The political condition of the Republican Party is not static. Their position has deteriorated steadily over the last year. At this point, one out of six Republican seats in the House of Representatives is going uncontested by the incumbent and, according to Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report, the pool of vulnerable GOP-held districts has nearly doubled over the last eight months.
Wasserman explains this trend in a fairly easy to understand way. The first point he makes is one I’ve been making off and on myself, which is that Trump’s strongest supporters have never liked House Republicans (or Senators, for that matter) and that they therefore cannot be counted on to show up to vote for them.
“They believed in Trump fervently, but they’ve never liked congressional Republicans at all. In fact, Trump gained ground by running against them in 2016. So why are they going to turn out this year for congressional Republicans?”
There’s a lot of overlap between these voters and the voters who made up the Tea Party surge of 2010. They aren’t matching Democratic enthusiasm this time around.
The second explanation Wasserman offers is one that is observable to even the most casually engaged voter.
“The most telling number in the most recent NBC/WSJ poll is that Trump’s approval rating among women with college degrees was 26 percent. That’s absolutely awful and the intensity of that group is extraordinary. They’re already the most likely demographic to turn out to vote in midterms. But never have they been this fervently anti-Republican.”
“Yes, it’s about how upset suburban professional women are, with regard to family separations at the border and Trump’s temperament and behavior.”
I think it’s severely inadequate to attribute this hostility from college-educated women to distaste for child kidnapping at the border and Trump’s personality and behavior. What distinguishes college-educated women is that their very existence as independent, professional women is now threatened. If Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed to the Supreme Court, there will be a conservative majority to overturn Roe v. Wade for the first time. Women’s reproductive health will come under assault not just from Republican legislators. Restrictions on access to contraceptives can be expected to be upheld in the courts. Women will find it harder to find relief for workplace harassment, discrimination and unequal treatment. Title IX protections will be eviscerated.
For a long time it has been difficult to convince people that this is where Republican majorities would eventually lead, but it’s safe to say that college-educated women have collectively awoken to how far advanced the threat has become, and they’ve snapped into an appropriately urgent state of political resistance.
There is such a wide array of danger signs. Professional women understand that a career depends on the ability to delay and control childbirth. The same can be said for true independence which grants real free choice in decisions on marriage or sexual partnership. Basic protections against sexual discrimination, and especially sexual assault, are key factors in women’s ability to safely navigate and succeed in both academia and the workplace. It was appalling enough to see Trump get elected despite all the credible allegations of assault (and worse) leveled against him, but to see those values begin to translate into actual policy is a challenge to the very idea of the modern woman.
It’s safe to say that almost every professional woman could recognize and take umbrage at the spectacle of an unqualified man getting a promotion to the presidency over a woman who had checked all the boxes and clearly deserved the job. That alone was a mobilizing event. But it’s the prospect that the very prerequisites to a professional life are under threat that has really set this cohort in motion. By some estimates, seventy percent of the people involved in local resistance groups are women, and women make up the majority of these groups’ leadership positions. There are a record number of women running for office this year, despite the fact that it’s not a record on the Republican side.
Despite all the signs that professional and college-educated women are coming for the Republicans this November, the Trump supporters have been conditioned to disbelieve the evidence. Here’s Jonathan Swan reporting on this phenomenon:
“One of those [GOP] strategists told me he’s detecting something interesting — and concerning — from focus groups of Trump voters.”
Said the strategist: “We’ve seen it in focus groups, with Republican base voters, where you’ll come up with a hypothetical that the Democrats win, and people are like, ‘That’s not going to happen, that’s stupid.’ … They’re like, ‘Oh, to hell with this crap, we were told Trump wasn’t going to win. It’s bullshit.’”
Based on experience, they’d be justified if their skepticism was based on nothing more than polling data, but there is plenty more evidence than that to indicate a major boost in turnout from college-educated women. They feel like they are under assault because they are under assault. This isn’t voting from a position of privilege. That’s in the past.
It’s been widely noted and retroactively recognized that it went unappreciated how many people felt under assault by the demographic changes in our country that Trump made the organizing principle and rationale for his campaign. This is a different election cycle, and there will be no excuse for anyone who didn’t see this particular wave coming. Trump has come to symbolize everything professional women hate, and his actual real-world influence is not symbolic at all, but entirely real. He has created a political force every bit as powerful as the Tea Party, and probably far more so.