For many Americans who voted for Donald Trump in 2016, the last 17 months have been something of a relief.
The fact is, a crucial segment of his voters backed him reluctantly.
To be even more blunt: Many voters chose Trump simply because they could not stomach Hillary Clinton.
The polls masked this reality because both Clinton and Trump held record high negative poll ratings for major party nominees going into Election Day. Because Trump’s negative ratings were higher than Clinton’s, the conventional wisdom was that she would win. But what people forgot is that someone can have a negative view of BOTH candidates and still vote for one over the other. That’s what happened in 2016 and it’s a big reason why Trump won.
Why is this still relevant now?
Because while President Trump has pleasantly surprised many of those reluctant backers with his tax cuts, judicial confirmations, strong support for Israel, withdrawal from the Iran deal and other policy decisions, the best weapon he has in his political arsenal is this: He has really foolish and weak enemies.
Yes, with Democrats as President Trump’s enemies, who needs friends?
The unintentional ways the Democrats help Trump are infamous. But here are two very important highlights:
First, the still very unpopular Hillary Clinton refuses to go into relative obscurity like just about every other losing presidential candidate. There’s a reason no major party presidential nominee has been re-nominated for president since Richard Nixon in 1968. But since then, the stain of losing a presidential election has been impossible to shake. For at least the first few years after a presidential election loss, the best thing a losing candidate can do for his or her party is take a nice long vacation from the public eye. Even Al Gore, who lost the 2000 election by a much closer margin than Hillary Clinton did in 2016, did that.
Every time Clinton shows up and speaks out in public, some of the more reluctant Trump voters are reminded why they voted for him. In fact, prominent national pollster Scott Rasmussen recently told me that whatever President Trump’s daily approval rating may be, you have to add another 10 percent to account for the voters who won’t say they approve of him, but are still happier he’s the president and Clinton isn’t.
But Clinton doesn’t deserve all of the blame. There are plenty of other Democrats who are unintentionally helping President Trump every day.
In the course of the past few weeks, several prominent Democrats have gone from opposing the Trump administration’s immigration policies to vowing to abolish the entire border security service known as ICE. And now, Democrat New York State Attorney General candidate Zephyr Teachout is actually promising to prosecute and jail border control agents simply for doing their jobs if she’s elected. There may be a small percentage of voters who don’t mind that kind of lunacy, but as they used to say: “That won’t play in Peoria.”
More importantly, it won’t play in the union halls across the country either. One thing Democrats bashing ICE and the police over these last few years have forgotten is that those ICE agents and cops are all union workers.
Union workers are also more wary of illegal immigrants than most other Americans. They know illegal immigrants depress wages all over the country and tax resources in rural manufacturing towns. But not only does the Democratic Party fully support open borders and more illegal immigration, its leaders routinely bash anyone who opposes those policies as racist and backward.
The people they’re bashing are their own traditional voters.
But wait, there’s more!
Union workers aren’t just a key voting block for Democrats, they’re also the crucial source of Election Day “ground game” or “get out the vote” volunteers. And without unions, the Democrats are a coastal urban party with no chance of winning crucial swing states in the Midwest.
The numbers are starting to show the results.
According to the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, Hillary Clinton came closer to losing the union vote than any Democrat since Walter Mondale. She only edged out Trump by 51 percent to 43 percent nationally, and actually lost the union vote to Trump in key states like Ohio. By contrast, Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney by 58 percent to 40 percent among union voters nationally in 2012.
Since the election, President Trump has wooed more union voters with his focus on bringing back manufacturing jobs and imposing tariffs that unions have long supported. It’s come to the point that even AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka cannot rule out the possibility that his organization could endorse Trump for re-election in 2020.
That probably won’t happen. But the fact that Trumka entertains the idea indicates that he knows the rank-and-file membership is probably mostly on Trump’s side. Even if the major union leadership still forces official endorsements of the Democratic nominee in 2020, the actual union voters aren’t likely to care.
Think about that for one moment. President Trump has effectively stolen a key pillar of the Democratic Party establishment right out from under it. All it took was some tough trade policies, cutting manufacturing regulations, and Democratic opponents who bash union members for doing their jobs.
Only Trump could have done this. There was a time when the inherent charm of a Ronald Reagan could win over lots of Democrats, but times have changed. The wide array of establishment Republicans like Romney or Jeb Bush with their old money backgrounds and corporate connections could never accomplish this. Despite being a billionaire, Trump’s scrappy persona and decision to credibly embrace so many union-supported issues made it happen. Union members are fighters, and Trump appears to be fighting like them.
But again, this couldn’t happen without the Democrats’ help. Instead of using their long-held golden ticket of being seen as the party of the “little guy,” more and more Democrats are content with becoming the party of the fringe guy, the anti-police guy, and the foreign guy.
For those of us who remember a time when Orthodox Jews voted reliably Democrat, we know how the party can find ways to lose traditional supporters.
Donald Trump is the luckiest man in the history of American politics because his opponents are today’s Democratic Party.
Jake Novak has been a TV news producer and editorial columnist for more than 25 years, with expertise in political, economic, religious, and cultural issues. He has produced shows at CNBC, CNN, FOX, and several local stations across the country. Novak is a graduate of the Yeshivah of Flatbush, has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Columbia University, and a master’s degree from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny and watch out for future columns on 5TJT.com.