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ANALYSIS: How Republicans may be at risk of losing the voters they need most

President Donald Trump speaks about the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Monday, Aug. 5, 2019, in Washington.
President Donald Trump speaks about the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Monday, Aug. 5, 2019, in Washington. AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Donald Trump’s margins in the 2016 election were razor-thin.

Just 77,744 voters in three states decided the presidency in his favour.

Staring down the barrel of the 2020 campaign, that’s the kind of thing that has to make Republican leaders nervous.

The party can’t afford to lose any support, and yet it may be on the precipice of turning off a key demographic: suburban voters.

The president’s rhetoric on race and his calls for four minority congresswomen to “go back” to their home countries are the kinds of things that could turn off that key voting bloc.

His administration’s family separation policy may have struck a particular nerve.

WATCH: (July 22) Republicans continue to defend Trump’s ‘go back’ tweets, claiming it’s about policy not race

Republicans continue to defend Trump’s ‘go back’ tweets, claiming it’s about policy not race
Republicans continue to defend Trump’s ‘go back’ tweets, claiming it’s about policy not race

When you factor in the silence from Republican leadership, and the words from other Republicans like Rep. Steve King, who suggested humanity might not exist if not for rape and incest, the outlook is even worse.

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Taken together, King and Trump both broadly represent what the party fears most: a tipping point that turns off voters, specifically suburban ones.

“White suburban voters have a particular sensitivity,” said former Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele.

“The Steve Kings and the Charlottesvilles and all of these vignettes, particularly on the subject of race, can come back to bite the president.”

The party has rushed to distance itself from King, as members call for his resignation, but that’s not likely to solve the bigger problem facing the president.

WATCH: (Jan. 14) Mitch McConnell, Mitt Romney speak out against Steve King after ‘white supremacist’ remarks

Mitch McConnell, Mitt Romney speak out against Steve King after ‘white supremacist’ remarks
Mitch McConnell, Mitt Romney speak out against Steve King after ‘white supremacist’ remarks

A Washington Post-ABC News poll released in July showed Trump’s approval rating among suburban men at 51 per cent; he only has support from 37 per cent of suburban women.

An analysis by NBC News found that Trump has been “underwater” with suburban voters for the last six months — a potentially ominous sign for his 2020 re-election prospects.

As if they were reading the tea leaves, three Texas Republicans have announced they’re not seeking re-election to the House of Representatives in 2020.

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There’s a risk more incumbents could eye the exits before it’s all over.

READ MORE: ANALYSIS — The cynical strategy behind Trump’s attacks on minority women in Congress

It’s well established that the Republican Party is firmly the party of Donald Trump. They are one and the same. The president has a 90 per cent approval rating with Republican voters. His most extreme views and worst impulses are rarely challenged by the party establishment.

All of which leaves Trump, and the party, with an unclear strategy for holding onto the voters they have, let alone attracting new ones to the fold.

Trump’s supporters will argue he defied expectations before and will do so again in 2020. They point to his rock-solid standing with rural working-class supporters.

READ MORE: Is Donald Trump racist? Half of U.S. voters think so, according to a new poll

But the 2018 midterm elections saw a sizable shift in how the suburbs voted. Democrats made big gains, without Trump on the ballot.

What is clear is that both sides are hedging their bets.

Republicans believe they can double- or triple-down on what got Trump this far. Democrats believe they can win over an exhausted segment of the electorate.

Either way, America’s suburbs are set to be the battleground in the next election, a place where a coveted group of voters will be targeted by both parties.

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Jackson Proskow is Washington Bureau Chief for Global National.