Ron Brownstein: Is Trump’s America Slipping Away?
In Conversation with Andrew Keen on the Keen On
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On today’s episode, Ron Brownstein, political director of Atlantic Media and author of the upcoming book Rock Me on the Water: 1974-The Year Los Angeles Transformed Movies, Music, Television and Politics, discusses why Donald Trump is running for the presidency of an America that no longer exists.
From the episode:
Andrew Keen: You argue in your latest Atlantic piece … that Trump’s America is slipping away and that Donald Trump is running for the presidency of an America that no longer exists. But don’t many Americans acknowledge that? Aren’t more and more Americans nostalgic for that America that no longer exists?
Ron Brownstein: Well, that’s a complex question. So I believe Trump’s strategy can be reduced to a single sentence. It is squeezing bigger margins out of shrinking groups at the expense of provoking greater resistance from the groups that are growing in society, and you can look at that demographically. If you look at his struggles among millennials and Generation Z, which this year for the first time will equal baby boomers and older as a share of eligible voters, and by 2024, they will exceed them as a share of actual voters.
You can look at it geographically. As I mentioned, Trump is dominant in small town and rural America, places that are, by and large, stagnant or losing population. He lost 87 of the 100 largest counties in America by a combined 15 million votes. The odds, I think, are very high that he will lose those big places by even more this time, in part because they are the places that are being hit the hardest by the coronavirus.
There’s no question in my mind that what he is doing is trading the bigger margins for more resistance from the growing sectors [mentioned above]. That can work in the short run with differential turnout, and also because there are many aspects of our system that advantage the shrinking groups. The Electoral College and the Senate, which provides two senators per state, no matter how small. That is a benefit to Republicans who are reliant on the parts of the country that are least touched by diversity. You know, you go through North Dakota and South Dakota and Nebraska and Kansas and Montana and Wyoming, and you don’t run into a lot of what I’m describing is this emerging America.
In the long run, and even the medium run, there is a price to that strategy. I mean, you saw one element of that price in 2018 when Republicans were routed in our big metropolitan centers in the House, not only in places where they have struggled before and were clinging to the ledge of those last few seats like Philadelphia or Northern Virginia and New Jersey, but we’re talking Richmond, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Charleston, Oklahoma City, and Orange County, places where they had not previously seen that kind of erosion.
So it is a striking bet that Republicans have made to accept this trade that Trump is imposing on the party without a peep even after 2018. I just think about ’94 or ’82 in the Republican Party. Usually when a party gets shellacked, there’s some introspection. Trump will not allow that. Trump will not allow anything but “everything is fine,” and we’ll see if everything is not fine in November where whether Republicans can build a critical mass for asking themselves: Can you write off the groups and the places that are growing to maximize your hold on the places that are stagnant or shrinking?
Andrew Keen: What I don’t understand about Trump is he’s obviously an opportunist and deeply self-interested…
Ron Brownstein: Because he only has to win one more election. He only has to win two elections.
Ronald Brownstein is political director of Atlantic Media, publishers of the Atlantic, National Journal, and the Hotline, among other publications. He was national political correspondent and columnist for the Los Angeles Times. He has been named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of both the 1996 and 2004 presidential elections. The author or editor of five previous books, he appears regularly as an analyst for CNN and other television programs, such as Meet the Press and Charlie Rose.