Why did hundreds of Democratic strongholds break for Donald Trump in 2016 and stay loyal to him in 2020?
Looking for answers, Muravchik and Shields lived in three such “flipped” communities. There they discovered a political culture that was Trumpy long before the 45th president arrived on the national political scene.
In these places, dominated by the white working-class, some of the most beloved and longest-serving Democratic leaders are themselves Trumpian—grandiose, combative, thin-skinned, and nepotistic. Indifferent to ideology, they promise to take care of “their people” by cutting deals—and corners if needed. Stressing loyalty, they often turn to family to fill critical political roles. Trump, resembling these old-style Democratic bosses, strikes a familiar and appealing figure in these communities.
Although voters in “flipped” communities have often been portrayed as white supremacists, Muravchik and Shields find that their primary political allegiances are to place—not race. They will spend an extra dollar to patronize local businesses, and they think local jobs should go to their neighbors, not “foreigners” from neighboring counties—who are just as likely to be white and native-born. Unlike the Proud Boys, they take more pride in their local communities than in their skin color. Trump successfully courted these Democrats by promising to revitalize their struggling hometowns.
Because these communities largely stuck with Trump in 2020, Biden won the presidency by just the thinnest of margins. Whether they will continue to support a Republican Party without Trump—or swing back to the Democrats—depends in part on which party can satisfy these locally grown political tastes and values. The party that does that will enjoy a stranglehold in national elections for years to come.
Praise for Trump's Democrats
“The most insightful account yet of white working-class voters who left the Democratic Party for Donald Trump. Muravchik and Shields provide a deeply engaging narrative. Must reading for anyone interested in understanding and bridging America’s profound divisions.”
—Stephen Macedo, Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Politics, Princeton University
“Trump's Democrats is an outstanding ethnographic study that illuminates why so many Democratic-dominated white working-class communities shifted to the Republican column in 2016 and may remain there in 2020. The authors' examination of these communities’ ‘honor culture’ breaks new ground.”
—William A. Galston, senior fellow, the Brookings Institution
“Muravchik and Shields leave behind the familiar clichés of the Trump era and highlight the complex social reality of the chasm that increasingly defines our politics. This is a model of what great social science can reveal, and a must-read for anyone who wants to understand America's future.”
—Yuval Levin, American Enterprise Institute
“Shields and Muravchik have done something incredibly rare in our polarized world: listened. They went out to the places where formerly Democratic voters turned to Trump and dug deep into their way of seeing the world. What they’ve brought back from their exploration is the most valuable fruit of the social scientific enterprise, which is surprise. No one seeking to understand the terrain of the 2020 election should miss this first-class piece of scholarship.”
—Steven Teles, professor of political science, Johns Hopkins University
“Is Trump’s alpha male act evidence of narcissism or his adherence to an honor culture that's widely embraced in working-class communities of all races? Why do working-class whites support both Trump and Bernie Sanders? Read this book and find out. It offers urgent political advice to anyone committed to ensuring that Trump does not win in 2020—and to help Democrats repair their relationship with the white working class when Trump finally fades from view.”
—Joan C. Williams, Hastings College of the Law, University of California
“That Democrats have been losing white working-class support in the last decade or more has been the subject of much commentary. However, Muravchik and Shields provide the most detailed and compelling analysis of the shift to date. They have an eye for novelistic detail, and Trump Democrats compliments and challenges scholarly work based on large survey research.”
—Daniel DiSalvo, Society