Two facts from this November’s elections have really gnawed at me:
1) Impeached sore loser Donald Trump got 10 million more votes in 2020 than he did in 2016. Given some losses among suburban college-educated white women and other never-Trumpers, that means that over 10 million new people took a look at Trump’s last four years and thought, “Yeah, that’s the guy that’s getting me out to cast my first vote.”
2) The polls once again undercounted Republican support, like in 2016. Yet in 2018 and 2019, the polls were fine. So what gives?
I have a theory, and it’s the existence of a “hidden deplorable,” and it’s a wonder Joe Biden and the Democrats managed to salvage the White House given their existence.
From the start, let’s dispense with the notion of a “shy Trump voter.” These people aren’t shy, yet they certainly exist. They’re the assholes trying to run the Biden campaign bus off the road in Texas. They’re the anti-government militias in Michigan. They’re these people:
There’s nothing “shy” about these people or their support for Trump, yet pollsters aren’t catching them. They turn out for Trump, but they didn’t turn out for Republicans in 2017, 2018, or 2019. Remember, last year Democrats picked up governorships in the blood-red states of Louisiana and Kentucky.
No amount of personal begging and pleading from Trump could get Republicans to the polls in those red states, nor did his extensive campaigning help his party during the 2018 Democratic wave year.
Yet with the national environment only worsened from the COVID-19 pandemic and other Trump self-inflicted wounds (like his failed trade war against China), Republicans stormed back this year, dealing Democrats painful down-ballot losses in the House, Senate, and state legislatures. Not only will those loses hamstring a Biden administration, even if we win both Senate runoffs in Georgia in January, but Republicans will have a free hand to redraw U.S. House and state legislative maps to their enduring, decades-long advantage.
All because Trump was at the top of the ballot.
So again, who are these people who only vote for Trump, otherwise ignore the Republican Party (despite Trump’s pleading), and don’t talk to pollsters?
The hidden deplorables aren’t Republican. They aren’t even conservative. They’re apolitical, otherwise ignoring politics, because their lives legitimately suck. They live in meth country, with dim job prospects (in fact, those two factors are highly correlated). Institutions have failed them—corporations abandoned them for cheaper labor overseas, government seems and feels distant, and it’s certainly not improving their lives. Cities feel like walled gardens—unattainable, unaffordable, yet that’s where all the jobs are, the culture, the action. These deplorables have been left behind. So their attitude? “Fuck them all.”
Trump shows up in 2016 and gives them hope for change, saying the quiet part out loud—that their lives suck not because of their own choices and that of those decamped corporations, but because all that sweet, sweet government money is going to “illegals” and “thugs” in those cities. He puts uppity Black and brown people and women in their place. He offers them hope that, if he can’t improve their lives, that at least he’ll hurt all those others.
“I voted for him, and he’s the one who’s doing this,” she said of Mr. Trump. “I thought he was going to do good things. He’s not hurting the people he needs to be hurting.”
Their lives suck, but Trump was supposed to be bringing everyone else down to their level. That’s why all that nonsense about “economic uncertainty” was such bullshit. None of these people ever thought Trump would bring back the factories, paying good middle-class wages. They can do the same math that the corporations have. But it would all be worth it if Trump would just hurt the people he needed to be hurt.
And then he did. He put brown kids in cages. He sent federal troops against the Black Lives Matter “mobs.” He nominated judges hostile to a woman’s right to have agency over her body.
And above else? He destroyed. He tore shit down. Norms, traditions, entire agencies.
So 2020 rolled around, and Trump no longer offered hope of economic revival in these economically devastated meth counties. Instead, he was the personification of their rage made real, in the Oval Office itself.
We saw this in Georgia, where Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Rep. Doug Collins were locked in a battle to make it to the January runoff in the state’s special election. Loeffler was originally chosen to try and appeal to the very white moderate college-educated suburban women that were abandoning the GOP and endangering the party’s electoral chances. Collins is a right-wing ideologue, a staunch Trump ally, and the clear favorite of the Freedom Caucus wing of the GOP. So how did Loeffler fend him off? By moving to Collins’ right, like this ad that claimed she was “More conservative than Attila the Hun” and had a ”100 per cent Trump voting record.”
Loeffler literally said she was worse than a king best known for raping, pillaging, plundering, and extorting the Roman Empire into near insolvency. There are no Hun ruins you can visit today because they built no civilization, created no lasting art or culture.
So truly, Loeffler couldn’t have picked a better representative of the modern Trumpian Republican Party—destructive, barbaric, and corrupt.
Now given their hatred for institutions like government and the media, is it any wonder that these hidden deplorables wouldn’t answer pollsters’ questions? Any attempt to survey them would likely be met with a middle finger and a “fuck you.”
So the last four years have shown us that they only turn out when Donald Trump is in the battle. We’ll have an early test of my Hidden Deplorables theory in January, when the two Senate seats in Georgia are decided. Given the essentially tied result in the presidential race (we won by a sliver), that special election will come down to the party that suffers the last amount of drop-off from their November turnout.
Trump got a remarkable 369,000 more votes in the Peach State this year compared to 2016, when he won the state by 5%. That should’ve been enough to seal the deal again. Yet Stacey Abrams, her volunteers, and an army of allied organizations did the near-impossible: Biden got 594,000 more votes than Hillary Clinton did in 2016. That is beyond mind-blowing!
If I’m right, Republican turnout among those new Trump voters could very well be catastrophic for the GOP. Now to be clear, no one should expect this. We assume they get every single one of their voters out. We need to out-hustle them, and they’ll be working their assess off to turn those people out. So to be 100% clear, this isn’t a prediction, nor is it even a hope.
If Republicans can get these hidden deplorables out, then the political picture the next few cycles will be rough—more closely fought elections, control of Congress and the White House balancing on a razor’s edge. Making progress will be a tough slog.
On the other hand, if the hidden deplorables only come out when Trump is on the ballot, then that gives us some breathing room in the next few cycles ahead. That is, until a Trump ends up back on the presidential ballot in 2024.
Now this is an evolving theory, and it may be bolstered or undermined as additional data and information emerges (not to mention the Georgia runoff results will reveal a great deal). But regardless, Trump is likely the single greatest campaigner in modern presidential history. Hillary Clinton didn’t lose because she was a terrible candidate, she lost because she faced a political prodigy, someone whose ability to tickle the darkest recesses of the white American’s lizard brain is unparalleled, in a country that doesn’t elect its presidents by popular vote, but by a system that overrepresents white rural states. Joe Biden cobbled together enough of a coalition to defeat Trump, but the damage was deep down-ballot precisely because so many of the House, Senate, and state legislative battles were fought in disproportionately white and rural states and districts—the places most excited by Trump’s candidacy.
So take a man who has criminally mismanaged the country, enriching himself at the expense of its people and his donors, killed a quarter million Americans due to negligence, leading to the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression, and didn’t even bother to have a campaign platform because neither he nor his party cares about issues anymore … and he gets 10 million more votes than the last time? That number is a testament to his power as a vote-getter. Let’s hope no other Republicans reverse engineers that formula anytime soon. And let’s pray that these hidden deplorables, seeing their vote cast for a loser (and a loser who claims the vote was stolen!) decide to return to whatever dark crevices they emerged from.