You don’t want to draw broad, sweeping conclusions about national politics based on a single eccentric race for a state Supreme Court seat, but Rebecca Dallet’s victory in Tuesday’s election in Wisconsin did perfectly piece together a number of trends that we’ve seen across a bunch of races in 2017 and 2018 and that paint an alarming picture for Republicans.
Check out this map that J. Miles Coleman made showing Dallet’s margins county by county relative to Hillary Clinton and Russ Feingold. The main thing here is that it’s just not that interesting — outside of the specific case of Menominee County, Dallet just did better everywhere.
There was ultimately no big strategic trade-off between chasing votes in highly educated Dane County and chasing votes in working-class rural areas.
Now if you compare Clinton in 2016 to Barack Obama in 2012, you’ll see she gained votes in the suburban counties around Milwaukee (which means she lost them by less than he did, not that she won them) while losing ground in many rural portions of the state. Dallet essentially pocketed those gains, while also regaining some of the ground that Clinton lost in 2016.
And that’s the basic bind that Donald Trump has put the GOP in. Nothing he has said or done since taking office has put to rest any of the doubts that pushed people away from him had — he still seems impulsive, disrespectful, and extremely casual about the line between his personal finances and the public’s business. But at least some people were convinced to vote for him because he seemed “different” from earlier Republicans on important policy grounds. As president, he’s shown no sign of that heterodox campaign persona, driving Trump-curious Democrats back to the fold.
The one fly in Democrats’ ointment is that Dallet underperformed in the heavily African-American portions of Milwaukee County, where Clinton herself underperformed on Obama’s margins. Wisconsinites tell me that it’s typical for black turnout to fall disproportionately in these spring elections, which are officially nonpartisan, and then to bounce back in November.
Obviously, there’s no guarantee that these patterns will hold up in the midterms. But what we’re seeing so far is a recipe for a strong Democratic wave that’s based fundamentally on a rejection of some of the big dichotomies that rapidly arose in November 2016 — Democrats are showing a real ability to win back a healthy slice of the white working-class voters who swung to Trump without ceding the educated suburban professionals whom he repulsed back to the GOP.
And at the moment, Republicans appear to have no answer to this. They are neither distancing themselves from Trump and his erratic persona nor embracing the occasionally moderate economic policy ideas he ran on two years ago. And no number of electoral losses seems able to deter them from this course.