Rebuilding the Reagan Coalition is a tall order

After Reagan’s landslide in 1984, Republicans could not reach 300 electoral votes until Trump’s victory in 2016 and in the last 7 presidential elections, they won the popular vote only once in 2004. Those facts exemplify the crisis of leadership in the Republican Party. This must be cured as fast as possible if America wants to avoid the radical progressive agenda, proposed by the Democratic party.

But there are different ideas about the path that the party should follow. Nathaniel Blake published in The Federalist that the Right need more than resurrected Reaganism to beat the Left. Peter Spiliakos describes the Reagan agenda as a trap in National Review. But the President of the Heritage Foundation Kay C. James has said in the Washington Times that Reagan’s call for conservatism needs to be heard again. We read almost the same in the American Conservative, where Craig Shirley wrote about the need for a Reagan revival.

Despite varied opinions we do not have an answer for how a new Reagan coalition could be created. Before this could be even considered the unity between different branches of the Reagan Republican party needs to be at least partly restored and the more extreme fringes controlled.

The Reagan coalition consisted of staunch conservatives, social conservatives, the white working-class, and Reagan Democrats. We remember how much Trump worked to get working-class voters from the Mid-West by calling them “forgotten”. This was a successful tactic for the GOP in 2016, but it still was not enough to get a popular majority. Moreover, the fragility of the Republican electoral coalition was then reaffirmed in the 2020 presidential election.

First of all, the Republicans lost the electoral college, and on top of that they lost the popular vote by  almost 5 million votes and in addition, they failed to effectively stand against the President’s wild claims of a “rigged election”. As a result, for the third time in the last four elections, Democrats have taken the White House.

Could Donald Trump create a new Reagan Coalition or is it possible for another Republican leader, to step up and build for the future?

It is possible, but is it probable? For Trump, in the response to his rhetoric, it was and is now even more impossible. Trump’s unconventional language and tough tone were never acceptable for the Republican hierarchy, so this part of the party was excluded from the Trump coalition even in the beginning. Trump’s behaviour since the election result, especially in the wake of the events in the Capitol, has alienated every group that is not his hardcore base – even those that had previously been voting for him.

Trump was also never able to woo parts of the Democratic party. He did have support from the more libertarian and small government Republicans, especially those who dislike the progressive agenda, but there were still many issues on which he drove them away. 

However, Trump got an absolute majority of social conservatives. He managed to persuade them, that if elected he would have appointed a Scalia-style, conservative-leaning justice in the Supreme Court. He won the votes of working-class white people with no college degree, which guaranteed him getting swing states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin in the Mid-West. His 2016 election victory was driven by those who did not normally vote. This was the Trump Coalition, created by very smart plan and analysis, but it was a long way away from Reagan. It also was not replicable in 2020, for several factors, not least that Biden was also able to speak to those voters in a way that Clinton never could.

America is clearly polarised, and the creation of any stable political coalition in the country is severely undermined. One of the most significant reasons for the divide is geography. Coastal Democratic states and liberal progressive culture has so little in common with those in rural central America. The social-economic factors establishing this division, have come dangerously close to creating two Americas.

Also, the type of problems themselves is a major challenge. In an era of economic globalisation, many Americans think that they need fair trade rather than free trade, which was advocated by President Trump. This position has historically been out of favour with the Republican leadership.

Foreign policy is an issue as well. Republican “leaders” remain neoconservative-like hawks, who support more intervention abroad, when white working-class and social conservatives are tired with “endless wars”, so they can barely find common ground. The tensions between former National Security Advisor John Bolton and President Trump were a clear example of this problem, especially when it came to the withdrawal of the military from the Middle East and Europe.

The modern challenges of economic globalisation, cultural differences between coastal and middle states, trade agreements, foreign policy, immigration, and other prominent issues make the creation of a successful broad coalition like that of Reagan far less possible. In the Reagan era, there were far fewer corporations leaving America for Mexico, China, or other Southern-Asian countries. There was no Big Tech adversity or social media to inflame opposition or to provide echo chambers. Moreover, there was no “woke” agenda attacking wrongthink with a blind lack of understanding.

If any Republican wishes to step forward today and emulate Reagan they need to fight against this entrenched polarisation. Without minimising division, any attempt to replicate that coalition will merely fail.

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