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What Bill and Hillary Clinton Don’t Get: That the way to win Rust Belt white blue-collar voters isn’t to go centrist; it’s to go economic populist.

The changes to the platform testify to the strength of the Sanders campaign, and, like that campaign, they are a sign that the dynamism within the party arises right now from its left­wing faction, led by politicians like Mr. Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

What is less clear is if Mrs. Clinton is aiming to dispel that momentum with some gestures, including a few planks in a platform, or if she intends to actually lead the Democrats in the direction demanded by Mr. Sanders — a direction that would mean a radical redefinition of what was once understood to be Clintonism.

Hillary Clinton’s New Democrats, the NYT editorial board, yesterday

One thing that puzzles me is the anger among so many pundits that the Sanders supporters who still protest and won’t vote for Clinton are doing so because Sanders didn’t get everything he wanted in the platform.  These pundits are offended that there remain such vocal holdouts notwithstanding the extensive concessions to Sanders that were made.

But as I mentioned earlier this week and as the NYT editorial board understands, for (I believe) most Sanders supporters—those who, like me, will vote for Clinton, and those who will not—the critical issue is whether she intends to renege on her current support of those platform concessions, in the remainder of the campaign and then, if elected, as president.

One line late in Bill Clinton’s speech concerned me.  I don’t remember the precise phrasing, but it suggested that voters should vote for Hillary Clinton because her policy proposals are affordable and possible to get through Congress.  The line, in borrowing Hillary Clinton’s selling point on her policies over Sanders’ throughout the primary campaign except suddenly just before the California primary, struck me as a dog whistle to, I guess, moderate Republicans that it’s the proposals she campaigned on, not the ones in the platform, that she plans to offer and push.

Washington Post columnist and blogger Dana Milbank, a Clinton supporter all the way and one who throughout the summer, fall and early winter trashed Sanders’ proposals as utterly unrealistic, surprised me by writing (I guess) Monday afternoon, in a lengthy post titled “Clinton leaves Democrats’ liberal wing high and dry”:

That the Sanders supporters were frustrated is understandable. Clinton and the Democratic Party have given the progressive wing of the party short shrift in favor of an appeal to the political center. …

Clinton, after securing Sanders’s endorsement, chose as her running mate Virginian Tim Kaine, who has a centrist reputation and has been a free-trader.

Then there was the leak of DNC emails, which proved what Sanders had long alleged: The party was working to help Clinton defeat him. Democratic National Committee Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz was ousted after the email revelations, but Clinton promptly named her an “honorary chair” of her campaign.

From a strategic perspective, this is probably a mistake. Clinton’s playing down of the progressives in Philadelphia comes from a belief that she can do better among the non-college-educated whites who have been the core of Trump’s support. But her deficit among non-college-educated white voters, about 30 points, isn’t much worse than President Obama and John Kerry did. Rather than making overtures to the shrinking ranks of blue-collar white voters (just over 30 percent of the electorate, down from half in the 1980s) who aren’t likely to be persuaded, Clinton could have used her vice-presidential selection and her convention to boost enthusiasm among progressives.

I certainly agree with Milbank that this probably is a mistake, but for an additional reason as well as the numeric one he cites.  The substantial number of white blue-collar workers in the upper Midwest and northeast who support Trump not because of his Build the Wall and bar-Muslims promises but instead for the strictly economic-populist reasons that Trump uses as bait.  Some of these voters voted for Sanders in the primaries and caucuses.

Hillary Clinton should remember that taxes and net wages aren’t the only thing that matters to people’s bottom line—her repeated claims to the contrary during the primary season in challenging Sanders’s proposals notwithstanding.  Suffice it to say that healthcare deductibles and co-payments and healthcare insurance premiums, whether deducted from wages or salary or paid independently, are for many, many millions of people not affordable. If she does not understand that, she truly is out-of-touch.  Same for college affordability.  Etc.

The Clintons reflexively reach for centrism as their crutch.  Always.  But they appear unaware that the very definition of centrism has changed within the last year and a half.  As someone who views their electoral success as a personal existential necessity, I wish Clinton would consider this.

Meanwhile, Greg Sargent reports this morning that during an interview of Trump this morning Bill O’Reilly said there “has to be” a federal minimum wage. And then Trump said this:

There doesn’t have to be. I would leave it and raise it somewhat. You need to help people. I know it’s not very Republican to say…I would say 10….But with the understanding that somebody like me is going to bring back jobs. I don’t want people to be in that $10 category for very long. But the thing is, Bill, let the states make the deal.”  (Italics Sargent’s.)

Sargent added:

So basically, Trump flip-flopped and then back-flipped, holding three different positions in succession. The real story here is that Trump has no actual position on the minimum wage. His whole candidacy is a scam.

To me it looks less like a flip-flop than that Trump actually doesn’t recognize that the two are mutually exclusive.  The states can’t legislate—Make the deal? With whom?—a lower minimum wage than the federal minimum wage, since it’s not a federal minimum wage if states don’t have to adhere to it.

So maybe all Clinton has to do in order to win white blue-collar votes in the Rust Belt is quote that quote there.  Most blue-collar voters in the Rust Belt know that a federal minimum wage is, y’know, a federal minimum wage.  And that states can’t make a deal on that.

Trust me on this; they know.

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