gilded Age

There are three ways in which Trump’s coalition can bring America closer to the Gilded Age.

  • First, President Trump has already signaled that the Theory of Externalities is no longer a valid basis for evaluating the proper role of government. Given Trump’s heavy reliance on white evangelicals, we may be moving towards the notion of Dominionism, as white evangelicals cement their power base in President Trump’s executive branch.
  • A related issue is the extent to which the Christian church has a role to play in government.
  • Finally, I touch upon the electoral impact of having the most conservative Supreme Court in a century, which is where we’re headed if President Trump gets one more Supreme Court appointee (as seems likely). I’ll focus on two critical decisions — Baker v. Carr, and Reynolds v. Sims, which just might be two of the most important cases that could be reversed, and thereby determine which voters control states and ultimately have national implications. This is how President Trump’s Coalition may be able to Dominate by Dividing at the state and national levels with a decreasing minority of the voting-eligible population for decades after he leaves office.

a) Externalities versus Dominionism

Republicans used to believe in what’s known as the Theory of Externalities. In a nutshell, the idea was that government had a role to play outside of security (policing and national defense).

Positive Externalities (AKA “external benefits”) are instances in which all the benefits of an economic actor’s behavior are not entirely accrued by the actor, but are instead realized by society as a whole. Therefore the actor is insufficiently incentivized. For example, parents who educate their children do not get all of the benefit. Much of the benefit is reaped by society, because people who can’t read or write are probably not going to be very good citizens or employees. Hence the Theory of Externalities suggests that society has a role to play, and that it’s acceptable for government to tax childless people in order to pay for (at least K-12) education. In fact, this is a form of wealth redistribution and the notion that one person should pay for something that benefits another is becoming increasingly unpopular in the GOP. (Or, as a member of Trump’s fan base likes to write in comments section of The Washington Post: “NO MORE FREE STUFF!!”)

There is also a theory of Negative Externalities (AKA “external costs”). The classic example is pollution laws. The costs of pollution are not borne by the actors, but rather by society as a whole (e.g. a factory that dumps effluents in a river or a coal power plant that pollutes the air). Therefore the actor is insufficiently disincentivized from engaging in behavior that has costs for society. Hence the Theory of Externalities tells us that government has a role to play, because addressing the situation through the legal system (tort liability) is too inefficient. For example, government efforts to redress the “hoax” of Climate change might fall into this category.

The Administrative Procedure Act has incorporated the Theory of Externalities by requiring that regulations be justified on a cost/benefit basis. If an affected business believes that the justification is not credible, it has the right to sue.

When Republicans in Congress and President Trump used the Congressional Review Act, President Trump said: “On regulation in particular, I will formulate a rule which says that for every one new regulation, two old regulations must be eliminated.”

In other words, regulations are an absolute ‘bad.’ President Trump does not suggest or imply that some regulations may provide a net benefit to society. In fact the Executive Order caps the incremental costs of regulations that are unrelated to defense and national security. So much for the the Theory of Externalities.

To replace the Theory of Externalities, Republicans are now moving towards Dominionism, i.e. the notion that all government regulations with the exception of regulations based on security (policing and national defense) are the proper provenance of the Church or the private sector, based on the word of God, as expressed in the Bible. This represents a much broader rejection of the notion of government than your “crazy Uncle’s GOP:”

[David Barton, the Republican Party activist and self-styled who influences the rhetoric of conservative pundits and politicians] … is one of the figures examined by religious studies professor Julie Ingersoll in Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction, forthcoming from Oxford University Press in August. Christian Reconstructionism is hardly a household word. However, its ideology has infused not only the Christian Right but also the Tea Party and the conservative movement in general. Those familiar with Reconstructionism may associate it most often with the idea that government should enforce Old Testament law and its harsh punishments. But, Ingersoll argues, what’s gone largely unnoticed is “The degree to which Christian Reconstructionists understand a biblical worldview to be rooted in economics.” For Reconstructionists, she writes, the very idea of God’s sovereignty is expressed in terms of property rights.

Christian Reconstructionism is grounded in the writing of R.J. Rushdoony, whose magnum opus, The Institutes of Biblical Law, was published in 1973. Rushdoony, who died in 2001, was also active in the home schooling movement and founded the Chalcedon Foundation, a Reconstructionist think tank. His ideas continue to be promoted by acolytes, including his son-in-law, author Gary North, and Gary DeMar, president of American Vision.

In their book Christian Reconstruction: What It Is, What it Isn’t, North and DeMar write, “Reconstructionists believe in a ‘minimal state.’ The purpose of getting involved in politics, as Reconstructionists see it, is to reduce the power of the State.”
[footnotes omitted, italics added only for publications]

I urge you to read this article in its entirety, but here are the two “take-aways”

  • Scripture (AKA “God’s law”) Requires That We Reject Any Form of Wealth Redistribution
    I.e. to serve God, all good Christians must reject the role of government including progressive taxation, publicly-funded education, publicly-funded health care, etc. These domains are the proper (and divinely-ordained) role of the Christian Church.
  • Scripture (AKA “God’s law”) Requires That We Reject Any Form of Government Interference with “Property Rights.”
    I.e. to serve God, all good Christians must reject the role of government in all aspects of regulation that protects workers, consumers, investors, the environment and the banking system, because such government action interferes with God-given “property rights.”

b) The Role of Conservative Christian Religious Values in Government

The second aspect of neo-Republicanism that has become formalized under Trump is the role of the Church in the state. Or more precisely, the notion that “majoritarian” (Christian) morality can and should be reflected by government policy as a whole, not merely in the criminal law.

This movement is a function not only of the unprecedented access that white evangelicals have to President Trump but also the “fourth leg” of the “Trump Chair,” what I have called ethno-cultural-nationalist populism. In other words, the Christian church should play a greater role in the state (including regulation) in order to reflect the “traditional (majoritarian) values” of American white evangelicals.

Such notions are certainly not new. Consider what Barry Goldwater wrote in the introduction to The Conscience of a Conservative:

The laws of God, and of nature, have no dateline. The principles on which the Conservative political position is based … are derived from the nature of man, and from the truths that God has revealed about His creation. Circumstances do change. So do the problems that are shaped by circumstances. But the principles that govern the solution of the problems do not. To suggest that the Conservative philosophy is out of date is akin to saying that the Golden Rule, or the Ten Commandments or Aristotle’s Politics are out of date. 

For example, consider the notion that religious beliefs can override the law in the conduct of private businesses that are open to the public. (Recently, the Trump administration has embraced that view.) In fact, religious-based opposition to to civil rights laws is very much alive today, and has a long history that may ultimately be traceable to religious justifications for slavery.

Or take the idea of explicitly Judeo-Christian iconography in the public square. As of this writing, it seems that we may soon have a senator from Alabama who was willing to lose his judicial post over it. We can also view the GOP’s support of the school voucher movement as a way to bring back prayer in schools, and more broadly to have state funding of religious instruction.

The intertwining of the Christian church and the government could be a reflection of the view among Trump’s fan base (or at least white evangelicals, who appear to constitute much of it) that he was anointed by God, and that his election was the result of “The Hand of God.”

c) Governing With A Minority for Decades: Overturning Baker, Reynolds and beyond — Dominating by Dividing at the State and even National Levels

The most effective way for President Trump’s coalition to govern with a minority at the state (and perhaps national) level for decades after he leaves office is to get the federal courts out of the elections business.

Given that President Trump is likely to get another Supreme Court Justice, this is hardly out of the question. And given that his fan base probably is disproportionately rural, they may welcome the restoration of “local control” over elections, which may ultimately have ramifications for the Federal Constitution. “Regular Republicans” may also support this change, insofar as their desired policy initiatives will be advanced.

Prior to Baker v. Carr (1962), federal constitutional law held that redistricting was a “political question” and therefore not justiciable. (In lay terms, that means that the federal courts could not decide such cases.)

Prior to Reynolds v. Sims (1964), federal courts had no power to compel state and local jurisdictions to equalize the population size of state and local legislative districts. In the majority opinion, then-Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote: “Legislators represent people, not trees or acres. Legislators are elected by voters, not farms or cities or economic interests.”

While it’s generally bad form to quote from Wikipedia, I’m going to make an exception for this excellent (and carefully-sourced) segment:

Since the industrialization of America […] and urbanization of the United States from the Gilded Age onwards, [sic] state and national legislatures had become increasingly reluctant to redistrict. This reluctance developed because there existed general upper-class fear that if redistricting to meet population changes were carried out, voters in large, expanding or expanded urban areas would vote for confiscatory wealth redistribution that would severely inhibit the power of business interests who controlled state and city governments early in the century. Of the forty-eight states then in the Union, only seven twice redistricted even one chamber of their legislature following both the 1930 and the 1940 Censuses. [footnotes omitted] 

Now imagine if a Supreme Court with two or more Justices appointed by President Trump were to overrule both of those cases, and use either the Tenth Amendment or the political question doctrine to completely prevent the federal courts from deciding cases involving voter suppression. And while state courts may provide relief, governors and state legislatures often have a great deal of power over them. (In states where the supreme courts are elected, voter suppression techniques or holding elections in years where there is little voter participation could also work well for Republicans.) Even if these courts are granted a measure of independence by a state constitution, it can often be altered by a referendum and/or elected officials.

This scenario is hardly beyond the realm of possibility, and it opens up the door to a nation governed increasingly by a minority of rural and mostly white and very religious and conservative voters at the state and local level. It’s worth noting that cities are creations of state legislatures, which can overrule municipal laws. Examples include North Carolina’s now-infamous “bathroom bill”, or the St. Louis (MO) $10/hr. minimum wage ordinance.

Drawing state legislative districts that have significantly unequal populations in ways that provide much greater voting power to rural voters is not a new notion. For example, the 1901 Alabama Constitution mandated one state senator per county. And only a court could prevent a state from instituting a poll tax designed to discourage certain groups of people from voting — perhaps it could vary by county. After the Supreme Court decided Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections (1966) poll taxes disappeared, but Justice Black’s dissent argued that the “original meaning” of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause was being ignored by the majority. That’s the sort of argument that might be welcomed by the majority of a Supreme Court with two President Trump appointees. (Of course the political question doctrine was no longer applicable in Harper as a result of Baker.)

Brazen tactics of this nature would likely infuriate urban voters, but with a sufficiently high poll tax on urban counties, even a state referendum might not help. (Referendums and initiatives are only permitted in 26 states.)

Obviously poll taxes are just one of myriad tools that can be used for voter suppression. Your imagination can take you anywhere: unreasonably low staffing levels in certain precincts (or grouping precincts at understaffed voting centers that require voters to wait an inordinately long time). Then there’s the controversial Crosscheck system which Indiana is now using to quietly remove voters from the rolls (i.e. without any form of notice). Voters can also be removed from the rolls if they miss “too many” elections. And of course there are draconian voter ID requirements.

The bottom line is that without court interference, a state can manipulate the electoral system to ensure that certain classes of voters are effectively treated differently, while crafting “facially neutral” rules. It’s also critical to note that there is no Federal “right” that requires states to permit their own citizens to litigate voting issues in their courts. States are separate sovereignties, and possess sovereign immunity. Just because the federal constitution guarantees the right to vote doesn’t mean that state courts (or even federal courts) are constitutionally required to entertain claims based on that right.

Legislation of this variety could drastically change America, by allowing a shrinking minority of very religious and conservative white voters to control the Presidency, the Congress, a super-majority of state legislatures and gubernatorial mansions, plus the federal courts. Control of Congress and the Presidency would open the door to using the Commerce and Supremacy Clauses to impose conservative governance on the bluest of states. Everything from labor and environmental laws to GLBTQ and reproductive rights would now be on the table.

Finally, given that state legislatures are ultimately in charge of approving amendments to the Federal Constitution, this transfer of power to a shrinking minority of voters who embrace unpopular and extremely conservative ideas could have other national implications. This is how President Trump’s coalition can dominate by dividing for decades after he leaves office, even as it continues to represent a smaller and smaller share of the voting-eligible population.

If so, President Trump will become the most consequential Republican President since Lincoln, and his coalition could prove to be as durable, persistent and influential as that of Franklin Roosevelt’s, in spite of the fact that it will be composed of a shrinking minority of American adult citizens whose views are regarded as extreme if not abhorrent by the vast majority of the country.

16) 2020 Election Simulations — Diving into the Data

Your math teacher told you to “show your work.” I used to teach math, so I’ll show you mine. This part is intended to stand alone, so I will be repeating many of the points I made above.

a) How Many People Can Register and Vote (V.E.P.)?

We need to consider the percentage of children, non-citizens, and disenfranchised felons.

  • 75.6% of the total population are adults. (I divided the 74M estimated children by the interpolated number of 303M 2008 total population from US Census data).
  • 93% of the adult population are citizens.
  • 97.5% of the adult population are not disenfranchised as a result of being felons. (I make the working assumption that this is the same for citizens and non-citizens.)
  • Therefore: 0.756 x 0.93 x 0.975 = 0.6855, which is the multiplier that I apply to the total population to compute the voting-eligible population or V.E.P. (the number of people who could register and vote).

If you’d rather learn more about the data, you can take a more detailed look at the United States Election Project, whose numbers differ slightly from mine.

b) What Percentage of Trump Voters/Supporters are in the fan base?

There are several different polling results that can help.

  • In a recent Monmouth University poll, self-identified President Trump supporters were asked an open-ended question. Could they think of anything that would cause them to stop supporting him? 61% said that they could not. This is going to be my “low” number for the percentage of President Trump voters and supporters who support him unconditionally.
  • A recent YouGov poll showed that only 34% of Republicans thought that President Trump should be impeached “if he collaborated with Russian agents himself.” I think it’s fair to say that the remaining 66% are members of President Trump’s “fan base” (i.e. those voters who support President Trump unconditionally).
  • Finally, recent daily polling numbers from Rasmussen, show President Trump with a “strong approval” rating that holds fairly steady at roughly two-thirds of his supporters, generally between 25–27% of the respondents overall.
  • So this accounts for my range of 61–66% of the percentage of President Trump supporters/voters in his fan base, i.e. those who support him unconditionally. The remaining voters/supporters are the “regular Republicans” who support President Trump based on their embrace of conservative domestic policies, and his disinclination to back out of most trade and security agreements.
  • As a benchmark, I use the midpoint of 63.5% for the percentage of Trump supporters and voters who are in the fan base.
  • I refer to Trump supporters and voters who support him conditionally as “regular Republicans”. These folks will support President Trump as long as he governs like a Republican, and he has generally been as far to the political right as possible on domestic policy. Nor has done anything extreme on foreign policy such as pull out of NATO, or roil the markets by ripping up trade deals. What “regular Republicans” believe in is the “3-legged Reagan stool”. First, policies that favor businesses and the wealthy (or if you like: “lower taxes, less regulation, and smaller government”), next, hawkish defense policies (or if you like: “a strong national defense”), and finally social issues like being pro-life and pro-gun.

c) What Percentage of the Voting-Eligible Population (V.E.P.) are in the fan base?

Again, we look to some polls.

  • I will take my maximum of 27% from Rasmussen’s tally of the voters who “strongly approve” of President Trump.
  • I’ll use Nate Silver’s number of 23% as my lower bound for estimate of the percentage of potential voters (V.E.P.) who are in the fan base (unconditional supporters). He multiplied Monmouth’s 61% by FiveThirtyEight’s estimated approval rating for President Trump. Since it uses polls that reference adults it may be a tad low.
  • My benchmark midpoint is thus 25%, i.e. halfway between 23% and 27%.

d) How Much of the Fan Base Registered and Voted in 2016?

As a quick reminder:

  • V.E.P. refers to the “voting-eligible population,” i.e. people who can register and vote.
  • The fan base consists of those who support President Trump unconditionally.
  • The table heading for “Reglr GOP Voters” refers to the “Romney-like Republicans” who support typical conservative Republican domestic policies and most international trade and security arrangements.
  • The table heading for “Fan Base Partic. Rate” reflects the percentage of the fan base members who actually voted for President Trump, among those who were eligible to register and vote. It does not refer to the percentage of those who voted among those who were registered, and should ABSOLUTELY NOT be confused with voter turnout.
  • For comparison, I previously computed that between 58% and 62% of the total V.E.P. voted in 2016 (the lower figure refers to the two-party vote). I also estimated that at least 67% of the total population of adult white Evangelicals (who form the heart of the fan base) voted for President Trump.

If we minimize the proportion of President Trump’s fan base among those who could register and vote (the “voting-eligible population”), and also maximize it among President Trump’s voters, we get the highest rates of registering and voting (first row in the table). We get the lowest rates of registering and voting if we do the opposite (last row in the table). My midpoints are in the middle row.

Whether you believe that the true percentage of fan base members who register and vote is 64.2%, 72.2% or 81.6%, the fact remains that this is higher than the general population’s rate of 58–62% (the former figure reflects the two-party vote).

It also means that Trump has room to grow among his fan base voters. Given that there were between 50.9M and 59.8M, he could’ve squeezed an additional 3M votes out of them by upping their rates of participation by 5–6% of the fan base. That would be difficult if we use the top number (81.1%), but not impossible. It would be much easier if we use the middle or lower percentages. Since just about everyone, including Trump himself, thought that he wasn’t going to win, perhaps this depressed the 2016 fan base participation rates.

It turns out that this 5–6% increase in the participation rates of his fan base is exactly what he’ll need in 2020 to win the popular vote, under some reasonable assumptions.

e) How President Trump Can Win the Popular Vote in 2020 (Simulation 1)

How much of the fan base has to register and vote for President Trump in 2020, for him to win the popular vote?

The answer is the same as it was in 2016, i.e. an additional 5–6% more of them have to register and vote. (That’s not 5–6% more of 64.2%, 72.2% or 81.6%, instead it’s 69.2–70.2%, 77.2–78.2%, or 86.6% — 87.6%.)

I can’t emphasize enough that President Trump doesn’t have to win the popular vote in 2020 to get re-elected. That’s because his votes are more strategically distributed. This fact was reflected in the 2016 general election simulations run by Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight. Basically there were very few ways that then-nominee Hillary Clinton could’ve won the electoral college without winning the popular vote, but then-nominee Donald Trump had many more ways to win the Presidency while losing a plurality of the popular vote. This is because Democratic Presidential nominees tend to “waste” votes in big blue states like California, Illinois and New York (combined, they have between a fifth and a quarter of the US population).

So for my first simulation, I’m going to assume that there are 2.8% more people in the US in 2020, based on the 0.7% growth rate. Arguably this is an underestimate, since the population is growing more slowly now, and the real issue is how many net new voters are added from the people who are dying or unable to vote who could’ve voted in 2016, versus those who were born between 1998 and 2002, plus new citizens. I will sidestep these quibbles, because the rough numbers are probably not going to change much.

I’ll apply a 2.8% incremental increase to both the vote totals for a hypothetical Democratic party nominee and the population as a whole (including the V.E.P., i.e. those who are eligible to register and vote). I will also assume that President Trump matches the popular vote of the Democrat.

I’m also going to apply that same increase to the votes of “Regular (Romney-like) Republicans.” So it will no longer be necessary to make assumptions about the percentage of President Trump’s voters who are part of the fan base (i.e. those who support him unconditionally).

To clarify the use of assumptions versus calculations, I’ve added an extra line to the table heading:

  • “ASM” refers to an assumption (estimate).
  • “CALC” refers to a computation.
  • “PGROW” refers the 2.8% population growth assumption, i.e. I’ve multiplied the 2016 figures by 1.028

This model seems to be fairly stable, because:

  • The fan base percentage among all Trump voters doesn’t change much from the assumptions that I used for 2016.
  • The fan base participation rate (i.e. the percentage of them who register and vote) is fairly similar to what would’ve been required in 2016, had President Trump won the popular vote.

f) How President Trump Can Win the Popular Vote in 2020 (Simulation 2)

Making predictions about participation rates in Presidential elections is perhaps a fool’s errand.

Note that these total vote numbers are taken from the US Elections Atlas. To check them for yourself, just override the year on the end of the URL. (It’s actually tricky to precisely compute the total number of votes in a Presidential election. For example, the United States Election Project has slightly different numbers than the ones you see in the table above. However these variations are less than a percentage point, so they don’t affect my conclusions.)

I haven’t gone back before 1980, because my multiplier of 68.55% which I apply to the total population to estimate the Voting-eligible population (V.E.P.) may be misleading. In fact you can quibble with it being used as far back as 1980. I’ll defend that by noting that there were probably more children and fewer non-citizens in the past, so the result is basically a wash. But in any case, my purpose for calculating the participation rate is to justify my participation rate assumptions in the simulations, so minor deviations are probably acceptable.

Let’s change the assumptions for the next simulation. I’ll assume now that there is a 5% increase in the votes for the 2020 Democratic nominee, and then work backwards to see how much more of President Trump’s fan base has to register and vote, in order for him to win the popular vote. I’ll also assume a 5% growth in the number of “regular Republicans,” i.e. an election in which there is increased voter enthusiasm all across the board.

  • “ASM” refers to an assumption (estimate).
  • “CALC” refers to a computation.
  • “PGROW” refers the 2.8% population growth assumption, i.e. I’ve multiplied the 2016 figures by 1.028
  • “VGROW” refers the 5% (assumed) increase in the number of voters.

g) How President Trump Can Lose the Popular Vote in 2020 (Simulation 3)

There is one way that President Trump’s strategy could fail, or at least be pushed near the breaking point. Suppose 2020 is an election with an extremely high participation rate. (You’ll notice that the participation rate in the last simulation was about 60.8%,which is not out of line for previous elections, in fact 2016’s rate was 58.2% if we measure the 2-party vote):

Suppose there are no third-party candidates which take a significant share of the vote (third-party candidates got almost 6% of the vote in 2016). And what if President Trump’s strategy of “doubling down” on ethno-cultural-nationalist populism alienates so much of the rest of the nation that an unusually high proportion of the voting-eligible population registers and votes? Could his fan base save the day for him?

The answer is “yes,” but it’s harder. We can simulate an election with about 64% 2-party participation using a multiplier of 1.11 (11% more votes overall than the 2-party 2016 vote). We’ll keep the population growth assumption the same:

You’ll notice that the first five columns continue to be the same. And we are also assuming that he will continue to govern as far to the political right as possible on domestic policy, the economy won’t go south in a big way, and he won’t get the country into a dumb trade or disastrous shooting war that might cause “regular Republicans” not to turn out and support him That’s why the 11% increase is applied to both of the last two columns.

But very roughly, the fan base participation rate has to grow by at least 10% over 2016 levels to get close to the Democrat’s popular vote. Under the assumptions in the first row, that’s going to be tricky. It’s almost impossible to think of any population of people that’s eligible to register and vote, and which actually does so at a 94% rate. (Elected and party officials are probably in that category.)

So what’s critical is that the fan base size is limited, unlike voters who could behave as “regular Republicans.” What happens in a election with greater rates of participation is that low-propensity voters show up at the polls. Since over a third of the country hasn’t participated in Presidential election years, it’s plausible to imagine a few more low-propensity conservative voters who aren’t in the fan base showing up and going along with President Trump on some traditional GOP policy issue like taxes or abortion, or perhaps just voting against a “swift boated” or “Willie Hortoned” Democrat. Whereas extracting those last few extra percentage points of participation from the fan base is marginally more difficult, due to their fixed size.

The upshot of the the last paragraph is that catering too assiduously to the fan base could backfire in an election with unusually high participation rates, if he ends up leaving a bad taste in the mouths of low-propensity conservative voters outside of the fan base. They might stay home or vote for someone besides Trump. This is how he could get himself into trouble by (say) threatening a federal judge for ruling against him, which is the sort of thing that might even help him in an election with lower participation rates.

Recently, we’ve seen a smattering of pieces like this one by The Atlantic’s David Graham, in which the authors argue that President Trump is losing popularity among self-identified Republicans, but not among what Graham calls Trump’s “fanatical base” (which is presumably synonymous with my notion of the fan base). Does this mean “regular Republicans” are starting to pull away, and might not vote for the President in 2020? Perhaps some who live in very red or blue states will cast a protest vote for the Libertarian or write in Ronald Reagan. But would those who live in swing states, even the lower-propensity ones, risk the possibility of a Democrat in the White House?

Also, President Trump doesn’t have to actually win the popular vote. Plus, given that a 2-party participation rate of 64% is so much higher than all recent elections, I think this scenario is an outlier. Thus the previous two simulations seem more plausible.

h) Summary and JavaScript Code

I’m arguing that President Trump’s fan base is an incredibly powerful political weapon, that can get him re-elected in 2020, and increase Republican majorities in Congress in the midterms. President Trump just has to get them to register and vote at slightly higher rates to win re-election in 2020, and keep them on board for the midterms, while continuing to govern as far to the political right on domestic policy (in order to maintain the support of “regular” Republicans).

This strategy can work well, so long as the approximately 50–60% of Americans who disapprove of the President continue to not care for Democrats or voting very much. My Javascript is not available on Medium, and if you somehow found your way to this page on Blogger, you won’t find it there, either. However you will find it on the stable Blogger URL. Just use the table of contents navigation feature and go to the last section.

Note on Images:
The cartoon was linked-to from The Boston Globe. Pepe The Frog and the Republican Party Logo are both public domain images. I did a little white space cropping and put them together in a single image which I then resized to a 400 pixel width, but they are otherwise unchanged and basically in their original aspect ratios. I created the colored dividing bars myself in HTML and converted them into images.

TO BE DELETED

By the way, Medium always puts the source link at the bottom of the story whenever a story is imported. If I have forgotten to delete it, it will appear below this paragraph. Please do not use it, it’s ugly. If you want to read the story on Blogger, please use the stable (i.e. permanent) URL.

Originally published at rajseshu2.blogspot.com.

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