Demo Identity Politics Chasing Whites Away
You may have heard that whites are becoming Republican because they're racist.
You may have heard that whites are becoming Republican because they feel at home venting their anti-immigrant sentiments in a party led by a president whose alleged dog whistles have called the racist hounds home.
But that nasty and simplistic explanation doesn’t quite cut it. Nor does it tell us why so many working-class whites who voted for Barack Obama jumped ship to support a businessman and television celebrity for president.
Democrats, who have long believed that tribalism and identity politics would rack up Electoral College votes, still fail to realize that promising a multicultural, gender-neutral society isn’t enough for millions of Americans who can’t find jobs, pay their bills or send their kids to college.
In 1992, Democrat campaign strategist James Carville famously told an inner-circle of Bill Clinton’s staff, “It’s the economy, stupid.” In doing so, he got the campaign to focus on a powerful issue that President George H. W. Bush was neglecting.
It seems like Democrats could use a little bit of that old-fashioned common sense in their campaigns these days, but they’re clearly not getting the message. Instead, the party is moving further and further to the left, seemingly unable or unwilling to recognize what’s driving Donald Trump’s support among white voters.
Jim Geraghty writes at National Review that years after Bill Clinton pledged to restore the American promise by focusing on economic issues, “The Hillary Clinton campaign reflected Democrats’ increasing obsession with identity politics, contending that the country’s most pressing injustices explicitly broke along the lines of gender, race, immigration status, and sexual identity.”
The numbers show a downward trajectory in white support of Democrats since the Clinton years, which happens to correlate with the decision by many Democrat candidates to abandon the white working class.
In 1996, Clinton won 49% of the white vote in a two-party race. In 2000, Al Gore attracted only 43%. After pulling a bit more whites into his camp in 2008, Barack Obama’s support from whites dropped to 39% in 2012. Hillary Clinton won about the same percentage in 2016. And if Hillary Clinton had matched Obama’s 2012 support among blacks, she still would have lost to Trump.
Identity politics is clearly backfiring on Democrats.
Vox provides more evidence that Democrats are abandoning non-educated whites at their own peril: “White non-college voters remain a larger group than white college voters in almost all states — and are far larger in the Rust Belt states that gave the Democrats so much trouble in 2016: Iowa is 62 percent white non-college versus 31 percent white college; Michigan is 54 percent white non-college versus 28 percent white college; Ohio splits 55 percent to 29 percent; Pennsylvania 51 percent to 31 percent; and Wisconsin 58 percent to 32 percent.”
Joshua Zingher of The Washington Post further explains the loss of white voter support in the Democrat Party to two factors. One is that more white, conservative Democrats have moved over to the Republican Party than white, liberal Republicans have become Democrats, and that Democrats have “courted and won more votes from ethnic and racial minority groups” while “at the same time, in response to these demographic changes, more whites have shifted rightward on economic issues.”
What white voters were looking for in 2016, and what drives their loyalty to President Trump through the sagas of Stormy Daniels and off-the-wall tweet storms is the hope that an outsider in the White House just might be able to offer them something that no other candidate has.
Deep down, many coal miners in West Virginia and unemployed steel workers in Pennsylvania probably know that the Rust Belt might never fully recover. But a president who at least offers them a vision of what’s possible is a lot more attractive than candidates offering gender-neutral bathrooms, unabashed globalism, and promises of green jobs as a cure-all for America’s economic woes.
And branding the white working class neo-Confederates isn’t a wise strategy.
Thomas B. Edsall suggested in The New York Times earlier this year that “a Democratic Party based on urban cosmopolitan business liberalism runs the risk not only of leading to the continued marginalization of the minority poor, but also — as the policies of the Trump administration demonstrate — to the continued neglect of the white working-class electorate that put Trump in the White House.”
Yet, many Democrats continue to believe the party can gain seats in Congress or take back the White House by appeasing every identity group except white working-class voters. They’re counting on the fact that the burgeoning electorate of women, Millennials, educated professionals and minorities will be enough to make up for the loss of whites. For now, their calculations have resulted in Republicans holding more power nationwide than at any point since the early 20th century.
The GOP shouldn’t rest on its laurels heading into the 2018 midterms, though. It’s newfound support in the working class is tentative at best, especially if the party doesn’t keep producing results. But until Democrats stop focusing on “white privilege” and start listening to white voters, the balance of power will continue to favor Republicans in the coming years.
Democrats hoping for a “blue wave” this fall must fight a rising tide of working-class Republicans. Sure, they can do this by practicing identity politics. But unless they start identifying with the hopes and dreams of the white working class, Nancy Pelosi can forget about taking the speaker’s gavel from House Republicans in November.