Last week’s wispy vote in the House of Representatives and subsequent haranguing from national party Democrats on the fate of their political opponents create many inflection points for pundits and policy watchers alike. There’s no question both sides will use the vote as a watershed moment for the 2018 election cycle. And while many, many twists and turns can occur between now and next November, Republicans would do well if they can ask and answer this crucial query: How strong is Trump’s Coalition?
Many forces converged last November to elect Donald Trump president; voter factions that either had been written off by traditional pollsters or under-reported across state polling organizations for myriad, flawed reasons. But a Trump Coalition did in fact exist, and if the White House wants to avoid a sudden stop to its agenda, then officials had better determine how they can mobilize these disparate groups once again.
It won’t be easy. As much success as President Obama had in mobilizing his core followers, that effort took a lot of pre-election research and data mining, initiatives that continued in full effect during the months and years after he was sworn into office. In a word, it was sophisticated. If his data operation during the campaign was any indication, I’m not convinced Trump has that same degree of innovation. There’s still time, however, and in order to be effective, the political arm of the White House must recognize three core challenges.
Identifying the “typical” Trump voter is difficult. There simply is no formula for reliably pinpointing a Trump disciple. And when one does, they rarely look like 20 other individuals who pulled the lever for the president last year. They are not monolithic. Sure, there are pockets that are easily recognizable. But even organizations that would help cultivate and grow those voters such as The Heritage Foundation struggle in this new era of politics. Look no further than the reasons stated publicly and privately last week in the ouster of its leader, former Sen. Jim DeMint. Some felt he was too close to Trump while others believed the organization wasn’t leaning into true conservative crusades. Yet on the surface, that supporter should be one and the same since Trump summoned those conservative tenets throughout his campaign. Finally, even the typical Trump voter today won’t necessarily help this president. When was the last time you saw a poll that reliably measured the representative Trump voter in its sample size? Hint: it’s less than you think. As several pollsters have attested lately, Trump voters rarely self-identify as such, and that will be another factor in reaching his core constituency.
No rallying national policy. At this stage, it’s difficult for me to see a policy initiative that has the salience and national value of drawing millions of voters to the ballot box on behalf of their Republican congressional candidate. Health care won’t be that beacon; not for Republicans. Behavioral economics teaches humans to value a loss more than they value a gain. By that theory, expect Democrats and proponents of Obamacare to line up in droves to repudiate Republicans come next November for gutting the program. But don’t expect many Trump supporters to respond likewise and reward the GOP for its profile in courage. It doesn’t work that way. There must be another issue. Perhaps it’s one of international scope. Heaven forbid, but if the United States ends up locking horns with North Korea, that could galvanize voters like none other, and Republicans could see their majorities grow. But on the domestic side, I simply don’t see a national issue rising to prominence. Tax reform won’t fit the bill; too many moving parts to get it accomplished before 2018.
The mother’s milk of politics – money. I never got the sense the president was a big fan of fundraising. It was easy to dismiss on the campaign trail because he would point to his own wealth to assuage any concerns the GOP candidate had enough resources to power the effort. But competing in 350+ individual House and Senate races takes gobs of cash – the type of dollars that only a president can command. To do this well, and give the Republicans the firepower they need, Trump will need to start fundraising now.
The months ahead are defining moments for the Trump Coalition – a test of its strength as well as its reach. The president will not be on the ballot, but his priorities and his doctrine will. And Republicans will be looking to him to successfully navigate those political shoals.