Americans aren’t used to complex election results, and the 2020 election was complex. Despite winning the Presidency by a relatively comfortable margin, the Democrats suffered defeats across the country in the House, and failed to win the Senate outright as had been predicted. Republicans held their own in state legislature elections, and continue to hold the governorships of most states.
It’s little wonder that both parties seem to be cracking up afterwards. Staring down the prospect of divided government and trying to figure out what went wrong for their respective defeats, both parties’ internal struggles are becoming increasingly public.
Something else that has become more obvious—the Republican party is changing. Donald Trump performed better with every demographic…but white men. That’s right, after 4 long years of accusations of “white supremacy,” African Americans, Latinos, and Asians were all more likely to vote for Trump than in 2016.
This suggests a few things about the American populace.
First and foremost, doubling down on identity politics helped the Democrats mobilize middle class white voters—particularly those in the suburbs—while it did nothing for them among minority voters.
Texas is a perfect example of this dynamic. Joe Biden won the longstanding Republican stronghold of Williamson County, something no Democrat has done since Jimmy Carter. Meanwhile, Donald Trump won Zapata County—a reliably Democratic county, which is largely Hispanic.
Ironically, with these large changes throughout the state, the 2020 results were almost identical to those of 2016. In both cases, Donald Trump received just over 52% of the vote.
Similar changes could be seen in Florida, where Republicans flipped two House seats in Miami—a decidedly diverse city.
The next thing these odd changes suggest is that we truly don’t know what causes voters to turn out.
Many pundits on the Right have said that Donald Trump’s “populism” has transformed the Republican party into a multi-ethnic, working-class party. But that’s conjecture at best.
Donald Trump’s Presidency, despite the tweeting and the maniacal press coverage, was essentially identical to that of a normal Republican. He cut taxes, raised military spending, and appointed conservative judges. The largest change from former Republican presidents was in foreign policy; he started no new wars. Even then, his greatest foreign policy successes—the peace deals rapidly spreading throughout the Middle East—are a reflection of Republican ideals. By providing consistent, even strident, support for Israel and deploying unbridled military power in the face of multiple threats, the President created an environment in which peace could be achieved for the first time since Israel’s inception.
So the Republican Party can feel confident moving forward that it doesn’t need to undergo radical change to win over more voters. Its policies, under an exceedingly controversial leader, appeal to a more diverse group of voters than any since 1960.
The true difference between Trump and previous Republicans is that Trump tried to reach out to minority voters. And it may be as simple as that.
Republicans, armed with this knowledge should feel good about the future. Even though 2020 was a defeat, there were many small victories for Republicans to find throughout the country.
The face of the Republican Party is changing, but its principles shouldn’t.