Shirola: Will the blue wall hold in 2020?

Wesley Shirola, Columnist

President Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the 2016 presidential election was largely a result of him winning three key states: Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. These states, which lie in the Rust Belt, had been Democratic strongholds for some time and are often colloquially referred to as part of a “blue wall.” Trump’s “America First” campaign rhetoric and no-nonsense personality was of great appeal to many of the blue-collar workers who form a large swath of the electorate in these states. As such, Trump’s chance at reelection in 2020 will hinge on him winning these states once again.

But Democrats performed well in these three states — and several others, most notably Ohio — in the recent midterm elections. Consequently, and understandably, they find themselves riding high on victory with renewed expectations that they can retake much of the Rust Belt in 2020 and deny Trump reelection. Indeed, if the 2020 Democratic nominee for President performs as well as the party’s 2018 House candidates did, Trump will likely lose Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, but could still narrowly win the swing-state of Ohio.

Democrats have no reason not to expect a good outcome in 2020. Democratic House candidates flipped eight seats from Republicans in Rust Belt states that Trump won in 2016, with most of these seats in the suburbs, where Republicans typically perform well. Furthermore, Democrats won gubernatorial or senate races in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio by large margins and also ousted Republican Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin.

But, while the blue wall appears relatively strong at the moment, there are no guarantees it will hold in 2020. The losing Republican Senate candidates in Michigan and Ohio, for example, still received around 46 percent of the vote despite low-funded, lackluster campaigns. Furthermore, despite the party’s many losses in Ohio, it wasn’t a total flop. Republican Governor-elect Mike DeWine’s strong performance is evidence that many Ohioans are still riding the Trump train with full speed ahead. Unlike in other Rust Belt states, Democrats are likely the underdogs there and shouldn’t be too confident about their grip on the state.

It’s hard to say how much effort it will take for Republicans to win back the states that went blue come 2020, but there are a few important things that they will need to do in order to even have a chance.

First, they need to better appeal to two sets of voters. The first, which many critics have labelled RINOs, or “Republicans in name only,” are moderate, college-educated Republicans who have been leaning more and more to the left as of late. Most of them voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and continue to support Democratic causes. The second is millennials, who largely vote Democratic. Together, these two groups make up a huge part of the electorate, but Republicans shouldn’t give up on them just yet. Simply taking a more moderate, or even — dare I say it — liberal stance on a few key issues — marijuana, abortion and gun control, to name a few — could easily allow the party to win over some of these RINOs.

Next, Trump needs to do what a lot of us have been asking him to do for nearly three years now: be more presidential. He clearly has it in him, as all of us saw during his first State of the Union address and his election night victory speech, when he managed to strike a unifying and patriotic tone. Furthermore, the real Donald Trump was evident just this past weekend when he spoke from his heart to reporters on the scene of devastating wildfires in Paradise, California. More of that, and less off-the-cuff remarks and tweets, and he could strengthen his support among RINOs, the Republican base and the rest of voters alike.

The 2020 election will be an important one for our country. Voters will have the choice between two very different futures. What those futures are, we cannot know just yet. Regardless, as of right now, the Democrats largely have 2020 in the bag. But if Republicans take a more moderate stance on some divisive issues and Trump tones down his incessant tweeting and becomes more presidential, they will attract some crucial swing voters and just might send the blue wall tumbling down in 2020.

Wesley Shirola is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.