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Several years ago, during one of my quadrennial visits to the Iowa State Fair, I was taking a break by the cow pen when a political strategist happened to wander over.
“Getting a taste of real America?” he cracked, in the way that some of his kind love to taunt journalists — particularly those of us from The New York Times.
For “real America” — or at least politically significant America — forget about the cows. Ditch those clichés of diners, tractors and gritty Rust Belt men.
The home of “real America”? Probably a Panera Bread. Or maybe a Costco.
The suburbs are the political bellwether of our time. And right now, President Trump is losing them. Badly.
A new ABC News/Washington Post poll released this weekend shows Joe Biden leading Mr. Trump in the suburbs by a margin of nine points. Another survey, also released this weekend, by Fox News found an 11-point advantage for the former vice president.
These numbers indicate some serious political erosion for the president. In 2016, suburbs powered his victory, with exit polls showing he won them by four points.
In fact, Republicans have lost the suburbs only three times since 1980: In 1992, 1996 and 2008 — all three, Democratic wins. Even in those races, the G.O.P. candidate lost by no more than five points.
In some states, Mr. Trump is currently looking at double-digit deficits.
Mr. Trump won the suburbs of North Carolina by 24 points, according to 2016 exit polls. He’s now losing them by 21 points, according to a Fox News poll taken last month. In Florida, a state that was expected to favor Mr. Trump, a 10-point advantage in 2016 exit polls is now a six-point deficit.
Honestly, if you’ve been following politics during the Trump era, none of this erosion comes as much of a shock.
In 2018, the suburbs powered the Democratic takeover of the House, flipping key districts blue. A year later, suburbanites helped Democrats win governors’ mansions in reliably Republican Kentucky and Louisiana and flip both houses of the Virginia legislature. And during the 2020 primaries, Mr. Biden powered his Super Tuesday victories with big margins in the suburbs.
Part of the leftward shift stems from the voting preferences of college-educated women, whose dislike for the president has been well-documented. (In the Washington Post/ABC News poll, Mr. Biden leads by a whopping 24 points among suburban women and just four points among suburban men.)
But the composition of the suburbs is also changing, becoming more economically and racially diverse.
About 40 percent of Americans live in suburban districts, according to an analysis of congressional districts by CityLab, and about four in 10 of them aren’t white.
Those trends will probably be strengthened by the coronavirus, as city dwellers able to work remotely flee to places with more space and cheaper houses.
Those shifting dynamics seem lost on the Trump campaign.
The president and his operation spent much of the last week warning of a Democratic plan to “abolish our beautiful and successful suburbs.”
“They are absolutely determined to eliminate single-family zoning, destroy the value of houses and communities already built, just as they have in Minneapolis and other locations,” he said, during his event at the White House on Thursday. “Your home will go down in value, and crime rates will rapidly rise.”
The dog isn’t whistling with this one, he’s barking really, really loud.
Mr. Trump is warning suburbanites that federal rules will flood their neighborhoods with “diverse” populations, spiking crime rates and bringing in the kind of chaos they saw depicted on right-wing media during the protests last month. The history of this kind of racial attack dates to the era of white flight and civil rights.
But as the country’s views on race have shifted, the suburbs have changed. It’s Mr. Trump’s politics that haven’t.
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“These kids have got to get back to school,” Gov. Mike Parson of Missouri said on a St. Louis radio show last Friday. “They’re at the lowest risk possible. And if they do get Covid-19, which they will — and they will when they go to school — they’re not going to the hospitals. They’re not going to have to sit in doctors’ offices. They’re going to go home and they’re going to get over it.”
What about teachers? Support staff? Parents? Other adults? Seems like the doctors may have some views on this one …
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