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“It is really unknowable whether Trumpism lives on after Trump. White nationalism was ascendant in this country before Trump, but he exploited it expertly. It will be difficult for the Republican Party to just walk away from that because the politics of white grievance has really worked for their party.” — Gwyneth Williams, Webster University

President-elect Joseph Biden ran up vote tallies locally and in St. Louis County on Nov. 3. More than 60% of county voters supported the Biden-Harris ticket. This was not the case statewide as voters made sure Missouri’s 10 electoral votes went to Trump.

Once a competitive presidential battleground state, Missouri is now a solid red state. Surprisingly, key battleground states are now in the south with Georgia, North Carolina and Texas as places where the top race gets decided.

“Missouri became a red state over a decade ago. The 2016, 2018 and 2020 elections all demonstrate this,” said veteran political observer Terry Jones of the University of Missouri-St. Louis. “In 2016, Trump received 56.8% of the vote. In 2020, he garnered  56.9% of the vote — essentially the same.” 

Webster Groves and Kirkwood bucked the state trend and delivered votes to Democrats for the state legislature and the White House. Two Democrats will represent the Webster-Kirkwood area in the Missouri House in 2021: Sarah Unsicker of Shrewsbury and Barbara Phifer of Kirkwood. Democrat Doug Beck was elected to the State Senate from District 1.

Jones said Webster Groves and Kirkwood are among suburbs that have become reliably Democrat. While many large cities and suburbs across America provided enough votes to turn their states blue in 2020, this was not so in the state of Missouri where Republicans dominated.   

“The difference between Texas, Georgia, North Carolina and Missouri is demographic,” said Jones. “These other states have substantial net in-migration from blue states and a declining share of whites in their electorate. In Missouri, there is little net in-migration from anywhere — and the white electoral share is static at over 80%.”

Gwyneth Williams, a political science professor at Webster University, agrees with Jones’ assessment on Missouri’s status as a deep red Republican state.  

“Kansas City and St. Louis are not cities attracting a big influx of young voters to overcome the rural-urban divide,” said Williams. “They’re not the kind of cities attracting the college-educated professionals who are flocking to Atlanta or Charlotte or North Carolina. We’re not getting the new voters who are turning their states from red to purple, or even to blue.”

John Messmer, a professor of political science at St. Louis Community College-Meramec in Kirkwood, said St. Louis and Missouri are losing out to more progressive U.S. cities such as Atlanta, Austin, Raleigh and even Pittsburgh. He said for those cities, their fortunes are improving economically and socially, and their politics are trending blue.

2nd District Battle 

State conservatives hailed another term for U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, whose district covers much of the Webster-Kirkwood area. Wagner beat Democratic challenger Jill Schupp in her district in both St. Louis County and in heavily Republican St. Charles County.

Messmer said Wagner won because the predicted repudiation of President Trump in a “blue tsunami” never came to pass. That dream fizzled for Democrats.

“This election demonstrated three things: the power of gerrymandering, the resilience of Ann Wagner and the dumpster fire that is the Missouri Democratic Party,” Messmer said. “As long as the GOP runs someone the least bit competent in the 2nd District, they win.” 

Messmer said his contention is beyond dispute, especially with the passage of Amendment 3 in the state on Nov. 3, which he said will simply lead to even less competitive district elections. 

“Republicans absolutely framed their amendment to fool the voters,” said Messmer. “This worked beyond their wildest dreams. Gerrymandering is poison to representative government.  This brings partisanship back to the process. Clean Missouri, passed two years ago, required districts to be drawn by apolitical cartographers.”

James Brasfield,  professor emeritus at Webster University where he taught state and local government, agrees that the 2nd District is a lock for Republicans for the foreseeable future.

“I suspect now the redistricting will give Wagner some additional GOP areas and will move some Democratic areas into District 1 to make it an even more Democratic district,” Brasfield said. 

District 1, which includes a north portion of the Webster-Kirkwood area, was won by Democrat Cori Bush, who took 79% of the vote. Wagner took 52% of the vote in  District 2 versus 45% for Democrat Schupp in the 2020 election.

Future Of Trump Vote    

Even as Biden bested Trump by more than 4 million in the U.S. popular vote and in the electoral math, Missouri Republican officeholders are disputing the national results. State Attorney General Eric Schmitt of Glendale joined a legal brief to challenge the mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania that put Biden over the top in the presidential election.

Political analysts for this story said that such actions may be a strategic thing to do in Missouri where Trump remains immensely popular, especially in red areas of the state. “Trumpism” is likely to continue to show strength in rural Missouri and rural America. 

“Trumpism is a nativist movement  with a populist flavor that is not going away,” said Jones. “It has passionate and numerous followers. There will be  a number of contenders for its leadership. It is unclear whether the Bush-Danforth elements within the GOP will be able to have any more effect than they did — or more precisely didn’t have — in 2016.”

Williams said some things could happen over the next couple of years to take the air out of the Trump movement.

“It is really unknowable whether Trumpism lives on after Trump,” said Williams. “White nationalism was ascendant in this country before Trump, but he exploited it expertly. It will be difficult for the Republican Party to just walk away from that because the politics of white grievance has really worked for their party. 

“There are candidates positioned to take this up like Tom Cotton of Arkansas, California’s Kevin McCarthy, and to a lesser extent Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri,” Williams said.

Brasfield agreed that Hawley and Cotton are contenders to pick up the mantle of Trump politics.

“GOP hopefuls for 2024 may think the Trump model is the path to victory,” said Brasfield. “The anti-Trump GOP — Lincoln Project types and traditional conservatives — will need to find a champion to appeal to that wing of the party; someone to win back suburban conservatives who’ve defected to Biden.  Not sure who that would be.”