Reagan biographer Henry Olsen did a great job of forecasting the 2018 midterms, and so perhaps we should pay close attention to what else he has to say about our political future.
While the precise numbers are still trickling in, Olsen accurately anticipated the dynamic of the 2018 midterms: Republicans would have a great night in states such as Indiana, Missouri, and North Dakota, where the party won Senate seats, while the Democrats would do well in suburbia, from New York to Illinois to Kansas to Texas—and it’s those pickups that gave the Democrats the House. And then there are those governorships; Republicans lost seven of them.
So we can see: Just as Olsen prophesied, the story of the 2018 midterms was the doubling-down of Trumpian voters in red states and the defection of many Republican voters in blue states and even red states.
To describe these Republican defectors, Olsen uses the familiar phrase “RINO”—that is, Republican In Name Only. Olsen points out that many of these RINOs voted for Mitt Romney for president in the 2012, but voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. As he puts it, “RINO voters have long preferred candidates such as Bob Dole, the two George Bushes, John McCain, and Mitt Romney. So long as folks like these led the party, RINOs were happy to keep the ‘R’ in their names even as they increasingly battled the GOP’s more conservative elements. But Trump changed all that.” We might note, of course, that one of the victors Tuesday night was Mitt Romney, Utah’s new Senator-elect.
We might also note that while RINO is often used as a dismissive epithet, Olsen means it more as just a factual observation. It’s simply a fact that millions of Republicans have decided, in the last two or three years, that they are not Republicans anymore—or at least not Republican voters. And while it might seem tempting for others, especially among the ranks of strong Trump supporters, to say “good riddance” to these folks, it’s also clear that their absence hurts the Republican Party overall. In fact, the RINO exit just cost the GOP the House.
As a result, come January, the new Democratic majority in the House—almost certainly to be led, again, by Nancy Pelosi—will likely be dedicated to making many in the Trump administration miserable, to say nothing of thwarting its legislation.
To be sure, even as RINOs were on the run, the Donald Trump-ified Republican Party has been getting reinforcements—and those newbies saved the GOP Senate. It’s worth noting, for instance, that for all the discussion of how the Democrats faced a “tough map” in the Senate this year, most of those same Democrats had won six years ago in the exact same states. Those states are no longer as Democrat-friendly today.
Olsen describes these new red-state reinforcements by coming up with a coinage for a new kind of political critter: “Trump made up for the loss of the RINOs by recruiting his own brand of beast, the TIGR. That’s my all-too-cute acronym to describe the blue-collar people who switched parties: Trump Is Great Republicans.”
The idea behind TIGR, of course, is familiar to Breitbart News readers. In fact, it seems safe to say that the ranks of TIGRs include many who were Democrats and independents until very recently. Olsen points out that, similar to the RINOs who voted for Romney in 2012 and Clinton in 2016, the TIGRs voted for Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016.
Olsen explains that TIGRs are their own breed of cat: “TIGRs are not real Republicans either; they strongly disagree with movement conservatism on business tax cuts, entitlement cuts, and many social issues. But they do agree with them on questions like restricting immigration and fighting Muslim terrorists, and they share the movement conservative’s pride in America. Trump’s slogan, Make America Great Again, encapsulates these beliefs, and they voted for Republicans in 2016 largely because of Trump’s efforts.”
So we can see: Both RINOs and TIGRs are each volatile Republican voters—their loyalty to the GOP is no cinch. So now we might pause to observe that there’s another important species of Republican voters, whom Olsen identifies as “traditional Republican elephants.” These are the folks who cheerfully vote the Republican ticket, year after year. Yet unfortunately for the Republican National Committee, there simply aren’t enough of these traditional elephants to make a longterm popular-vote majority. In other words, the GOP needs to do some coalition problem-solving: How to get as many RINOs and TIGRs as possible, pulling in the same harness, alongside the elephants?
To put it mildly, this is not easy, and it probably won’t get easier. After all, today’s, RINOs don’t want to vote Republican when Trump is on the scene. And tomorrow, TIGRs might not want to vote Republican when Trump is, inevitably, one day, off the scene.
Yet as Tuesday’s election results remind us, if the GOP wants to be a full-spectrum majority, it had better figure out how to get the gang back together. It has to unite the disaffected suburban liberal voters with the new Trumpian working class voters and the rest of the traditional movement conservative coalition.
So what to do? Is this problem even soluble? For his part, Olsen thinks it is. He says that it is, in fact, possible to bridge the gap between “chardonnay-sipping Californians, Bud-slurping Wisconsinites, Scotch-swilling businessmen, and teetotaling Baptists.” And why does he think it’s possible? Answers Olsen: “I know it can be done because it has been done, by Ronald Wilson Reagan.”
Oh yes, the Great Gipper, our 40th president. He was able to unite rural, small town, and suburban America into an overwhelming victory coalition. That’s why he won 44 states, and 489 electoral votes, in 1980, and 49 states, and 525 electoral votes, in 1984. Those are pretty good numbers, of the kind not seen since the 1980s.
As it happens, this author admiringly reviewed Olsen’s book, The Working Class Republican: Ronald Reagan and the Return of Blue-Collar Conservatism, here at Breitbart News last year. It seemed relevant then as a formula for a big Republican victory, and it seems even more relevant today, as the Romneyites and Trumpians explore whether a big victory alliance is possible.
By contrast, as Olsen argues, without a reconciliation between RINOs and TIGRs, it’s possible that Trump still could win in 2020, but it would probably be again without a popular-vote majority, or even a plurality, and that would be delegitimizing. Moreover, the lack of a big coalition would likely eliminate any chance of winning back the House—which the GOP lost nationwide by at least seven points, according to the New York Times’ popular vote forecaster.
In two short years, Republicans sure could use another Reagan-like presidential victory.
And the Gipper showed us that it can be done.