Since then, Trump’s moderate patina has been wiped off.
By July 2019, the Quinnipiac University National Poll found that just over half the electorate, 51 percent, described Trump as a “racist,” compared with 45 percent who said he was not.
This shift has clearly made it more difficult to reach center-moderate voters, especially the suburban voters he is currently focusing his attention on, as he promises to “protect” their communities from Democrats he claims are determined to build affordable housing for minorities wherever possible, or hellbent on inviting MS-13 gang members to move in next door.
Ryan Enos, a political scientist at Harvard who has studied white racial attitudes, emailed me to say that
the issues Trump is trying to capitalize on are just not very important to most voters because they are not part of their lived experience or for the lived experience of most people they know — or most Americans for that matter.
As a rule, Enos continued,
the recent protests were not violent, most suburbanites don’t have low-income people moving into their neighborhoods, most people probably have no real sense of what is the particular curriculum of schools and don’t care that much anyway.
Trump, Enos wrote,
is trying to resurrect campaign themes from the 1960s when these were real issues because racial integration was happening at a rapid pace, both in neighborhoods and schools, and the protests that happened were very destructive and widespread.
For the very small number of voters who remain undecided, “these issues will take a distant back seat to the issue of coronavirus,” in Enos’s view.
Frey provided trend data in an email showing that from 2000 to 2020,
White non-college women in the suburbs fall from 31 percent to 20 percent. And all white non-college suburbanites — both men and women — decline from 58 percent to 40 percent. Racial minorities grow from 18 percent to 32 percent, and white college women from 11 percent to 15 percent.
In other words, Frey wrote,
We are looking at suburbs where white women are hardly the majority, and not likely to be scared by “city violence” or interactions with non-white racial and ethnic groups. And among whites, white college women — those who are least approving of Trump — are growing.
Joel Kotkin, presidential fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Urban Reform Institute, argues that in other circumstances, the Trump themes might be effective. Referring to densification — a strategy to create affordable housing — Kotkin argues that people of all races and ethnicities generally “do not like density” and oppose
what the gentry wants — that is to take the poor out of the cities and impose them on the middle class. Many minority communities see this as well, and they were critical in defeating forced densification here in California.
A strategy designed to capitalize on these views, Kotkin continued, “would work better if the president was not Trump.” To many people, “he is an offensive character with a déclassé base.”
Even though “Trump is better organized” than he was last time “and the riots and the strident B.L.M. rhetoric rubs even many old liberals the wrong way,” Kotkin concluded, “my sense is that the Dems hold their suburban edge, but perhaps not by as much as 2018.”
Trump is still the underdog, but attentive observers like Michael Moore, C.N.N.’s Richard Galant, Susan Milligan of U.S. News, The Los Angeles Times’s Doyle McManus, and The Washington Post’s Philip Bump are willing to entertain the possibility that Trump could win.