By Rich Danker
Call it the Brooks Brothers rebellion. In 2020, legions of middle-aged, white-collar men deserted a Republican president and swung the election to a Democrat. Their cocktail party burden was too much to bear: how could they explain Trump’s mean tweets? Four months into the Biden administration, actual events should make them reconsider.
Inflation is 4.2%. Job growth for April was 266,00 when one million was expected. A cyber-attack against an eastbound pipeline caused 1,000 gas stations to run out of fuel and the average price per gallon to hit $3. Jews and Arabs are suddenly at war in Israel. Public schools remain closed and the President’s chief medical advisor deemed masks here to stay. The country last month looked one not guilty verdict away from burning down.
Twenty years ago, the Brooks Brothers riot became an enduring image of the disputed 2000 presidential election. A preppy lawyer mob stormed an election meeting to oppose Democrats’ plan to selectively recount votes in Florida, which the Supreme Court later rejected. This cleared the way for the country to declare George W. Bush our next president.
The Brooks Brothers mob embodied the stereotype of a Republican voter that lasted half a century and peaked that day in Miami. But it proved a paper tiger in the end. White college-educated men switched parties in droves last year and provided Joe Biden his tiny margin of victory.
These voters agreed with the Republican president’s policies and recognized his accomplishments. They just couldn’t handle the peer pressure about his tweets. When forced to choose between personal beliefs and social approval, they bowed to the latter.
In 2017, on the penultimate day of June, the headline on CNN’s website said the President tweeted a “shocking assault” on Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough. Donald Trump spun the morning cable couple as having begged for entry into his Mar-a-Lago Club before going on to bury him on TV. “[ Brzezinski] was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!” Trump tweeted.
More than any other presidential tweetstorm, that early one would define Trump as wholly unpredictable. No one knew what he would say next, like when he warned Russia about incoming missiles or threatened North Korea with “fire and fury” before making peace.
For those reluctant to take politics seriously, most of this stuff served as entertainment rather than melodrama. They understood bluster for what it was. But among people who had nightmares of being shunned over political misspeak, it presented the challenge of their adult lives.
How could they explain and defend a president that their colleague, boss, or squash partner considered a reprobate? People like that weren’t up to the challenge.
It’s too bad facts didn’t register with them. Leading up to the face-lift tweet, the country added one million new jobs and the stock market rose 7%.
Appeasing an emboldened white collar Democratic mob – one which made the Brooks Brothers act look like child’s play – became their political lives’ defining purpose.
By Election Day 2020, four months after Brooks Brothers itself filed for bankruptcy, millions of white-collar conservative men voted for a Democrat president for the first time. Exit polls showed that a 14-point Trump advantage among college-educated white men in 2016 shrunk to a statistical tie in 2020.
On the flip side, Trump got the highest share of the minority vote of any Republican since 1960. More than half of his votes came from women and people of color. This coalition trended blue-collar, multiracial, religious, and nationalist.
Most notably, it consisted of voters who didn’t let politics dictate their lives. Therefore, Trump’s tweetstorms had little effect on them. They could separate the wheat from the chaff.
There is an argument that liberalism will prevail because liberals care more about politics than everybody else does. It explains how the Left captured institutions like academia, entertainment, and, more recently, business. The Left made the effort to politicize everything.
While the accomplishment may be true, it doesn’t make it popular. Most Americans do not want politics to define their lives. Eventually, they will flee institutions that insist upon this. It is one reason why institutions now matter less in modern American life than they ever have.
In 2020 more of the Brooks Brothers vote shifted to Biden than its inverse moved to Trump. Biden won an electoral college victory that hinged on 44,000 votes across three states. This was just half the vote margin of Trump’s equivalent electoral college advantage across six states in 2016.
A steadily growing economy, cheap gas, peace in the Middle East: these are Trump-era vestiges that have gone by the wayside. A president thrown out for tweeting too much has been replaced by one who shrinks from the job.
Betting on a stumbling Biden to replace Trump as the steady pair of hands was wishful thinking. Now the rest of the country must live with the consequences of the voters who were motivated by inner life rather than actual life.