Clinton Republicans

Clinton Republicans

HILLARY CLINTON’S campaign has a new TV ad suggesting that Donald Trump’s ego is too large and his head too hot to entrust him with nuclear codes. The ad—which ends with the whistle of a falling bomb, roaring jet engines and a doomy sounding narrator intoning: “Because all it takes is one wrong move”—is built around clips of Mr Trump himself, boasting that he knows more about Islamic State than “the generals” and inviting opponents to “go fuck themselves” (with the expletive bleeped out). By way of serene contrast, the ad shows Mrs Clinton reading briefing books in what looks like a night-time White House.

This invites comparisons with “Daisy”, an attack ad from 1964 implying that a vote for Barry Goldwater, that year’s hardline Republican nominee, was a vote for nuclear war. “Daisy” (so called after its opening images of a child picking the flowers) quoted the sitting president, Lyndon Johnson, paraphrasing W.H. Auden’s line: “We must love one another, or die,” as atomic blasts filled the screen. In this less poetic age, Mrs Clinton’s spot offers a recording of Mr Trump vowing to “bomb the shit” out of foes.  

Mr Trump’s snarling, chin-jutting approach to national security is one reason why he is currently losing a voting bloc—white college graduates—won by every Republican presidential candidate since 1952. Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster, reports that many graduates are “extremely concerned” about someone of Mr Trump’s temperament and inexperience becoming commander-in-chief. Among an important sub-group, college-educated women, Ms Lake finds extra angst about Mr Trump’s record as a bullying misogynist, and about what his rise might “legitimise in the workplace”. White women college-graduates (who overlap with suburban women, a much-wooed pool of swing voters) had a brief, narrow flirtation with Barack Obama in 2008; but some recent surveys have Mrs Clinton crushing Mr Trump among them by staggering margins of 57% to 38%, or more.

William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, a think-tank, has calculated that—if those trends hold—this would translate into a 4m net gain at the general election for Mrs Clinton. According to Mr Frey’s number-crunching, such a score among white women with college degrees would be enough to offset even a (highly improbable) 99% turnout rate among Mr Trump’s most ardent supporters, white working-class men.

The Clinton campaign has noticed. Its strategists crafted the new ad with such groups as “national-security moms” and suburban independents in mind. A companion advertisement, entitled “Role Models”, shows wide-eyed children catching news clips of Mr Trump calling Mexicans rapists, mocking a disabled reporter or suggesting that a woman journalist’s judgment is addled by menstruation. The founder of Republican Women for Hillary, a group for women fleeing Mr Trump, was given a speaking slot at the Democratic National Convention.

Despite all this, most white college-educated men still favour Mr Trump, though his lead with them is smaller than the Republican norm. To understand the shift among well-educated women, Lexington headed this week to Chesterfield County, Virginia, a leafy, mostly conservative suburb of Richmond. There he met seven members of the Women’s Business Council of the Chesterfield Chamber of Commerce, most of whom call themselves lifelong Republicans. Only one is sure to vote for Mr Trump, and that will be a vote “for the party”. Some are considering the Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson. Three are steeling themselves to vote Clinton (maybe “with a big glass of wine”). Erica Giovanni Baez, a divorce lawyer, has “huge concerns” about the Democratic nominee’s probity, citing alleged access-peddling at the Clinton Foundation, a charity founded by ex-president Bill, while Mrs Clinton was Secretary of State. But she worries more about Trump-induced global chaos. For her, “the prime issue is safety”.

Polls show a big gender gap when Americans are asked if they want an outsider-president, with men much likelier to take a “screw the experts” line. For Chesterfield’s professional women, qualifications are a form of battle-armour as they navigate the world of work. Woman must be “ten times more qualified” than men to land a promotion, argues Anne Moss Rogers, co-owner of a marketing firm. She thinks the country would never tolerate a woman candidate for president as inexperienced as Mr Trump.

All the little Trumps

In suburbs like Chesterfield County, not a few Trump-loathing women share homes with men who like the tycoon. That makes it important to avoid stigmatising Trump voters as bigots, says Candace Graham, a retired teacher volunteering at the Chesterfield County Democratic Committee. She thinks it clever when the Clinton campaign uses Mr Trump’s own words against him.

Lots of educated whites will doubtless return to the Republican Party if Mr Trump loses—or will do as long as defeat in November empowers the sort of leader they like, such as Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representatives. But there are reasons to think that educated women, in particular, may shift camp more durably, prompting talk of “Clinton Republicans” starting to offset the left’s loss of blue-collar “Reagan Democrats” in the 1980s.

For one thing, all graduates are, on average, more likely to see big social and economic changes as an opportunity, not a threat, making them less receptive to Trump-style nativism. Women in general—especially unmarried women and the young—lean Democratic, and college-educated women are an increasingly young group. Back in the late 1960s, just one in 12 adult women had a college degree. Today one-third do, and indeed women now outnumber men on college campuses. Meanwhile the 2012 election marked the first time that whites with a high-school education or less were not a plurality of eligible voters. If Mr Trump had set out to alienate the future America, he could hardly be doing better.