The weight of Donald Trump’s now sizeable electoral defeat and its inverse presentation by the Republican Party has gone beyond political dissonance and into the realms of the purest cynicism.
The Republican Party, remade in Trump’s image after just four short years of histrionics and authoritarian appointments, seems incapable of articulating another vision. The GOP has been warped by the chief vulgarian of American life. Leading Republicans have become utterly craven and venal.
Despite Trump’s defeat, Trumpism — a poisonous admixture of racism, violent resentments and convulsions, and autocratism — is going to remain a dangerous political current inside the Republican Party, shocking the American body politic, unless Biden and the Democrats deliver a knockout blow in 2024.
But what can Biden actually do to weaken the toxic grip of Trumpism?
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One of the few good things to come out of the slow pace of the election count was our ability to forensically understand major demographic trends.
It was evident that urban centres and their immediate suburban peripheries were absolute strongholds for the Democrats, including in red states. Some states may have been red on day one of the count, but when the city votes came in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Georgia and Arizona, they came hard and heavy for Biden.
By contrast, Trump did well in the further-flung suburbs and regions. Some of the least industrialised states include West Virginia, Mississippi, Montana, Kentucky, and Alabama — all Republican strongholds.
One obvious thing that Biden and the Democrats can do to change the political complexion of states like Texas and Florida is to encourage further urbanisation. If the Democrats can take Texas’ 38 electoral college votes, that amounts to 14% of the national college seats needed to form government.
They could do this by providing infrastructure or tax concessions to attract corporations to set up operations in Texas cities like Dallas, Austin, Fortworth or Houston (all Democrat strongholds) or its immediate surrounds. Other improvements to health, education and transport would also help swell the cities, and mitigate the impact of the outer suburbs and regions that the Republicans dominate.
Connect with different voting groups
Black voters in Georgia, particularly Black women, were absolutely critical in terms of organising and getting voters to turn out. Trump numbers didn’t fall from 2016 levels — Biden organisers simply pulled in more.
Clearly, this shows a need to better understand each section of the electorate and to test messages that will resonate with particular groups. That means some generic political advertising in future, but a lot of micro- targeting and focus groups to better understand the psychology of voters.
In Florida, a lot of Cuban and Venezuelan voters were swayed by the argument that Biden was a stalking horse for socialism. In previous elections, a distinction was opening up between older and younger Cubans, but a lot of that was wiped away through some effective messaging by the Trump campaign (which might have also tapped into issues around machismo).
Very specific research needs to be done into different groups without losing site of a macro vision. Latinx is clearly not a singular block, and while white men appear to back Trump, how does that break down around class and where someone lives?
The Democrats will need to better understand demographic sectors and cleave them off from Republicanism with concrete and material policies.
Target blue-collar jobs
The Democrats need to look at key states they want to win and bring blue-collar jobs to those regions. Biden needs to reposition the Democrats as a friend of workers.
Trump trades on nostalgia for a time when Americans made things and were paid well. The Biden government should help state governments attract big employers, and in return the employers need to employ locally and provide good working conditions and wages.
When those projects are rolled out, advertise the hell out of it.
Facebook and Twitter need to be made culpable for the toxic misinformation that filters through their platforms.
It’s possible. Trump’s incendiary and misleading tweets were tagged and hidden during the election. Facebook removed hashtags that far-right protesters were using as organising tools for assembling at polling stations. But this needs to happen every day of the year.
Similar standards need to be applied to the traditional media too. Any journalists or presenters who wantonly peddle misinformation three times need to be struck off the register as journalists. News organisations that support such behaviour need to face licence bans.
Get ready for the culture wars
The Republican Party faces a choice: continue with the truculent politics of Trump or return to the optimistic brand of conservatism embodied by Bush, McCain and Bloomberg. If it’s Trumpism, then the culture wars will continue. And the Democrats must be ready for that.
Much of Trumpist culture-warring focusses on the “middle-class know-it-alls who want to tell you what to think”. Concern around language rather than economic exploitation is the new cohering principle for much of the left. If the Democrats fully embrace the former, they’ll be in trouble.
The Democrats need to start injecting a lot more language and policy around blue-collar workers, to help voters feel the Democratic Party is a place they can comfortably inhabit.