President Donald Trump messaged “The Suburban Housewives of America” this week and summed up in one tweet his strategy for building support in communities critical to his chances of re-election: Scare them off.
“Biden is going to destroy your neighborhood and your American dream. I will preserve it and make it even better! he wrote.
In tweets, campaign announcements and political news, Trump is trying to win over suburbanites by promising to protect their “beautiful” neighborhoods from the racial unrest that has plagued some American cities this summer. He sent federal agents to stem violence in cities, warned of a lifestyle being “erased” and raised the prospect of falling property values.
It is a strategy deeply rooted in presidential politics, with racist overtones and a number of successes. But even some GOP strategists and Republican voters note that this ignores rapid demographic changes in the suburbs and may misinterpret the main concerns of voters it is trying to retain.
“I think he just throws stuff against the wall and sees what sticks,” said Linda Abate, an unemployed bartender in this working-class suburb about a 45-minute drive from Philadelphia. Abate says she voted for Trump in 2016 and is likely, but has not decided, to do so again.
But she has more urgent things to fear than threats of lawlessness in her quiet neighborhood – namely the impending expiration of enhanced federal unemployment benefits.
“That $ 600 is running out this week. I’m more worried about this than looting in Quakertown, ”she said.
The suburban towns and leafy developments surrounding Philadelphia and other U.S. cities – areas of increasing racial diversity and growing numbers of graduating voters – have been an obvious source of trouble for the president and his party.
Republicans lost more than three dozen suburban districts in 2018, when suburban voters backed Democrats by an 11-point margin, according to the AP VoteCast poll.
Recent polls show the alleged Democratic candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, holds that advantage – with a 9 percentage point margin in the recent Washington Post-ABC News poll and an 11 percentage point margin in a recent Fox News poll. Both surveys showed a particularly strong advantage for the alleged Democratic candidate among women in the suburbs.
It is a dire prospect for the president. Republicans have long relied on finding high-income, white voters in growing suburbs to build on their base in rural America and win the election. But those voters have been harder to convince in the Trump era, forcing the GOP to move away from cities, to less populated exurbs and smaller towns and cities, in search of votes.
In recent weeks, Trump has tried to gain a foothold. His campaign has launched ads falsely claiming that Biden wants to fund the police – a rallying cry for some of the protesters who took to the streets after George Floyd’s death in May. He revoked an Obama-era housing policy aimed at ending racial disparities in the suburbs, saying it would lead to crime and declining home values. And this week, Trump announced he was activating federal agents to fight crime in Chicago and Albuquerque, after sending agents to Portland, where local officials say their presence has exacerbated tensions between protesters and the police.
The Trump campaign believes these measures will resonate with both commuters and older voters who may be shaken by the violent images and discouraged by calls to restructure police departments. A new ad showed an elderly white woman calling 911 for help with a burglar at the door. The operator does not pick up in time.
There is evidence to support this tactic. The Washington Post-ABC News survey found that 58% of suburban voters opposed cutting police funding and spending the money instead on social services, while 37% opposed argued.
“If we don’t have law and order in this country, we don’t have a country. It’s outrageous to let these things continue, ”said Gloria Doak, a 70-year-old Trump supporter in Bucks County, where Democrat Hillary Clinton barely beat Trump four years ago.
But recent polls have also found strong support in the suburbs for a broader campaign for racial justice and the Black Lives Matter movement – a reminder that the suburbs are becoming a more politically complex and diverse battleground.
In 2018, one in four suburban voters identified as non-white, according to AP VoteCast.
This includes Robert Jackson, a 39-year-old black man and Democrat who moved four years ago to suburban Philadelphia with his family in search of better schools.
He says he saw numerous Trump signs around his hometown of Lansdale, Montgomery County. Now he thinks many of his neighbors who voted for Trump have buyer’s remorse.
“The commuters took a bet on him and it didn’t pay off,” Jackson said.
Back in Quakertown, Alex Whalen, 19, said she believed Trump would lose as many suburban voters as he would gain with his law and order speech. The Democrat doesn’t think voters will recognize the kind of urban chaos he describes.
“Everything that happened in Quakertown has been peaceful,” she said.
Christine Matthews, GOP pollster and Trump critic, said the president’s ‘law and order’ strategy is based on an outdated idea of the suburbs as predominantly white communities from 50 years ago .
“He has no idea what the suburbs are like,” she said.
Others have linked it directly to Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy”, who played on the racism of white voters to consolidate Republican control in the South for generations to come.
“He went to the well, went to the old playbook, but it’s a whole different playground,” said Fletcher McClellan, a political scientist at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania.
Dan Johnson, a 72-year-old retired insurance agent from Brookfield, Wisconsin, outside Milwaukee, also sees racial politics in Trump’s play.
“I think there is a lot of hidden racism among the people who voted for Donald Trump,” said Johnson, who has voted Republicans for president in every election since 1980 but backed a third candidate in 2016 – a decision he now considers “wasted”. vote ”- because he was put off by Trump but didn’t like Hillary Clinton. “I have no doubt for a minute that he is trying to exploit this.”
Yet in Texas, where Democrats are trying to overthrow several suburban seats, Cynthia Rauzi said it was no exaggeration to think Trump’s gloomy warnings would resonate with her neighbors in the Round Rock suburbs, at the outside of Austin.
When she joined a small rally against police brutality outside a private golf course this summer, a driver pulled over to lie on the horn and wave a middle finger out the window. Trump won this district on the outskirts of liberal Austin by 13 points in 2016. Just two years later, Republican Rep. John Carter narrowly escaped defeat.
Rauzi, a 57-year-old yoga instructor and mother of three, called Trump’s anti-offensive tweet “The Suburban Housewives of America.”
“To suggest that suburban housewives are a bunch of bead pickers who are scared of everything… we’re smarter than that,” she said.