By any objective historical analysis, the President should far and way be the favorite for reelection. The economy is booming, the country is at relative peace and the unemployment rate is the lowest it has been in over a decade.
Instead, the President finds himself no more than a 50/50 bet due to his course rhetoric, doubling down on the culture wars and inability to broaden his appeal to moderate voters. That was, until El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio happened.
The rhetoric surrounding the incident has been around whether Trump’s rhetoric led to such slaughters. Never-mind, the madman in El Paso held a swath of inconsistent political views and the Dayton shooter was a supporter of Antifa.
But, a mere few days after the heinous acts, the President flipped the script on the convention left/right debate on guns by coming out in support of the idea of universal background checks and expanded ERPO’s (Emergency Restraining Protective Orders). The President’s uneasy alliance with the NRA even took a hit for even mentioning some form of gun-control.
But, if there was one political goal the President’s messaging was geared to address it was his weakness in the suburbs. The party’s erosion there threatens the President’s reelection, the party’s Senate majority and further mire them into the minority in the House.
President Trump and Congressional Republicans won the suburbs in 2016 by four percent (49-45). Fast-forward a mere two years and data from he Cooperative Congressional Election study found Democrats won the suburban vote in every region minus the South. The fact it was even a near tie in the South explains why the party lost several ancestrally red seats in TX, OK and SC.
Trump’s play for most of this year has been to appeal to his base on tariffs, race, culture and immigration. The strong economy and lower taxes was supposed to boost his standing in the suburbs but it has not happened indicating the many, upper class, moderate voters in these areas need a reason to vote for a President they personally dislike.
Gun control could offer them that reason. Suburban voters are much less likely to red/blue on the issue and more likely to support some sort of middle ground like universal background checks and ERPO’s. Trump’s attempt to get Republicans to back universal background checks is a sign he recognizes this could be a bridge for suburban voters to support his candidacy.
It is also likely another attempt by the President to reshuffle the traditional left/right paradigm for next year. In 2016, some polls showed more voters thought Trump was more moderate than Hillary Clinton. You read that right, a majority of voters thought Trump was more moderate than Hillary Clinton. Obviously, that has to be balanced with the issue. For example, on the Supreme Court few thought Trump was more moderate. But on abortion, foreign policy and the economy? You be the judge.
Trump likely needs such atypical pleas to reach these voters. Obviously, these voters are more culturally liberal than the President and their votes outnumber the President’s base. Thus, he needs these voters.
Democratic candidates for president are unwise to ignore the threat this poses to their candidacies. Trump does not need to win the suburbs but merely hold down his losses while boosting turnout in his rural base in a handful of Midwest and Sunbelt States. These states did not flip in 2018 despite coming close precisely because the President’s base still outnumbers suburban and urban voters.
Democratic candidates are in a sprint to the left in order to win over primary voters. This ignores a large majority of even the party’s voters are moderates. Few would probably vote for Trump but depressed turnout could occur if they feel their party is trying to mandate abortion on demand, hike their taxes, call them racist and take away the healthcare they like. Further, if Democrats are actually seen as further left on gun-control the entire dynamic could be flipped and give Republicans and Trump a potent message for next year.
Nothing is written in stone though. Trump’s play could fail spectacularly and the President’s ominous silence since he first announced support for universal background checks is not a good sign. Prominent Senate Republicans (minus Mitch McConnell) have come out and voiced concerns about such ideas meaning Trump might not be able to take his party along with him.
But, Trump needed an issue to reconnect with suburban voters on. Gun control offers him such a link. It is an opportunity he should not squander.