Donald Trump cracked the Democrats’ “blue wall” by narrowly winning Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. He accomplished this by attracting non-upscale white voters. He also took advantage, it seems, of lack of enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton among black voters in cities such as Philadelphia, Detroit, and Milwaukee.
Has Trump thereby transformed the electoral landscape? The answer probably depends on the extent to which his policies improve, or will be perceived as improving, the economic position of the white voters who abandoned the Democrats this year.
It’s possible — and maybe probable if the Democrats don’t change their approach — that Trump will hold onto these voters in 2020 even if economic gains are not achieve. But I doubt that this cohort will remain loyal to the GOP much beyond 2020 without such progress.
Jim Tankersley of the Washington Post assesses the likelihood that Trump will deliver. He starts from the sensible premise that Trump will be unable to bring millions of jobs back from Mexico and China or to restore the steel industry in Pittsburgh. Tankersley argues, however, that economic success can be realized in the Rust Belt without fulfilling these promises.
According to Tankersley, real wages are already on the rise for white workers who lack a college degree. Assuming that the economy keeps growing and the unemployment rate remains low, it’s reasonable to believe that the trend will continue.
Tankersley also argues that Trump’s proposed economic policies will help boost the wages of workers without a college degree. Among the policies he cites are tax cuts, infrastructure spending, the rolling back of various regulations, and the repeal of Obamacare.
Tankersley envisages a scenario in which wage growth for non-degree holding workers reaches a rate comparable to that achieved during the early years of Bill Clinton’s second term. As he notes, this period is remembered fondly in many beleaguered parts of the Midwest and Northwest.
A recession would upend Tankersley’s scenario, at least temporarily. And a recession may be in the cards. It’s been a pretty long time since the last one. Moreover, the Fed might well respond to Trump’s expansionary economic policies by rapidly raising interest rates, thus stalling growth.
However, success among white voters who have turned against the Democrats doesn’t depend on eight years of uninterrupted economic success. We didn’t have that under Reagan, yet the “Reagan Democrats” remained in the GOP fold.
The key will be whether the Trump presidency is perceived as delivering economic progress on balance.
Tankersley’s article is, necessarily, speculative. However, unlike most of what the Washington Post has served up about the impending Trump presidency, it seems thoughtful and unbiased. As such, it’s worth a look.