Eight years ago, members of the GOP establishment wrote a post-election “autopsy” arguing that the only way to recover from Mitt Romney‘s miserable 2012 performance would be to expand the Republican coalition—specifically, by making inroads among Latinos and the working class. This was quite obviously true—and Donald Trump made it happen in 2016 to the tune of 63 million votes, and then again in 2020 with 74 million votes
But while Trump accomplished the autopsy’s goal of expanding the electorate, he did it by largely rejecting its proposed solutions. Rather than double down on Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan economics, Trump ran against “globalism” and “bad trade deals.” Instead of abandoning social issues, Trump signed an anti-porn pledge, promised to sign a religious freedom bill and explicitly declared that he would nominate pro-life judges.
And on immigration? After Romney’s historically awful performance with Latinos, the autopsy argued that amnesty for illegal immigrants was the way to Latino voters’ hearts. Trump completely repudiated that by calling for a “big, beautiful wall.” Trump bested Romney’s share of the Latino vote in 2016, and then improved on his own performance by several percentage points in 2020.
Don’t blame the authors of the autopsy for getting it wrong. Some folks aren’t very good at building things. But Trump happens to be a great builder, and The Coalition That Trump Built is here to stay—multiracial, working-class and growing in number by the election. It’s only in the rarefied air of academia or TV punditry that people can still cling to the old notion that the Republicans are the party of the wealthy elite. Anyone living in the real world can see that it just isn’t true any longer.
Ask David Shor, a Democratic data expert and Obama 2012 alum. He told Politico recently: “The joke is that the GOP is really assembling the multiracial working-class coalition that the Left has always dreamed of.”
Part of building something new is undergoing a process of creative destruction. And there’s no question that Trump’s arrival coincided with many elites leaving the Republican Party. Just think of all the most famous millionaires and billionaires in the country. Think of all the mega-corporations. Think of all the anti-Trump TV pundits, think tankers, academics and politicians. They’re not exactly fans of Donald Trump—or conservatism. They’ve left to join the Left.
But in losing the smug sophisticates, the GOP created room for the more numerous working-class voters who are finally coming home to the Republican Party. That’s a trade offer conservatives should be happy to accept. The pundits were right—demographics are destiny—but they’ve been focused on the wrong demographics. It’s not about race. It’s about class. A multiracial, working-class coalition, properly cultivated, will always and everywhere beat an elite-class coalition. Why? Because of the numbers. There are far more working-class Americans than there are elites.
This political realignment is evident from county-level election results, too. Loudoun County, Virginia—the wealthiest in the country, as of 2018—voted for Bush by 12 points in 2004. In 2012, it voted for Obama by a five-point margin. In 2020, the margin for Joe Biden was 25 points. On the whole, the margin of victory for Democrats in the 100 richest counties in America has grown by about 10 points since 2012.
Trump magically made people realize that it was the Democrat party that was the party of exclusion, racism and hate all along.