Even as we throw cold water on these narratives — at least until there’s more evidence to back them up — we’re still left with the unanswered question of how Trump performed as well as he did. He may not have transformed the Republican coalition, but he held onto much of his 2016 support and even enlarged it, if not in percentage terms then in absolute ones. Democrats who thought he would be swamped by high turnout were wrong; not only did he benefit, but his ability to turn nonvoters into voters is what likely kept him in the game.At the risk of committing the same sin as other observers and getting ahead of the data, I want to propose an alternative explanation for the election results, one that accounts for the president’s relative improvement as well as that of the entire Republican Party.It’s the money, stupid.
At the end of March, President Trump signed the Cares Act, which distributed more than half a trillion dollars in direct aid to more than 150 million Americans, from stimulus checks ($1,200 per adult and $500 per child for households below a certain income threshold) to $600 per week in additional unemployment benefits. These programs were not perfect — the supplement unemployment insurance, in particular, depended on ramshackle state systems, forcing many applicants to wait weeks or even months before they received assistance — but they made an impact regardless. Personal income went up and poverty went down, even as the United States reported its steepest ever quarterly drop in economic output.