Trump is re-aligning the Republican Party, turning it from a conservative globalist coalition with traditionalist voters into a populist nativist party.
1924 Election: This shows the "base" for the early and mid 20th Century Democratic Party. The Democrats lost badly to Coolidge. FDR would expand on this by adding strong support in the industrial NE and upper midwest. But this shows the Solid South, devoted to maintaining racial segregation. Progressives won Wisconsin and lots of votes spread out across the country.
1968 Election: This election between Nixon, Humphrey, and Wallace was nearly a popular vote tie for the major parties. The Solid South went for Wallace, the NE and Upper Midwest switched to Democratic. Nixon pitched the Silent Majority against black crime and white youth rebellion.
2000 Election: This is the dead-heat election, with Florida's votes counted as Republican. This is essentially the current electoral map. Solid South racial and religious conservatives are Republican, with NE, Upper Midwest, and Pacific are Democratic. This is the how Republicans win, barely--the swing states of NH, CO, VA, FL stay red.
2012 Election: Here is the presumed Democratic base when they win. Same as 2000 with the culturally traditional South solidly red, but VA, FL, CO, NM, NV, and NH now blue. Note that white working class Appalachia is now solidly red and multiracial FL, NM, and CO, plus urbanized VA have slid blue.
I recommend the website www.270towin.com where I got these maps.
Here is how this relates to the modern GOP and its coalition. The GOP coalition pulls together the Solid South of white voters reflecting deep traditions on race and identity plus Christian "values voters" who were energized by the Moral Majority and its successors plus foreign policy hawks, libertarians, small business people concerned about regulations and labor rules, and corporate and financial elites who favor globalist trade, immigration policies.
It is an uneasy coalition with contradictions inside it which must be papered over. The Solid South traditionalists and Christian values voters coalesce around identity. They salute the flag, pray to God, support the military in foreign wars, speak English only, and are suspicious or hostile to outsiders, be they immigrants, racial minorities, or freethinking dissenter types that hang out at universities. Nixon exploited that emotion when he condemned "urban" crime and long haired hippies and political dissenters in 1968 (Anti Acid, Amnesty, Abortion). George HW Bush nurtured that impulse with the Willie Horton ad, linking crime and race. These issues of identity still motivate those voters.
Those voters respond to anti-tax and anti safety net messages because politicians can point to the undeserving "other" who get those benefits. They assert that the problem isn't the social benefit itself (Social Security, Medicare, public education, Disability Insurance, etc.) the problem is "waste, fraud, and abuse" by the undeserving: blacks, Hispanics, immigrants, lazy people, college students, criminals. But political messages don't threaten the programs themselves because GOP voters count on these programs.
The solution: support the programs, complain about waste, and ignore the fact that the programs are adding to the deficit. Anti-tax and anti-deficit messages work, but only if deficits are complained about but then continued, which has been the actual practice for Republicans (to pay for wars) and Democrats (to stimulate the economy.)
Globalism hurts these voters. It puts them into competition with foreign workers who can manufacture things and put them onto ships.
The policy and financial elites who fund and shape the campaigns for the GOP have different policy goals. They understand free trade and open borders to be good business. They are comfortable with ethnic and religious diversity since their business partners and clients are global. They are against progressive taxation, they want lower business regulation, and they resist worker protection and benefit laws, like minimum wage and maternity leave. They are comfortable with international bodies doing rule-making because their international trade, patent protections, etc. require international governance.
You see the problem: what the voters want and what the policy and financial elites want re very different, even directly opposite. But good political skill can paper it over.
The post-2012 election strategy was mapped out by GOP elites: keep the 2012 coalition intact. Pursue global trade and economic policy for the good of the economic elites but keep the voters in line with values issues that cannot actually be changed thanks to the constitution. Meanwhile question the identity of Kenyan Muslim Obama and condemn the moral and political errors of Democrats for which Bill and Hillary create rich opportunity. It requires willful blindness and hypocrisy (Goldman Sachs partners paying for ads attacking Hillary for buddying up to Goldman Sachs; Fox airing Newt Gingrich condemning Bill Clinton for sexual immorality) but this is commonplace among skilled political communicators.
The one "fix" perceived as necessary was to "widen the base" by lowering the rhetoric regarding Hispanics and immigrants generally, which would bring the states of FL, NM, CO, and VA back to Republican red.
Then came Trump. Trump is destroying the coalition by creating an new definition of Republican. A Trump Republican is defined by his resentment and frustration over hypocrisy in the old Republican coalition. Financial and corporate elites who pushed through stronger rules on credit card collections, and who blocked re-financing of high interest rates on student debt, and who oppose minimum wage hikes, and who want to privatize Social Security and limit Medicare reflect the values of the political orthodoxy and financial elite, but not voters. Wall Street elites, with the help of Democrats, protected the big banks from collapse and its leaders from prosecution; GOP voters don't like that. Wall Street and policy elites talk about "small government", with tax pledges and a goal of making it small enough to drown in the bathtub; Trump voters like government benefits. Most important, political and financial elites wanted "comprehensive immigration reform" which would have meant foreigners here illegally could stay. Voters shouted no!
Trump addressed the interest and values of the voters with plain talk, which cut through the hypocrisy and contradiction. He didn't paper over the division of interest between the elites and the voters. He exposed it. The bad rich guys are taking advantage of you, he said. He said he played the game the way it is played as a businessman, giving to everyone so deals could be made, and the game is rigged! He knew!
Trump says he agrees with the voters on guns, Christianity, Merry Christmas, abortion, and so on but his low credibility on these issues do not matter. He has high credibility on the issue of being a fearless leader on behalf of the common man voter, and that is the new base for the Republican coalition. It starts with "average Americans", i.e. native born white and adds people who are here legally but resent illegal newcomers and crime. It consists of people resentful of the restraints of political correctness. It consists of people who want a strong leader whose confident dismissal of normal conventions suggest that he will in fact break the Iran deal, initiate new trade deals, ignore the Geneva conventions, joyfully torture POWS, and do what needs to be done. He will break through political logjams. This assumes the new Trumpian GOP will lose black and Hispanic votes but will pick up working class "common man" votes in the industrial NE and Midwest, the so-called Reagan Democrats.
Those voters exist in large quantities. I saw them myself during the Boston busing crisis of 1974-75. They are native born voters with strong American identity and ethnic European roots who treasure their church, their neighborhood, their way of life. In Irish neighborhoods they considered Italians, Greeks, and Poles to be "outsiders" and blacks to be enemies. Italians disliked the Irish a little and blacks a lot. And so on. They were patriotic and religious and their politics were based upon identity, not liberal-conservative policy issues. They liked government, so long as it worked for them. They liked political patronage and good government jobs and public works and the taxes that paid for them, as long as it was mostly rich people paying the taxes.
The Trump voter is not the Paul Ryan "balance the budget, cut Social Security cut taxes so we can have trickle down" voter. Trump voters do not want people lacking health care to be dying in the streets. Trump voters want strong government, not less government. They may be libertarian when it comes to guns, but generally they want government to work well, because they want a government strong enough to keep illegal Mexican out, stop Muslims from coming in, and generally one that will keep them safe from outside enemies and domestic crime.
The Trump coalition attempts to grow the GOP tent with working class traditional voters rather than by making nice with minorities. This might put Ohio, Pennsylvania and the upper Midwest industrial states back into the GOP electoral coalition. The Trump coalition leaves genuinely small government libertarians no place to go, since they surely would not move to a Hillary Democratic Party. The risk is that they organize enough to vote for a third party. It is a possibility.
Trump denies the influence of the policy and financial elite at the presidential level. Trump can afford to do without the money because his voters and ratings give him free media, and he could presumably self-fund. The establishment wants to be a necessary part of the coalition because that is how they get their influence, and they will certainly continue it at the congressional and state level. So they stay part of the coalition. Trump loses the free-trade open borders pro-immigration elites, which may move them to the sidelines. They won't be comfortable with Trump, but they won't like Democratic tax policies so they likely will not join the opposition.
The important group Trump risks losing are the Republican voters who simply require the nice talk of hypocrisy rather than plain talk. They don't like Trump's style. They are embarrassed by him. Political hypocrisy is a necessary part of the finesse needed to stay in office voicing small government conservative policies if voters actually want large effective populist government programs. Trump is impolite and impolitic. He doesn't give lip service to "the vast majority of good Muslims who we welcome to America", or to the "overwhelming majority of Mexicans here with their families who work hard every day.". He says Muslims are a chancy situation and Mexicans are taking our jobs. Simple. He will also lose the support of incumbents who represent mixed districts where there aren't enough Reagan Democrats to replace the lost minority votes. It is these voters and these establishment Republicans who are most uncomfortable. They liked Romney: clean, decent, professional--the opposite of unruly Trump. They are talking about a Convention challenge.
The glue that may allow Trump to with this election and then eventually be replaced by a younger Republican with a better gift for hypocrisy is Hillary-hatred. Rubio was attempting to keep the coalition together with non-stop denunciation of all things Democratic, saying he was intentionally attempting to destroy the America. ("Let's dispel once and for all the fiction that Obama does not know what he is doing. . . . " ) Hating Hillary is glue, and it includes a lot of Democrats who currently support Bernie Sanders. Hillary-haters and Reagan Democrats are a voting block. A Trump coalition will do even worse with minorities than did Romney, but the Hillary-haters and Reagan Democrats may be a larger voting block.
Trump could save the Republican party by destroying it.