On The Trail: Trump presents vision of the suburbs decades out of date
President Trump is highlighting a vision of the suburbs as a part of his reelection message that paints them as a relic of the 1950s instead of the rapidly diversifying areas they really are in 2020.
If the suburbs were once the lily-white bastions of homogeneous picket fences, nuclear families and “suburban housewives,” in Trump terminology, they are now just as diverse as the nation at large.
“The suburbs have been rapidly diversifying for three decades, and most suburban ‘housewives’ work full-time,” said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University.
Fewer than two-thirds of suburban residents counted in the 2010 census were white, down from 81 percent in 1990, according to Brookings Institution demographer William Frey.
The 2010 census showed for the first time that more Black Americans live in the suburbs surrounding the nation’s 100 largest cities than within the cities themselves. Majorities of Hispanics and Asian Americans have lived in the suburbs for several decades.
“This is an imaginary suburb that Trump is talking about,” Frey said. “Today, the suburbs are just like the rest of America. They’re rich and poor and Black and white and Hispanic.”
As his poll numbers have sunk and the coronavirus pandemic has gripped the nation, Trump has sought a new approach to suburban voters and suburban women that is a 21st century version of Richard Nixon’s law-and-order campaign in 1968.
He has warned in recent weeks about an invasion of the suburbs, if former Vice President Joe Biden adopts Sen. Cory Booker’s (D-N.J.) housing plan.
“The ‘suburban housewife’ will be voting for me. They want safety & are thrilled that I ended the long running program where low-income housing would invade their neighborhood. Biden would reinstall it, in a bigger form, with Corey [sic] Booker in charge!” Trump wrote on Twitter last week.
“I am happy to inform all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood,” Trump wrote in July. “Your housing prices will go up based on the market, and crime will go down.”
Earlier, he accused Biden of planning to “Abolish Suburbs.”
The convention at which Trump is renominated is expected to highlight the tough-on-crime theme he has embraced since the 1980s, through his first convention when he warned of “American carnage” and into the more recent protests after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
It’s a continuation of a pattern for Trump, who has constantly played to his base while rarely making overtures to outside groups.
Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis couple who threatened Black Lives Matters protesters with guns outside their St. Louis home, have been invited to speak.
But polls show suburban voters are decidedly not on the McCloskeys’ side, suggesting Trump’s approach is doomed to failure.
Two-thirds of suburban voters told pollsters from The Washington Post and ABC News last month they think Black people and other minorities do not receive equal treatment in the criminal justice system. Fifty-seven percent said they support the Black Lives Matter movement.
Trump is right to be concerned about his performance in suburban areas, home to a majority of American voters.
Since 2004, no Republican has won the White House without winning the suburban vote by at least 4 percentage points — the share Trump scored in 2016, when he carried the Electoral College while losing the popular vote. Mitt Romney lost his challenge to President Obama in 2012 despite carrying suburban voters by 2 points.
Today, Trump is losing the suburbs to Biden. A Washington Post-ABC poll released on the eve of the Democratic National Convention showed Biden leading among suburban voters by a 51 percent to 43 percent margin, an almost unprecedented gap in modern political history.
Trump’s appeals to suburban voters are crucial to his chances at winning a second term. But his message is not likely to resonate in the American suburbia he envisions, because it no longer exists.
On The Trail is a reported column by Reid Wilson, primarily focused on the 2020 elections.