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Trump-opposers who stayed home in 2016 now hold the cards to defeat him

02 / 01 / 2020

There is but one firewall left when it comes to Donald Trump.

Americans who passionately reject this lawless, morally bankrupt president did not have the power last week to pressure GOP Senators into doing what they all knew was the right thing. The game was rigged from the jump. Soon it’ll be officially over, and the focus will turn to November.

The good news is that data indicate that no matter which candidate Democrats put on the ballot, the total number of voters who oppose Trump have the collective power to eliminate him from the Oval Office.

Despite all of the ways in which Trump has been beating Democrats on the things he controls as president, the adjacent fact is that he and his party have been getting crushed in almost every meaningful election since November 2016.

In the 2018 midterm elections, the Democratic wave was nothing less than historic. This is a fact. Democrats netted a 41-seat gain, outperforming even the rosiest of forecasts. Moreover, the 9.5 million national vote margin was the largest in the history of our country (previously the record was 8.7 million in 1974 following Watergate). 

The power balance in governorships has swung from a GOP advantage of 33-16 in 2016 to 26-24. Even more importantly, the three midwestern states that swung the presidential election have seen Democrats taking back governors’ mansions. This is huge. 

In Wisconsin, Tony Evers defeated two-term incumbent Scott Walker. In Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer pounded Bill Schuette by 14 points. And in Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf demolished Bill Wagner by 17 points. 

Let us not forget Kentucky, where Democrat Andy Beshear scored a shocking win over incumbent Governor Matt Bevin. Let us also not forget Louisiana, where Democrat Jon Bel Edwards held on to win another term as governor. Trump had carried the Pelican State by 20 points. 

Let us also not forget Virginia, where Democrats took back both the House of Delegates and the State Senate — for the first time since 1993. 

Finally, the big A’s. In deep-red Alabama, Doug Jones became the first Democrat to be elected to the US Senate in more than 25 years. In Arizona, Krysten Sinema pulled off the same feat. To repeat: Alabama and Arizona. ‘Nuff said. 

Some folks might push back and say: “Oh, come on! Trump wasn’t on the ballot in any of those elections!” Technically, that’s true. In practical terms, it’s ridiculous. The president of the United States is the standard-bearer for his party, and this president vocally jumped into these races on R’s behalf. His exact words: “Pretend I’m on the ballot!” Voters knew that in every one of those races, it was not pretend. And so they spoke with their votes.

In explaining this power that Democratic voters will have in 2020, the pushback might sound like this: “Well, what about the Independent voters in the swing states? What about all those voters who flipped from Obama to Trump? The old ‘Reagan Democrats.’ What if they all vote for him again? Then what power does the left really have?”

It’s a logical question. But it’s based on a fallacy. Despite premature analyses of the ’16 election predicated on exit polling, the real vote numbers tell a different story. The term “Blue Wall” did not come about by accident, but through presidential election performance and demographics. And if the Obama Democrats who stayed home in ’16 had instead shown up to support their party’s nominee, you would not be reading this article. 

In Michigan, Trump won by approximately 10,000 votes. Hillary Clinton pulled in 300,000 fewer votes than Obama did four years earlier. In Detroit alone, 75,000 Obama voters sat home — and Trump only brought in 10,000 more votes than Mitt Romney tallied. 

The same thing happened in Wisconsin — only worse. Trump won about the same amount of votes as Romney. In other words, he didn’t swing some enormously meaningful number of votes away from the Obama coalition — yet he beat Clinton by 30,000 votes. Roughly 230,000 voters who came out for Obama did not vote for Clinton. 

While it’s true that white working-class voters made more of a difference to Trump in Pennsylvania, the president’s Keystone State victory margin was just 45,000 votes. Governor Wolf beat Wagner in ’18 by 845,000 votes. 

A national number to watch in 2020 is turnout by Black voters. In 2016, 2 million fewer Black voters turned out for Clinton as did for Obama. NPR’s Domenico Mantanaro explains how this deficit could have cost Clinton the state of North Carolina. 

You might logically ask about the 7.8 million voters who cast their ballots for third party candidates in 2016. In Michigan alone, that number quintupled from 51,000 to 251,000. Yes, it could be a problem again. But it’s not likely that a majority of those voters will all of a sudden see virtue in this president. As Roll Call’s Stuart Rothenberg described them: 

“Progressives now see the damage Trump has done, and Republicans who rejected Trump in 2016 have had their worst fears about him confirmed.” 

While I thought Democrats would win at least 35 seats in the midterms, I mostly kept it to myself. Watching Donald Trump run that inside straight to eke out an Electoral College victory provided me a king-size serving of humility. 

But one thing is true: if voters who’ve traditionally voted for Democrats turn out strongly in 2020 to support the Democratic presidential nominee, it is highly likely that the Blue Wall will be restored and Donald Trump will lose the White House. 

Many Democrats have described the upcoming election as a last chance to retain the kind of country they can be proud of. If they truly feel that way, they’ll make sure that every last one of them who stayed home in ’16 is lined up at the polls on November 3rd.

The numbers indicate that those who oppose Trump have the muscle to win — just as they did three years ago. Now all they have to do is flex it.