GOP has a suburbs problem

Crowds gather around Main and State streets in Westerville, Ohio, as the Democratic candidates debated at Otterbein’s Rike Center. As the 2020 election gets nearer, many suburban voters are turned off not only by Republicans’ scattershot policies but also by their ethos and character. Doral Chenoweth III/Columbus Dispatch/TNS

“Suburbs” covers a wide array of locales. It can conjure up images of leafy neighborhoods, deep front yards and two-car homes. These suburbanites think of themselves as “upper middle class” but occupy the top 5% of earners. These are one- or two-professional-parent households trying to save for college and retirement and send some money to their under-employed college graduate son or daughter.

“Suburbs” can also remind one of the comfortable but modest middle-class tract homes within an hour of a major city, areas that have become increasingly diverse over the past couple of decades. Parents there have cut back on entertainment and travel, tried to eke out more miles from their old car, skimped on retirement savings and found money to pay for high school sports and activities (which are no longer free thanks to budget cuts).

Voters from these kinds of neighborhoods used to be the backbone of the Republican Party outside the Deep South. They elected responsible, sober governors like Tom Ridge in Pennsylvania or statesman-like senators personified by John Warner in Virginia. George W. Bush won Virginia in 2000 and 2004; his father won Pennsylvania as well in in 1988.

The Trumpized Republican Party — vulgar, anti-intellectual, racist and reactionary — fares rather differently in these suburbs. The MAGA party that flaunts climate change denial, champions family separations at the border, balloons the debt and creates havoc internationally has lost these voters.

After Tuesday night, Virginia Democrats will control the House of Delegates and the state Senate. Not a single Republican elected official remains at the state or national level in northern Virginia. A single Republican survived (barely) on the Fairfax Country Board of Supervisors. Democrats won commonwealth attorney positions in Loudoun and Fairfax counties.

In the Philadelphia suburbs, Republicans were obliterated. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports:

“Democrats won political control of the once-legendary GOP stronghold of Delaware County, part of what appeared late Tuesday to be a Republican wipeout across the Philadelphia region and in other elections around the country.

“It was the first time since at least the Civil War that Democrats won control of the Delaware County Council. They not only won a majority, but also swept Republicans off the governing body entirely. Democrats won a majority on the Chester County Board of Commissioners for the first time in history, in the only suburban Philadelphia county where Republicans still outnumber Democrats. In Bucks County, Democrats were on track to capture the Board of Commissioners for the first time since 1983.”

In short, Trump and his apologists have repulsed suburbanites. They are embarrassed to be associated with a party that trounces on middle-class virtues (civility, fairness, sacrifice, etc.) and insults their intelligence. These voters are turned off not only by Republicans’ scattershot policies but also by their ethos and character. These are the college-educated voters (nonwhite and white) who have fled the GOP and are anxious to elect any non-crazy Democrat they can find. They are turning out in massive numbers to repudiate the Trump GOP.

We are not talking Santa Monica, Calif., or Manhattan or other traditionally deep-blue enclaves. We are talking about suburbs that have a tradition of voting Republican. They used to be “country club Republicans” or “soccer moms.” Republicans are losing in these moderate enclaves, and, to boot, they look to have lost the governorship in deep-red Kentucky.

In 2016, Trump carried Kentucky by a monster margin of 63% to 33%. Every single state was closer, other than West Virginia, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Wyoming. This is not to say that the Democratic nominee is going to win every state but those. (Although a candidate in the model of Andy Beshear would do well in usually red states.) However, if Republicans continue alienating the suburbs to the degree to which we saw Tuesday and keep inspiring record Democratic turnout, they are vulnerable in a whole bunch of places they were not in 2016.

Frankly, Republicans’ problem is not even limited to Trump. He has created a party with lackeys and mouthpieces (think Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio or Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina) that is repulsive to the people Bill Clinton liked to say “work hard and play by the rules.” Good luck winning a presidential election without them.

WPBloom

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