The Democratic Establishment Thinks the Lesson of This Election Is That the Way For Democrats to Win Over White Voters In the Industrial Midwest Is to Switch Sides in the Culture Wars. I Guess. [Updated.]
The race to be the next head of the Democratic National Committee has quickly turned into a proxy fight between liberals and establishment types about where the party needs to go in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s stunning loss at the hands of Donald Trump on Tuesday.
Liberals are insistent that Clinton’s defeat was the result of nominating a candidate who failed to excite the party’s base of progressives, African Americans and Hispanics. Establishment voices fret that nominating a liberal to run the party misses the point of an election in which Clinton’s loss can be directly traced to her inability to win over white voters in the industrial Midwest.
“The next DNC chair needs to understand what became painfully obvious in the election — that there are two different Americas and that Democrats are really struggling to bridge the gap between the two,” said Mo Elleithee, a longtime Democratic operative who runs the Georgetown University Institute of Politics and Public Service. “The fundamental problem is that the party stopped really communicating what it means to be a Democrat.” …
“This is suddenly a really important gig as one of the centers of opposition,” said one longtime Democratic strategist who spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly assess the DNC race. “You can’t do it part time, and you shouldn’t do it while sitting inside one of the most despised institutions in the country.”
— What the DNC chair race tells us about the fight for the Democratic Party’s future, Chris Cillizza, Washington Post, yesterday
Okay, so there are two groups of Democrats who don’t know that Bernie Sanders won massive numbers of Midwestern and Rust Belt white blue collar and middle class voters in the upper Midwest, including every single county in western and northern Michigan. Or they think Sanders campaigned as an anti-choice and anti-gay-rights Democrat.
One of those two groups—mostly people like Paul Krugman, whose only contact with the Rust Belt and the upper Midwest is occasional trips to Chicago—insisted before the election, and apparently many still do, that no one who voted for Obama would vote for Trump, since everyone who would vote for Trump wanted to Build the Wall and bar Muslims from entering this country. The exception, in the opinion of those who acknowledge exceptions at all, was those who didn’t want a woman president.
The other group, apparently comprising most of the Democratic establishment in D.C.—but definitely not in, say, Michigan or northern Ohio—think the way to win white blue collar Midwesterners and Rust Belters is the same as the way to win them was in circa 1988. It’s not the economy of the Rust Belt and rural and small-town Midwest, stupid.
And certainly not the demise of labor union jobs and labor unions and the takeover of small ag by Big Ag and small business by Big Businesses and the massive economic and political power of Wall Street, and of the (mostly) Republican billionaires and their think-tank, lobbyist, and media juggernaut.
Uh-uh. It’s only elite progressives, millennials, African Americans and Hispanics, who care about those things. And since middle-class and upscale moderates in swing suburbia would be offended that anyone would think they, too, care about these things—as well as such things as tuition-free public colleges and universities and Medicare-for-all—the Democrats absolutely must choose between courting them and courting voters (read: white blue-collar ones) in the industrial Midwest.
Pick one, only one; these are mutually exclusive. see.
The Cillizza article goes on to list and discuss the already-announced or likely candidates to head the DNC. The leading candidate, whose momentum much of the establishment is frantically trying to halt, is Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota. About him, Cillizza writes:
* Keith Ellison: The Minnesota congressman is one of the most visible liberals in Congress. And many people within the party believe that Ellison, as a Muslim American and an African American, is exactly the sort of person the party should put forward to counter President Trump. Even before he has formally announced whether he will run, Ellison has won the endorsements of Sens. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.). The knock on Ellison is that he has a day job, making it impossible to focus full time on rebuilding a party infrastructure that badly needs it. “I absolutely love Keith and think he’s great,” a former DNC senior official said. “But [we] need a full-time organizational leader who gets the importance of the tyranny of data but who also has the skills to negotiate the intersection of blue-collar fears and urban aspirations.”
Absolutely! Keith Ellison’s main strength is as a two-fir identity-politics symbol! As a Muslim American and an African American, he is exactly the sort of person the party should put forward to counter President Trump, many people within the party believe. Although none of those people is Bernie Sanders or is one of his supporters. Or is based in the Midwest or the Rust Belt.
Of that I am sure. Because Sanders, his supporters, and, oh, say, Debbie Dingell, by contrast, think Ellison’s main strengths are that he, like Sanders, is an economics-and-structural-power-issues progressive. And that he’s based in the upper Midwest. A state that’s gone pretty comfortably Democratic for president since approximately forever, but this time did so by one percentage point.
And who, coming from that particular upper Midwestern state, is familiar with the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party—what it is and what its nature and history have been. And why that matters.
This past weekend I read several articles, three or four in the NYT and the Washington Post, showing jaw-dropping data: that in several Rust Belt congressional districts—southeastern Michigan (Dingell’s district), the Canton, OH area, Erie County, PA—there were massive swings from Obama in 2012 to Trump on Tuesday. Percentage shifts in the high teens or low 20s, from +16, or +22 for Obama four years ago to +6 or +2 for Trump.
Another article, in the Times, profiled people in Indianapolis who work at the soon-to-be-shuttered Carrier plant there, who voted for Obama twice and Trump this time.
These are not alt-right folks. Their motivation was neither racist nor xenophobic. And it had nothing to do with any culture-wars issue. Any more than did Sanders’ campaign. Which these voters had supported.
So, no, Mr. Elleithee, the fundamental problem isn’t that the party stopped really communicating what it means to be a Democrat. The fundamental problem is that the party communicated all too well what it has meant in recent decades to be a Democrat.
There are indeed two different Americas. But bridging the gap is as simple as Bernie Sanders found it to be.
Elleithee, as with virtually all the other longtime Democratic operatives, was an ardent Clinton supporter in the primaries.
UPDATE: The comments thread indicates that there’s some confusion about what I was saying. So maybe this quote from a Politico article from this morning will clarify it:
Ellison, who is scheduled to speak on a Monday afternoon panel at the DA meeting on the challenge Democrats face in winning working-class votes, has been a leading liberal voice for a form of economic populism that Trump at times channeled more than Clinton.
Hope that takes care of it. Although I guess I shouldn’t expect it to. Ellison was a Sanders supporter in the primaries, meaning that he is an economic-progressive, not a identity-politics, Democrat. Like Sanders. And Warren.
There seems to be incredibly strong resistance to the concept that since the current progressive wing of the Democratic Party is pushing economic and power-structure populism and has nothing to do with the culture wars or with identity politics, and since large numbers of white working class and white suburban middle class voters agree with rather than oppose the progressives’ agenda, there is no conflict between targeting those voters and the so-called Democratic Party base.
The base and the targeted white working class and middle class voters support the same types of things: economic and power-structure populism of the Sanders and Warren varieties.
Added 11/14 at 5:24 .m.