Ever since Donald Trump shocked political journalists with his 2016 victory, which relied heavily on cracking the so-called “blue wall” states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, it has become a cliche for journalists to troop deep into the most Trumpian hinterlands of those states and collect quotes from alienated blue collar whites, often sitting at bars down the street from the rusted out factory, attesting to why they’re still sticking by him.
The basic narrative at the core of this journalism has been that, no matter how worked up the elites in DC get about this or that Trumpian tweet or outburst, he identified some kind of bedrock political and economic reality in those places that allows him to survive despite — or even thrive in the face of — elite handwringing about his temperament, racism, misogyny, or what have you.
But what happens if Republicans sustain large losses in these very states only two years after Trump pulled off his successful invasion of them?
In coming days, Trump is set to campaign for Republicans in Iowa (another Midwestern state he won), Ohio, and Pennsylvania. But as NBC’s Mark Murray points out today, Republicans are in trouble in all these states, and also in Minnesota, where Trump’s surprisingly strong finish also fueled the Trump-cracked-the-blue-wall storyline:
In Iowa, there’s a good chance the GOP could lose the state’s governor’s mansion, as well as two House seats (IA-1 and IA-3, which includes Council Bluffs). In Michigan, Democrats appear poised for big wins up and down the ballot. Ditto in Minnesota (although the GOP is trying to pick up a couple of House seats in the rural parts of the state).
In Ohio, Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown is cruising to victory, while the gubernatorial race is a toss-up. In Pennsylvania, Democrats are way ahead in the Senate and governor’s races, and they could pick up four or five House seats. And in Wisconsin, Republican Gov. Scott Walker is in the fight of his political life.
Also in Wisconsin, Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin appears to be cruising to reelection. The battle for the Senate is playing out in places like Nevada, Arizona, and Florida, and in red states like North Dakota, Missouri, and Indiana. While it’s still unlikely Democrats will take the Senate, one thing that seems clear is that Democratic incumbents are likely to survive rather easily in the blue wall states Trump cracked. Indeed, the basic story in recent days has been that while Democrats’ position has deteriorated in the red states, it has improved in the purple and bluish ones.
Meanwhile, gubernatorial contests in places like Ohio, Wisconsin, and Iowa are still toss ups, so it’s possible the picture could end up being somewhat mixed. But given the likelihood of Dem gains in the midwest, and given what happened there only two years ago, Murray asks a good question: Should we even call the midwest “Trump Country”?
This question becomes even more interesting when you look at what’s happening with Trump’s signature issue of trade.
Trump’s willingness to revamp our trading order, of course, has been widely declared as a key reason he was able to crack that blue wall. And now, you’d think the circumstances are in place for Trump to reap tremendous political rewards for that in these areas. Trump has been claiming with great fanfare that his new trade deal with Canada and Mexico (never mind the specifics for now) is a huge boon to workers, and to hear Trump tell it, the U.S. economy under his presidency is the greatest in human history.
Yet the political benefits don’t appear to be raining down in these areas. Indeed, some polls have shown Trump’s tariffs are unpopular in Midwestern states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. And now Republicans are set to sustain big losses in them.
If this does come to pass, won’t it be time to rethink our basic theory of the case as to why Trump was able to pull off such a heist in those states? It’s true that Trump is not on the ballot this time, and it’s also true that some Republicans have been resistant to Trump’s trade agenda. And if Republicans do lose bigly in these areas, no doubt the most devoted stewards of the myth of Trumpism, such as Stephen K. Bannon, will reflexively say it’s because Republicans didn’t campaign full-throatedly enough on Trump’s version of economic populist nationalism.
But still, no matter how hard good Trumpists like Bannon spin, if these big losses do come to pass, make no mistake: It will bode badly for Trump’s chances in these areas a second time around.