There is no doubt that since becoming US President, Donald Trump has transformed the Republicans. Since he started his campaign to become his party’s candidate for the 2016 presidential election, he has shifted the Republicans’ rhetoric towards immigration and Chinese tariffs on US products. His message resonated with his supporters who helped secure his victory three years ago. In 2016, BBC News reported that Trump was popular among non-college-educated white men, receiving seven in 10 votes from that demographic group, and six in 10 votes from non-college-educated white women. This helped him win the swing states of Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan.
Yet he has not only shifted the Republicans’ policy stances on certain issues, but he has also changed the way his party is funded. With fundraising under way for 2020 among both parties, Trump is receiving an overwhelming amount of donations from his supporters. The Republican Party has long been criticised by their opponents as the party of big money and big donors, but a Fox News analysis has shattered this image.
The news channel discovered that 61 per cent of money raised directly by the Trump campaign this election originated from small donors (donations under $200). In 2016, 65 per cent of the Republican’s donations for that year’s election were under $200. Campaign finance analysts, like Alex Baumgart, individual contributions researcher at the Center of Responsive Politics, said the Democrats normally receive a substantial amount of small donations, but Trump’s ‘populist edge’ has changed that dynamic.
Conservative activists suggest Trump has changed the Republican Party in general. Michael Johns, a co-founder of the Tea Party movement and a former White House speechwriter to George H.W. Bush, told Fox News the party is vastly different to what it was five years ago. He added that an emphasis on secure borders and fairer trade have reflected that shift. The President has succeeded in broadening his party’s appeal to voters they could not reach in 2008 and 2012 because he has been bold enough to talk about immigration and China, and he will need to concentrate on these issues if he is to secure a 2020 victory.
Vox reports that Trump might not be able to depend upon the Electoral College to secure victory next time. He has disapproval ratings of 54 percent in swing states like Iowa and Michigan, 52 per cent in Pennsylvania, 50 per cent in Ohio and 48 per cent in Florida. Nonetheless, opinion polls cannot be trusted. They predicted both Bush and the current President would lose in 2004 and 2016 respectively, and they were proven wrong on both occasions. But polls can still be useful to measure a change in attitudes among electors before an election, and currently they suggest the Republican’s hard-line stances are working.
For example, Axios found that a focus group they spoke to last month in Michigan (a state the President won in 2016) claimed Trump is handling the immigration crisis ‘professionally and responsibly’. A CNN poll in July also discovered that 74 per cent of people believe there is a border crisis. An Economist/YouGov poll shows that 74 per cent of Republicans view illegal border crossings as a criminal matter, while 80 per cent of them support a border wall. With China, Bloomberg reports that 74 per cent of Republicans approved of his imposition of Chinese tariffs. Considering Reagan succeeded in transforming the Republican Party into a party of free trade, Trump has now changed it into one that espouses fairer trade whilst being tough on immigration.
When leaving office, George W. Bush remarked that he may be the last ‘true’ Republican president. That is inaccurate. If anything, Trump wants to broaden the party’s appeal to attract more support by being tougher on the issues they believe in, like immigration and trade. The President’s ability to attract small donations from his supporters and his growing popularity in the polls for the policies his administration is focusing on shows he has a chance of winning in 2020. Yet that depends on whether he can maintain his concentration on the areas that secured his 2016 victory.