Say what you will about Karl Rove – and people say all sorts of things – but his political track record makes clear that he’s someone who should be listened to. Rove was, after all, the architect of George W. Bush’s two presidential campaigns, and warned about the need to broaden the Republican Party’s coalition beyond whites more than a decade ago.
So I was intrigued when I came across these comments Rove made at a post-2018 election conference in Sea Island, Georgia:
“We’ve got to be worried about what’s happening in the suburbs. We get wiped out in the Dallas suburbs, Houston suburbs, Chicago suburbs, Denver suburbs – you know there’s a pattern – Detroit suburbs, Minneapolis suburbs, Orange County, California, suburbs. When we start to lose in the suburbs, it says something to us. We can’t replace all of those people by simply picking up (Minnesota’s First Congressional District) – farm country and the Iron range of Minnesota – because, frankly, there’s more growth in suburban areas than there is in rural areas.”
Rove is exactly 100% right.
In the 2018 election, Democrats gained a slew of former Republican-held seats in the suburbs – from Atlanta to the Twin Cities to Philadelphia to Chicago. According to the exit polling, suburban voters made up a majority (51%) of the overall electorate – up 2 points from 2016. And unlike in 2016, when Donald Trump carried suburban voters by 4 points, in 2018 suburbanites split their votes right down the middle – 49% for Republican House candidates, 49% for Democratic ones.
In 2014, the last midterm election, suburban voters made up 52% of the electorate but went for Republican candidates by 12 points. That’s the same margin that Republicans won suburban voters by in the 2010 election.
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You get the idea. Among a group that comprises 50-ish% of the electorate, Republicans have lost their one-time (and longtime) edge.
In his remarks, Rove said vaguely that the party needed to figure out why it had lost its suburban superiority. But the actual answer (as I strongly suspect Rove knows) is actually quite simple: Suburbanites – especially suburban women – have a very negative view of President Trump, and that dislike is what is driving them away from the party that had long aligned with their own fiscal interests.
Women, who made up 52% of the national House electorate on Tuesday, went for Democratic candidates over Republican ones by 19 points. Four years earlier, in the last pre-Trump midterm election, Democratic candidates only outpaced Republicans among women by 4 points. You do the math.
The Point: Way back in 2000, Rove – and Bush – warned the GOP of the long-term problems for the party of its predominantly white and male base. The party didn’t listen and, in fact, went the other way by nominating Trump in 2016. Eighteen years after his first warning, Rove is warning his side of another demographic catastrophe looming on the horizon. Will they listen to him this time?