On Monday, November 7, 2016, one day before the election, Hillary Clinton campaigned at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan. This is a suburb of Grand Rapids in the Republican stronghold of Ottawa County. Donald Trump followed later that night with the final stop of his campaign in Grand Rapids. Clinton wasn’t firing up her Democrat base, she was trying to peel votes away on Republican turf that Trump was trying to protect to deliver Michigan to Republicans for the first time in 28 years.
The results in the West Michigan Republican stronghold were not what Donald Trump would have hoped. Trump underperformed Mitt Romney’s 2012 West Michigan performance, an election Romney lost by 450,000 votes statewide. Romney won the “Dutch Triangle” of Kent, Ottawa and Allegan Counties by over 78,000 votes, a 100,000 vote margin is usually required for Republicans to win statewide, but Trump carried it by only 68,000 votes which should spell certain defeat.
So how in the world did Trump win Michigan?
In 2016 roughly the same number voted in Michigan as voted in 2012 when Obama posted a victory of nearly 450,000 votes and four years later gave Trump an 11,000 vote victory. Trump received 164,000 more votes than Romney and Clinton 293,000 fewer votes than Obama. The partial totals from Jill Stein’s ridiculous and wasteful recount showed it wasn’t Russian hackers or space aliens that turned Michigan from blue to red, it was blue-collar and rural voters.
In Michigan the smaller the county the better the result for Trump. I spoke with a Michigan agriculture leader in late September who was helping one of my clients, and I asked him what would happen in the Presidential race. His words to me that day were prophetic when he said, “A great silent majority tired of being ignored and stepped on by government overreach was about to step forward in big numbers and be heard loudly.” And they were heard…loudly.
In 54 rural Michigan counties with turnout of 30,000 votes or less, Trump piled up massive victories. In fact he won 62% of the vote in such counties and amassed a combined margin of victory of 204,000 votes. Four years earlier Romney only received 54% of the vote in these same counties and a 71,000 vote margin. In 19 mid-size exurban/rural counties with 30,000 to 100,000 vote turnout, Trump again triumphed with 55% of the vote compared to Romney’s 50%, and a combined margin of 164,000 votes to Romney’s 11,000. The movement to Trump by rural voters wasn’t just clear, it was clearly massive and extended to other Republicans at every level down the ticket.
In the 10 biggest urban counties which represent fully 64% of statewide turnout Clinton again well underperformed. While she won these counties by a combined 358,000 votes, that was nearly a 200,000 vote margin decline from Obama four years earlier when he had a 531,000 vote margin over Romney. It is easy to see why. Base Democrats in places like Detroit and Flint stayed home, and blue-collar voters came out to support Trump.
The blue-collar voter flight from Clinton is totally clear. In 2012 in Macomb County, the original home of the Reagan Democrats and where I live, Obama defeated Romney by 16,000 votes, but in 2016 Trump defeated Clinton by a whopping 48,000 votes. The same is true of blue-collar Monroe County which delivered Obama a 717 vote victory while giving a 16,000 vote margin to Trump. These voters were tired of coastal political elites telling them how to educate their children, how they get healthcare, regulating puddles in their farm fields, threatening to take away their guns and informing them that industries in which they have invested their lives had no future. Meanwhile Trump’s outsider message focused on blowing up the current system by renegotiating trade deals, securing borders, law and order, reining in government over-regulation, protecting gun rights and a stronger military won voters who felt ignored and abandoned by Clinton and the media elites.
My state is home to countless patriotic and hard-working Americans who just want a shot at the American Dream, and Trump’s message of America first clearly connected. It is now up to the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress to deliver on the promises made in this campaign to cement this formidable new Republican coalition.
President-elect Trump has already made savvy moves to bring home reluctant Republicans in West-Michigan like nominating West Michigan native and respected leader Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education. Additionally, he has added General Motors CEO Mary Barra to his economic policy team focused on growing American jobs, and saved 1,000 jobs at Carrier in Indiana which shows he means business. His appointment of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the EPA will be equally embraced in rural Michigan and America.
I grew up in a blue-collar household in Michigan and I understand these voters because I am one of them. I live in Macomb County which was the epicenter of Trump’s victory in Michigan, and perhaps the nation. I attended two Trump rallies in Macomb County in the last seven days of the campaign and I can tell you the support and excitement for his candidacy was real. During the campaign, Donald Trump promised to build a wall, and the net result was the destruction of the Democrats “Blue Wall” in the upper Midwest. If President Trump keeps the promises of his campaign then the destruction of the “Blue Wall” may foretell a lasting and meaningful political realignment.