He certainly understands them and vocalizes them better than any politician in 2016. As Michael Barone recently noted, those enclaves that still have cohesive communities and stable families are not big Trump fans. One might add that those who are indifferent to cohesive communities to begin with will never be Trump fans.
For a large percentage of Americans, however, brokenness is the norm. As families break down and communities dissipate, loneliness and anger well up. There is something fundamentally wrong with American society right now and Donald Trump recognizes that fundamental fact. Donald Trump is to politics what Eminem is to music—a voice for those who lack the basic social structures conducive to security and to hope.
This basic dynamic—relative stability vs. relative instability—will play a big role in the 2016 election. Barone indicates, for example, that the more socially-stable Wisconsin will be much more difficult terrain for Trump in the general election than the less socially-stable Nevada. What this means is that the normal electoral map—taken for granted since 2000—could quite possibly change.
While normal battleground states will still loom large—Florida and Ohio in particular—a number of other states could enter or leave the battleground terrain due to the factors mentioned by Barone. A relatively stable Virginia might become more solidly blue, while more unstable states like Pennsylvania and Nevada might move back into reach for the GOP.
This analysis seems to be borne out by the current polling averages by RealClearPolitics. Pennsylvania is presently a tighter race than Virginia. Other slightly-bluish states like Iowa and New Hampshire may also come back into play. To counteract act any trends toward Trump in this regard, many assume that growing minority populations—which typically vote Democratic—will make states like Arizona and Georgia competitive. That assumes, however, that Trump will fare as poorly as the past two Republican presidential candidates with minorities.
The conventional (media-driven) wisdom is that Trump will do exceptionally bad with minorities, but again, the polling hasn’t necessarily borne that out. Trump may do as well as, if not better than, Romney with Hispanics. And it is hard to perform worse among African-Americans than McCain or Romney, as they were both challenging the first black President. Even Americans who identify as gay may be more prone to vote for the fiscally-minded Trump than past GOP nominees.
Trump seemed to be aware of these possibilities as he addressed these groups during his acceptance speech. He realizes that the same sense of disenfranchisement and disempowerment that resonates with blue-collar white voters may also resonate with voters in each of these communities. For years, politicians have often paid lip service to these groups. They speak of opportunities and possibilities for all, but those opportunities are rarely realized. A candidate who projects strength and a lack of convention may appeal to those who feel like hopeless objects of political condescension.
On both the state and national levels then, Trump poses a problem for election modeling and may change the current balance of power. Let’s say that Trump grows his share of the blue-collar white votes while diminishing his share of the white-collar white vote. While he might maintain the same overall level of support among white voters, he could come out ahead by winning Pennsylvania instead of Virginia.
At the same time, if minority voters respond to “be a voice” for the forgotten voter, an uptick in these votes could cancel out losses amongst white-collar white voters in a state like Virginia. In fact, 15% of black voters could help put Georgia solidly back in the Republican column and lock down North Carolina for Trump. If, say, 30% of Hispanic voters go for Trump, Arizona could become solidly red again and Nevada would also swing toward Trump.
While Trump may well expand the map and puncture the renowned “blue wall” of consistently Democratic states, there may yet be an Achilles heel to his ambitions. Some polling in the deep-red Mormon state of Utah has shown that Trump may be in trouble. States with high levels of social cohesion like Utah that normally vote Republican may yet hold out on Trump.
While Trump may have more pathways to the presidency than usual for a GOP candidate, those pathways contain new degrees of peril. Whether Trump prevails is as of yet uncertain, but one outcome is quite likely: the conventional electoral map will change.