President Trump’s latest ads warn of left-wing mobs that are destroying American cities. His recent comments from the White House captured the violence and the “radical movement” to disband the police. His Twitter channel sounded alarms about the principle of fair living during the Obama period, which he framed as a threat to “Suburban Housewives” and “Suburban Lifestyle.”
All of this, with a little subtlety, is a game about the perceived concerns of suburban voters. However, there are several reasons to believe that the strategy that worked for Richard Nixon on the heels of the 1968 urban riots will be less effective for Donald Trump in 2020.
For example, they are not American suburbs of the 1960s (and have far fewer housewives). The scale of urban violence and the threats to this suburban lifestyle are a faint echo of the time. And while election polls show that suburban voters generally disagree with the president’s job, they disagree with his solution to the problems he seeks to raise even more.
According to a New York Times / Siena College poll in June, only 38 percent of suburban voters approve of Mr. Trump’s performance, compared to 59 percent who disagree. Suburban voters disagreed with Mr Trump’s handling of recent protests and racial relations to an even greater extent, with 65 percent taking a favorable view of the Black Lives movement.
The president’s attention to suburban areas is understandable. Nearly half of voters live in the suburbs, which are defined here as parts of metropolitan areas outside of central cities such as Philadelphia or Baltimore, which they do not consider rural, according to the census. In the Times / Siena survey, Mr Trump tracked Joe Biden by 16 points, 51% to 35%, in suburban areas, especially worse than his eight-point deficit in similar areas against Hillary Clinton in 2016.
The disadvantage of the president in the suburbs is his long-standing weakness among white voters with a four-year university degree, who supported Mr. Biden (57-31) in the suburbs.
Fifty years ago, white voters with a university degree were relatively rare, even in the suburbs. White voters who fled the cities often held jobs in industry, and many adopted Republican reports of crime and race. To some extent, they still do: White voters without a degree in the suburbs back Mr. Trump in the Times / Siena poll, 52 to 35 percent, but made up only 37 percent of registered voters surveyed in the suburbs.
If white suburban voters are generally listeners to President Trump for his recent reports on law and order, the Portland, Ore, scenes have only complicated his height. White suburban mothers who look around the country did not see insidious criminals, but women who look similar to them.
“The images that appear to be the most erasable in the public mind are a series of mothers who take tear gas,” said Rick Perlstein, a historian who wrote extensively about the Nixon era. “Or a 53-year-old Navy veteran who asks people to keep their oath at the United States Constitution.”
There were also fathers with leaf blowers. And the peaceful protesters, who were forcibly released in June from Lafayette Square in front of the White House for presidential photography, may be one of Mr Trump’s presidency scenes.
At the moment, President Trump was fundamentally different from Nixon in 1968. Nixon was not yet president; he was not in charge. It’s much harder to run against riots when it happens on your watch, Mr. Perlstein said. And fears of crime and violence were later less effective for President Nixon for this reason.
In recent decades, cities have become safer and suburbs have become much more racially and economically diverse. They were also the site of protests against the Black Lives Matter. About one in 10 suburban voters in a Times / Siena poll said they took part in such a demonstration. A clear majority of suburban voters also said they believed there were wider patterns of excessive police violence against and bias against African Americans in the criminal justice system in America.
For white suburban voters still living in segregated communities, historian Matthew Lassiter said the threats to suburban exclusion are much weaker today than they were when President Nixon was elected. At that time, the bus was still on the table. There was also the possibility that desegregation plans could send students across city lines to neighboring school districts. Courts have still considered whether it is constitutional for a rich district to spend much more money on education than the poorer, or whether suburban governments should not live on low incomes.
“The threat of a comprehensive restructuring of suburban privileges was real in the late 1960s and early 1970s because it came from the courts and civil rights litigation that the federal judiciary had,” said Mr. Lassiter, a professor at the University of Michigan.
This was true until President Nixon placed the four supreme courts before the Supreme Court, which together killed many of these remedies for racial and economic segregation. Today, it is simply less effective to warn that someone is coming to destroy the “suburban lifestyle dream” of disadvantaged schools and family members, because the previous generation of politicians and white voters has been so successful in protecting them.
President Trump’s warnings today – that Mr. Biden will defend the police and take federal control of local land use planning laws – are much less important. Mr Biden said he did not support paying the police. And Obama’s rule of fair housing, announced by the Trump government to end last week, is too bureaucratic and incremental to be easily controlled as a fraud. Its main goal was to force local governments to consider segregation patterns in their planning.
President Trump himself sometimes seemed unsure how to describe what was so scary about it, and left these arguments to others. His decline, if anything, may teach some moderate and liberal voters that their shipyard inscriptions, which are against affordable housing and denser zoning, have brought them into unpleasant harmony with President Trump.
Historians looking back on the Nixon era add that the president is unlikely to succeed with white suburban voters for one reason: he is not as gentle about it as President Nixon or Vice President Spiro Agnew or Ronald Reagan after them.
“They understood something about a race that Trump doesn’t understand,” Mr. Lassiter said. “Voters do not want to question racial privileges, but they do not want to explicitly remind them that racism is under their position.”
As this tension persists, historian Lily Geismer is skeptical that white suburban voters, who now support protests against the Black Lives Matter – and may be Biden voters in the fall – will also support affordable housing to diversify their neighborhood or support city budgets. which would reduce the police. financing. In a Times / Siena poll, 49 percent of suburban voters said they were fundamentally opposed to cuts in police funding.
Professor Geismer, who teaches at Claremont McKenna College, noted that some of the same voters who are demonstrating racial justice today are also talking about attracting their children from public schools during the coronavirus crisis and hiring private tutors.
“The idea of supporting Black Lives Matter, but trying to do everything in our power to protect the educational well-being of our children – that’s the disconnection I see,” she said.
Ultimately, these are two separate questions: how suburban voters will respond to President Trump in the fall, and what they will support after the election, regardless of the outcome.