“The Failer Strategy”—Why Trump Lost Ground With The White Working Class
Print Friendly and PDF

The 2016 Presidential election results (remember them?) were a vindication of four people:

Buchanan was a prophet—a man of foresight, courage, and vision who loved his people and delivered a warning that went unheeded. Trump had the benefit of running in light of the damage and wreckage that Buchanan predicted.

But four years later, pending the outcome of legal challenges raising legitimate questions about irregularities, anomalies and possible election fraud, we sit on the precipice of a Joe Biden presidency.

Joe Biden! A man who is arguably senile, when not convinced he is really Neil Kinnock, who ran a McKinley-style campaign from his basement in Delaware and who plans to open America’s borders.

What happened?

Here I’m relying on Fox News/ Associated Press’s analyses of voting behavior, which can be contrasted with its 2016 exit poll data. I have to say, though, that the data is much-disputed and is definitely subject to revision. But given its methodology and sample size, the data produced by Fox/AP appear to me to be the most accurate for now.

Republicans have been crowing about their alleged success in expanding the party’s demographic base in the 2020 election. But the GOP’s advance among racial minorities was more than off-set by marginal but decisive decreases in the white vote.

Quite a few in the commentariat, including some who should know better, are claiming that Trump is creating a multi-racial working class party that threatens to undermine the Democratic Party. But they are not reckoning with the fact of Trump’s losses in the Rust Belt or the reasons for them:

1) Despite much chatter to the contrary, Donald Trump did not win a larger share of the black vote in 2020.

In both 2016 and 2020, according to Fox/AP, Trump won 8% of blacks respectively. Moreover, blacks were a smaller share of the electorate in 2020 (11%) than 2016 (12%).


Elections 2020 | Fox News



Total 12%

Hillary Clinton 89%

Donald Trump 8%

Gary Johnson 2%

Jill Stein 1%

2) While Donald Trump did better in 2020 among Hispanics, they were a smaller share of the electorate.

Trump won 35% of Hispanics in 2020 vs. 28% in 2016. But as a share of votes cast, Hispanics declined from 11% in 2016 to 9% in 2020.




Total 11%

Hillary Clinton 66%

Donald Trump 28%

Gary Johnson 3%

Jill Stein 2%

3) Trump lost crucial support among white voters, especially working-class men.

Whites were a larger percentage of the overall votes cast in 2020 (74%) than 2016 (71%).  Trump won 57% of the white vote in 2016 and 55% in 2020. (This is worse than it looks, because 4.6% voted for Third Parties in 2016, almost all white, vs. just 2% in 2020).

It was assumed by many that white women would turn en masse against the President, but that was not the case. In 2020, Trump matched his percentage from 2016 (52%) among White women—who were also a larger slice of the electorate in 2020 than 2016 (39% vs. 37%).

Meanwhile, white men were 34% of the electorate in 2016 and 36% in 2020. But Trump declined with this demographic, slipping from 62% in 2016 to 59% in 2020.



White women

Total 37%

Hillary Clinton 43%

Donald Trump 52%

Gary Johnson 3%

Jill Stein 1%


White Men

Total 34%

Hillary Clinton 31%

Donald Trump 62%

Gary Johnson 4%

Jill Stein 1%

The decline among whites was more pronounced among the working class than college graduates. Among white college graduates, Trump dropped to 46% from his 2016 total of 48%. But he suffered a steeper decline among white men without a college degree, winning 71% of that demographic in 2016 and just 64% in 2020.



White college graduates

Total 37%

Hillary Clinton 45%

Donald Trump 48%

Gary Johnson 4%

Jill Stein 1%



White men non-college graduates

Total 16%

Hillary Clinton 23%

Donald Trump 71%

Gary Johnson 4%

Jill Stein 1%

Had Trump maintained his 2016 percentage of white men without a college degree, he would have increased his national vote totals by 1.33%.

With the caveat that this percentage would not be spread equally among every state, here is a breakdown of several competitive states:

Given the overrepresentation of white males without college degrees in these states and the voting patterns tracked in exit polls at the state level, it appears that if Trump had merely held his 2016 national percentages among this demographic that he would have narrowly won Arizona, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin (Georgia is less clear) and today be plotting the contours of a second term rather than a legal strategy.

Current differences


Interestingly, Ryan Girdusky ran a simulation that closely matched the scenario of the election. He projected an election map if Trump lost 3% of the overall white vote but gained 10% of the Latino and 5% of the black vote. His predicted outcome looked like this:

 Ryan Girdusky Tweet, September 16, 2020

Looking at election results from Michigan provides insight into Trump’s losses among white voters. Trump lost ground throughout the state, including rural areas. In counties in the western part of the state and even the Upper Peninsula, Biden outperformed Hillary Clinton and Trump underperformed compared to 2016.

Take the example of Kent County, home of Gerald Ford and the city of Grand Rapids, a growing metropolitan area which has typically been a Republican stronghold. In 2016, Trump carried it by 3.1%, but in 2020 he lost by 6%.

In Macomb County, home of the "Reagan Democrat," Trump also ran behind his 2016 totals (11.5% margin in 2016 vs. 8% in 2020).

Similarly, in Georgia Biden made solid gains in counties that are predominantly white and those where most residents have no college degree.

In Pennsylvania, Biden’s largest tallies came from the dense population centers around Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and their respective suburbs. But Philadelphia County swung toward Trump by more than four percentage points compared with 2016.

Meanwhile, Trump lost ground in counties that he won handily in 2016 including York (3.8% shift), Lancaster (3.1% shift), Westmoreland (3.1% shift), Cumberland (6.8% shift) and Butler (3.6% shift), although the president held an enormous rally there with nearly 60,000 participants.

Trump underperformed his 2016 percentage of the vote across the country despite surpassing or at least matching his 2016 totals with major demographic groups (blacks, Hispanics, Evangelicals, white women, Mormons, and Jews) except white men.

The question is why? Fraud is certainly one possibility, but the cheating would have necessarily been systematic, across scores of jurisdictions. 

Did GOP voters turn against the President out of sheer exhaustion or a desire for “normalcy”? Were white voters turned off by Jared Kushner’s pandering to minorities? Was it Covid related? Or was it Trump's failure to aggressively pursue and campaign on a populist, nationalist economic agenda—specifically on immigration, as VDARE.com repeatedly complained?

In the first two years of Trump’s administration, with the GOP in complete control of the legislative branch, Trump had the opportunity to set a populist course and begin draining the “swamp.” Admittedly, there was opposition from all corners. But Trump failed to secure an infrastructure bill and turned over tax policy to Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. The 2017 tax bill likely encouraged the offshoring of manufacturing and the administration did not follow through with the promise of taxing remittances to build a wall along the southern border.

Above all, he did not pass into law immigration cuts—let alone abolish Birthright Citizenship.

Trump did not tame the law enforcement and national security bureaucracies and in fact allowed them to dominate his presidency. He surrounded himself with staff and cabinet department heads that actively subverted his agenda.

Yet still, Trump had a record of modest but real success. Unemployment and inflation were low and wage growth for the working class rose faster than other groups[Wage Growth Is Unequal — But Not in Way We’ve Come to Expect, by Josh Barro, NYMag.com, January 14, 2020]. Despite the intransigence of neoconservatives, tentative steps to withdraw American troops from Syria and Afghanistan were underway and further U. S. wars were avoided.

Trump imposed significant tariffs on imports from China. He secured new trade deals with Canada and Mexico—along with ending the upsurge in illegal immigration through Mexico—by wielding tariffs as an economic and political weapon. He used his executive powers to start building a wall along the southern border, dramatically lowered refugee admissions and began controlling H1-B visas.

Despite significant opposition, he proved that immigration is not a force of nature beyond our control but responds to policy changes. The number of immigrants (legal and illegal) grew much more slowly beginning in 2017 and as Ed Rubenstein has chronicled, Trump has reversed the displacement of American workers by immigrants and brought about a 14-month decline in the Immigrant Workforce Population. And, belatedly, Trump instituted a temporary de facto anti-unemployment immigration moratorium.

All that changed with a virus that has killed nearly 250,000 Americans, terrified millions more and driven the economy over a cliff.

But the events of the last seven months—the virus, the quarantine, the economic slump, and the riots—also provided an opening to foment a populist and nationalist reaction. The “pandemic” and the response to it have demonstrated that the emperor has no clothes. The institutions and ideology of globalism have failed. No one is turning to the World Health Organization, European Union or United Nations for answers.

The publics of Western nations have lost faith in global institutions. They are prepared to accept alternative visions to move forward.

But in substance no one is offering it to them, least of all the oddly silent Trump Administration.

In a 1996 post-mortem of Pat Buchanan’s presidential campaign, Sam Francis argued that Buchanan failed because of a “proclivity to draw back from the implications of his own radicalism.” [From Household to Nation The Middle American Populism of Pat Buchanan, Chronicles, March 1996]

In his recent and very illuminating book The Stakes, Michael Anton offered a similar analysis of Trump:

There’s little wrong with President Trump that more Trump couldn’t solve. More populism. More nationalism. More patriotism. More law and order. More full-throated advocacy for the neglected American people, for the working class, for the Rust Belt and rural America, for religious believers and law-abiding gun owners. More defense of free speech against tech and corporate censorship and suppression, more support for his voters when they or their interests are attacked. In short, more adherence to the 2016 agenda.

But instead of stymying the rioters and the raving iconoclasts, the Trump campaign talked endlessly about prison reform and Joe Biden’s support for the 1994 Crime Bill. Rather than reining in Big Tech—or at the very least leaving Twitter publicly and moving to Gab—Trump issued vague and empty threats. Instead of drastic immigration cutbacks, rolling back Birthright Citizenship, getting a grip on the opioid epidemic and speaking to the anxieties of blue-collar whites, the campaign played up historically low unemployment rates for blacks and Hispanics. And in the face of shortages of key medical necessities manufactured in China, where were proposals to reinvigorate and revitalize American manufacturing or thoughtful discussions of the need for an industrial policy?

Creating a political coalition that includes sympathetic minorities without abandoning the interests of the Historic American Nation requires a full-throated economic nationalism that takes on a populist tint. Economic nationalism is the formula that can express the material interests and cultural values of Middle America and create solidarity among otherwise disparate groups. It is only the path forward and the 2020 Presidential Election proves it.

In the end, it appears inarguable that Trump erred when he forsook the Sailer Strategy for the Kushner Strategy—or, as Takimag’s brilliant David Cole calls it, “The Failer Strategy.”

Scot Olmstead [email him] writes from Middle America.



Print Friendly and PDF