With his law-and-order, tough-on-protesters rhetoric, Donald Trump is courting a suburban vote that might no longer exist.
The lines of demarcation between the nation’s cities and their suburbs have faded in the decades since Richard M. Nixon courted the “Silent Majority” that elected him to the White House.
With his law-and-order, tough-on-protesters rhetoric, Donald Trump is betting his presidency it still exists.
The suburbs — not the red, but sparsely populated rural areas of the country most often associated with Trump — are where Trump found the majority of his support in 2016. Yet it was in the suburbs that Democrats built their House majority two years ago in a dramatic midterm repudiation of the Republican president.
Now, Trump’s approach to the violence and unrest that have gripped the nation’s big cities seems calibrated toward winning back those places, in the hopes that voters will recoil at the current images of chaos and looting — as they did in the late 1960s — and look to the White House for stability.
It is unclear how much more Trump can squeeze from his base. Rural areas have few voters to offer, Democratic-heavy cities detest the president, and the once-bright lines between them and the suburbs have blurred as people of color diversified the commuter belts and wealthy whites gentrified urban cores.
“You can’t do what Nixon called for what ‘law and order’ meant in the 1960s and ever have it succeed in America in 2020,” said Paul Maslin, a top Democratic pollster who worked on the presidential campaigns of Jimmy Carter and Howard Dean.
The changing state of the urban-suburban relationship was on display not only in the gains that Democrats made in the midterm elections, but in the reaction this week of suburban swing district Democrats to Trump. After Trump urged military action to stamp protests out, Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan lamented what she called a “dangerous path for our institutions, our military — and our nation.” In Virginia, Rep. Abigail Spanberger, whose district includes the northern suburbs of Richmond, accused the president of an “incendiary act of division.”
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