As the inauguration of Donald J. Trump approaches, there’s one setting that’s likely to celebrate rather than resist the coming transition of power – rural America.
Republican Trump’s 306-232 Electoral College victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton reflects an alienation of rural America from Clinton and her party as soundly as voters in dense neighborhoods reject Republicans.
Take Clay counties across the country, for example.
In the county that Kentucky named for famous son Henry Clay, 11 percent of voters picked presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Clinton scored 16 percent in Clay County, Illinois, and Clay County, Nebraska.
She scored 18 percent in Clay County, Kansas, 19 percent in Clay County, Alabama, and 19 percent in Clay County, West Virginia.
She scored 23 percent in Clay County, North Carolina, and 24 percent in Clay County, Tennessee.
Among 10,685,004 voters in a single zone of more than 1,000 counties across 30 states, Clinton scored less than 20 percent
The zone extends from the Canadian border almost to Mexico, and connects the Appalachian Mountains to western deserts.
Clinton also finished below 20 percent among 812,600 voters in smaller clusters of counties and single counties down to the Gulf of Mexico.
On the grasslands from Texas to Montana, she finished below ten percent across wide areas and fell below five percent in some counties.
In Nebraska, candidate Trump carried Banner County by 355 to 18, and McPherson County by 257 to 14.
He carried Garfield County, Montana, by 653 to 34.
Such margins resemble those that Democrats produce in big city precincts.
This change didn’t come about by accident. Democrats asked for it.
In November 2011, they announced in the New York Times that they would “explicitly abandon the white working class.”
Writer Thomas Edsall explained that they would cement a coalition of educated voters and less affluent minority voters.
“The 2012 approach treats white voters without college degrees as an unattainable cohort,” Edsall wrote.
Stanley Greenberg of the Center for American Progress told Edsall he was “much more interested in affluent suburban voters than the former Reagan Democrats.”
Greenberg said the party battled for years to win back the white working class.
“We didn’t know that we would never get them back, that they were alienated and dislodged,” he said.
Rutgers University political science professor Cliff Zukin told Edsall, “My sense is that if the Democrats stopped fishing there, it is because there are no fish.”
The strategy worked well enough for President Obama to win another term.
Democrats stuck with the strategy in 2014, and sacrificed their Senate majority.
Assessing the loss, Edsall wrote that Democrats keep asking themselves why the white working class doesn’t recognize where its economic interests lie.
He wrote that a better question would be, what has the party done for them lately? At work and at home, their lives are worse than a generation ago.
“Their real incomes have fallen, their employment opportunities have diminished, their families have crumbled and their ties to society are fraying,” he wrote.
He wrote that they didn’t benefit from affirmative action programs and that, “if anything, these programs serve only to limit their horizons.”
He wrote that from their vantage point, liberal victories in the sexual revolution left women to struggle as single parents coping with male defection.
Last year, Clinton stuck with the strategy of ignoring voters beyond the suburbs.
She didn’t ignore coal miners. She told them she’d train them for better jobs.
Kentucky and West Virginia turned down her offer with emphasis, and so did Wyoming and Montana.
Clinton scored 13 percent in Harlan County, Kentucky, which Democrats once loved because it symbolized the courage of miners struggling for dignity.
She needed Ohio, but affluent suburbs of Cleveland and Cincinnati didn’t meet her expectations and rural voters pulled the rug out from under her.
Holmes County, center of Ohio’s Amish community, gave her 16 percent.
She needed Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, but their affluent suburbs didn’t meet her expectations and rural voters there also pulled the rug out from under her.
She carried Illinois, Colorado, Nevada, and Oregon, but not because rural voters in those states favored her.
In states where Clinton didn’t campaign at all, she lost by huge margins.
In Texas, she campaigned once but quickly retreated.
She carried the cities of Dallas and Houston, but their affluent suburbs didn’t meet her expectations and rural voters there too pulled the rug out from under her.