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Donald the TruCon

Trump may get his third SCOTUS seat but risks losing his presidency in the process.
September 24, 2020
Donald the TruCon
President Donald Trump walks through the Cross Hall to the East Room to nominate Neil M. Gorsuch to take Justice Antonin Scalia's vacancy on the US Supreme Court during an event at the White House January 31, 2017 in Washington, DC. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

During the GOP primary battles of my heyday (circa 2007-2015) there were two main theories of the electorate unto which the battle lines were drawn. The more pluralistic “opportunity conservatives” who were the heirs to the Bush coalition, and the “true conservatives,” or TruCons, who claimed to reflect Tea Party voters’ desire to overthrow the RINO squishes in favor of a pure conservatism—the self-described true heirs to Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan.

TruCons were determined, as Ross Douthat put it, “to avoid both anything that savored of big government and anything that smacked of compromise.” They took hard-line stances on social and cultural issues in addition to wanting to slash the entitlement state.

In 2016 Donald Trump upended this paradigm. He refused to carry either mantle and ran against both George W. Bush’s compassionate (WEAK!) conservatism and the “crazy” and doctrinaire Ted Cruz wing of the party. In doing so, Trump revealed something important about the electorate both in the primary and the general.

First, he proved that Republican voters didn’t need their candidates to pass a litmus test on the movement conservative issue du jour. They just wanted someone whom they thought would fight for them against the evil elites and the media.

And he also proved something else: There was a whole batch of swing voters out there who were gettable for Republicans. These were voters who reflected the party’s culturally conservative values, even if they didn’t necessarily buy into Ryanomics and evangelicalism.

These voters, to generalize, are secular and working-class former Democrats who hate globalization, immigration, and Hillary Clinton. When they looked at Donald Trump they saw a womanizing New Yorker who was gonna cut some deals to bring jobs back to their communities, shake up the stiff and spineless D.C. set, and keep his hands off their Medicare.

It’s the classic Obama/Trump voter. You can read 182 profiles of them in the New York Times, all set in Mechanicsburg diners.

Do these seem like the kind of people who, today, are going to be super-excited about Donald Trump making a social conservative true-believer who is poised to tip the scales of the Supreme Court against Obamacare and Roe v. Wade his “running mate”?

These voters like Obamacare and support legal abortion.

According to an analysis by Dave Wasserman of the 2016 CCES survey, 22 percent of Trump’s voters leaned pro-choice and 13 percent had mixed views. In some swing states the numbers were even higher.

Now they are being asked to support a president who has met with their approval by dunking on the cosmopolitan elite but who has been dropping the ball on the economic response to the coronavirus. And on top of that, he wants to force-feed them a big plate of TruConservatism. They didn’t sign up for Ted Cruz. They think he is weird AF.

They thought that they were signing up for the Art of the Deal Guy. Who had probably paid for a few abortions of his own. Certainly didn’t really give a shit about it unless he was trying to pull one over on those marks in Iowa.

This is a different animal altogether. And with ol’ Scranton Joe Biden on the other side of the ledger, it’s a good bet that at least some percentage of these folks are going to look at TruCon Don and say no deal.

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large and the author of the best-selling book Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump and communications director for Jeb Bush 2016.