An ideological shift, not in the electorate but in Republican party messaging, might explain why the blue wall went red in 2016.
In 2016, President’s electoral win was facilitated by the collapsing of the so-called blue wall. The reliably Democratic states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, along with Rust Belt Ohio, swung right and handed Trump 64 electoral votes, an integral step of his path to electoral victory.
At the time, this seemed to have significance beyond the 2016 election. Could this be a geographical shift in the electorate, the creation of a new voting bloc that would greatly bolster the Republican path to electoral college victory?
Fast-forward to 2020 and the answer seems to be, no. While none of the results have been certified, it seems pretty clear that Joe Biden carried Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. With Ohio swinging for Trump, it seems the current president can still number parts of the Rust Belt among his supporters, but the blue wall has returned.
If 2016 wasn’t a geographic shift, how, then, can the election results for that year be understood?
One answer may be that 2016 was not a geographical shift, but an ideological one.
In a political world where the president is the symbolic head of the party and, as Congress continues to default on its Constitutionally-delegated responsibilities, often the person who sets a party’s policy agenda, Trump may now be the prototypical example of a Republican. But at the time of his nomination, he was anything but conventional.
His economic agenda, in particular better resembled the party platform of his opponent than of the conservative wing of the Republican party, whose free market policies had reliably been the dominant voice in the GOP’s economic policy at least since Ronald Reagan.
But Trump was a populist, albeit a weird one. Historically, populism’s agrarian roots look on manufacturing as a corruptive force, responsible not only for destroying their economic opportunities but traditional cultural norms, as well…