To better understand what a Biden Republican is and the role they may play in upcoming elections, let’s briefly rewind to November 1980 and the emergence of its forerunner.
Republican Ronald Reagan had just defeated incumbent president Jimmy Carter in an election landslide. And with Reagan’s victory a new term was added to the political lexicon that partially explained his unusual mandate – Reagan Democrat.
Coined over 40 years ago, the political term Reagan Democrat still carries some relevance today.
A Reagan Democrat is often described as a a White, blue collar American who, despite a core ideological preference for Democratic Party values, votes for a Republican presidential candidate or other high-profile GOP politicians because they are ardent supporters of those candidates’ views on one or more issues; usually immigration, crime, or national security.
It was those voters who, during Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign, concluded Democrats focused too much on championing causes for poor people, minorities and women, and not enough on issues of greater significance to working class Whites.
The term ‘Reagan Democrats’ was most often used by experts and pundits during the 1980, 1984, 1988 and 1992 presidential elections, years when either Ronald Regan or his successor, George H.W. Bush, represented the GOP as its presidential nominee.
And since the 1980s, Republican candidates have made wooing conservative leftists (or Reagan Democrats) a priority.
When they’re successful, they win elections; when they’re not, they struggle mightily in presidential races and other high-profile elections where conservative voters aren’t in the clear majority.
For the last four decades, Democratic voters have been traditionally far more likely to vote for Republican candidates than vice versa and the GOP have won many close, high-profile elections as a result.
Arguably, Republican presidential candidates in 2000, 2004 and 2016, George W. Bush and Donald Trump, wouldn’t have won their elections without at least a spattering of support from Reagan Democrats. And the same could be said for a host of conservative congressional and gubernatorial candidates through the years who’ve orchestrated upsets over Democratic foes in left-leaning jurisdictions.
So, what’s the connection between Biden Republicans today and Reagan Democrats of the past?
We might be witnessing a reversal of form – and political fortune.
Just prior to her death In April 2018, former first lady Barbara Bush said she no longer considered herself a Republican, and she was far from alone.
“After Trump’s rise, she saw it as a party she could not continue to support, a party she no longer recognized – even as one of her grandsons, George P. Bush, was on the ballot as a Republican running for re-election as Texas land commissioner,” author Susan Page wrote in an excerpt adapted from her new book, “The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of an American Dynasty.”
Imagine what Mrs. Bush would say today, March 5, 2021.
Since Donald Trump’s ascent to the presidency, we’ve seen a faction of the GOP consistently at odds with the party’s powerbrokers. In fact, his rise gave birth to the now-mainstream Lincoln Project, an American political action committee formed in late 2019 by former and present Republicans. During the 2020 presidential election, it aimed to prevent the re-election of Donald Trump and defeat Republican House and Senate candidates engaged in close races.
Following Trump’s endless election fraud claims, his unwillingness to peacefully transition power, and the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, inner party disenchantment with the GOP grew. The New York Times found that nearly 140,000 Republicans had quit the party in 25 states that had readily-available data. Of course, that doesn’t include defecting Republicans in the 19 states that don’t have registration by party.
So, as the Republican Party continues its dark descent into extremism, insurrection, the acceptance of conspiracy theories and an unrelenting adoration of Donald Trump, expect GOP candidates to lose support from more of its previous party faithful going forward, among defectors and Republican stalwarts alike.
In a recent Politico interview, longtime pollster Stanley Greenberg, who created the term Reagan Democrat, insisted today’s White suburbanites have moved beyond “White grievance” and are at odds with the GOP’s new brand – a brand that arguably fuels white supremacy, white separatism, radical anti-immigration policies, antisemitism, Holocaust denial, xenophobia, anti-intellectualism, antifeminism, homophobia, and Islamophobia.
“In leaning too hard into White identity politics — and perhaps being too focused on what he thought Reagan Democrats wanted — Trump accelerated the rise of a new voting bloc that is, in many ways, the mirror image of the Reagan Democrats. Call them the Biden Republicans.”
“Historically, they identified with the Republican Party as their political home. But the leaders who were supposed to fight for them seem to care more about White grievance and keeping out immigrants; seem to care more about social issues and ‘owning the libs’ than about childcare payments and college tuition.”Stanley Greenberg, via Politico
They don’t consider themselves Democrats — at least not yet — but they are voting for them, delivering them majorities in the House and Senate, and making Joe Biden just the fourth candidate in the last century to defeat an incumbent president.”
The Republican Party, by pandering to White nationalists, has seemingly lost its decades-old dominance among wealthy and upper middleclass Whites.
“I think there’s two kinds of Biden Republicans — two trends.” Greenburg added.
“One of them is you saw quite affluent, very Republican towns [in suburban counties], and Biden got a very large percentage of votes from those counties. They are more affluent college graduates voting for Biden. Will they stick? They may, given how Trump is defining the Republican Party.”
“And the other piece is that Biden is very self-consciously campaigning for Macomb County-type, White working-class voters [for whom] race is not the only thing driving their vote, but who went to Trump [in 2016] because of globalization and their belief that Democrats are not fighting for American workers. Biden is fighting for those voters, too.”
In sum, Greenburg believes today’s Biden Republicans will be just as consequential as the Reagan Democrats of the past. As a result, he expects the GOP, like the Democratic Party in the 1980s, to experience setbacks in national elections until it can effectively create and communicate a more appealing platform.
Some would argue we’ve already witnessed some semblance of what Greenburg is referring to. In Georgia last year, Trump lost to Biden by about 11,000 votes even though Georgia Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dave Perdue, in the same election, finished about 88,000 votes ahead of Democrat Jon Ossoff.
Perdue, who outperformed Trump in the state by nearly 100,000 votes, failed to breach the 50 percent mark in the 2020 election and would subsequently lose to Ossoff by 55,000 in the runoff eight weeks later.
What transpired in the Georgia Presidential Race in 2020 was clearly a referendum on President Trump, but not necessarily his backers.
However, what happened in the Senatorial runoffs, after weeks of the GOP’s refusal to rebut Trump’s false claims of election fraud and conspiracy theories, may very well have been a referendum on anyone aligned with the then outgoing president.
“If you look at the trends in this  election, [Trump’s campaign] was able to, like, wage a race war with a massive increase in turnout in the rural areas and among White working-class voters, stated Greenburg.
“But the percentage of eligible voters who are older than Millennials dropped by 8 points. So for Republicans to be successful with this strategy while going against that demographic trend, you need a continually animating and increasingly intense and effective effort to turn out the vote.”
“They are going to have to lose a few elections before there can be a new dynamic within the Republican Party — just as the Democrats lost a lot of national elections before Bill Clinton was able to change the party.”
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