Bill Whalen

Two Oaklands could have deciding role in Trump-Clinton race

Donald Trump supporters wait for him after he spoke at Macomb Community College on March 4. Macomb is the home of Reagan Democrats, but Bill Whalen says that suburban Oakland County next door will be more important in November.
Donald Trump supporters wait for him after he spoke at Macomb Community College on March 4. Macomb is the home of Reagan Democrats, but Bill Whalen says that suburban Oakland County next door will be more important in November. Associated Press

After Tuesday’s returns from Michigan – a big win for Donald Trump, a frustrating upset loss for Hillary Clinton – it’s time to think of the fall election and a tale of two Oaklands.

That would be the city 80 miles to the west of Sacramento and the Michigan county 2,300 miles to the east, just to the northwest of Detroit.

Why these two locales? Let’s start with California’s less fabled “city by the bay.”

Oakland – and cities like it across America such as Cleveland and Detroit – represents Clinton’s need to ramp up her support in African American communities outside the South. If she continues to struggle with young Democrats against Sen. Bernie Sanders, she’ll have to make up the votes elsewhere.

For an Oakland-type audience, Clinton should offer ways to increase economic opportunity, reverse the process of blacks being pushed out by rising housing prices and rebuild social fabric debilitated by crime and broken families. In the summer of 2014, she came to Oakland to spend time with babies – not donors, a rarity for visiting candidates – as part of a kickoff for the “Too Small To Fail” initiative encouraging parents to better engage with their children. It was a softer side of Clinton that she rarely displays in public, yet could help her appeal to a Democratic base not exactly jazzed by her candidacy.

Unless her Republican opponent is Trump.

Oakland County in Michigan is next to the more fabled Macomb County, the cradle of disgruntled blue-collar Reagan Democrats. Sure enough, Trump held a big rally in Macomb with auto workers just days before the primary and won 48 percent of the vote there.

For all the talk of Trump bringing those voters back into the Republican fold, it’s Oakland County – and more affluent and moderate suburban pockets like it across the nation – that bear watching. They tend to go Democratic in presidential years, but Republican in midterm elections.

In 2012, President Barack Obama carried Oakland County with 53 percent of the vote. But in 2014, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder won the county with 55 percent.

On Tuesday, Trump won the county but received only 36 percent of the vote, compared to the 50 percent won by Mitt Romney in the 2012 primary. Romney, however, was raised in nearby Bloomfield Hills and didn’t have to run against a “favorite nephew” like Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who siphoned off nearly a third of the county’s vote.

If Trump doesn’t do better in November in similarly better-off counties in competitive states such as Colorado and Virginia, it won’t matter how much he likes the “poorly educated” – and vice versa.

In 2013, Trump was the featured speaker at the Oakland County GOP’s Lincoln Day dinner (a record 2,300 people showed up – a preview of Trumpmania to come). He delved into immigration and the importance of defeating Clinton, whom he predicted would be the 2016 Democratic nominee.

Trump said it was “highly unlikely” that he’d seek the White House, adding: “Everybody tells me, ‘Please run for president. Please run for president.’ I would be much happier if a great and competent person came along.”

Now Trump claims he’s America’s lone hope for greatness and completeness. In the time between his empty words at that Oakland County dinner to his win there Tuesday night, Republicans have been dazzled by the Trump circus – without giving much thought to sweeping up after it.

Thanks a lot, Michigan.

Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. Whalen can be contacted at whalenoped@gmail.com.

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