2018

15 February 2017: Democrats are their own worst enemy

Both major parties are in disarray. Republicans have eschewed conservatism for rightwing populism, and Democrats are scrambling to find their footing after the November debacle. If they were frank about their plights, they would admit they were their own worst enemies.

Republicans would own up they tanked the economy and unleashed the upheaval in the Middle East. One word on that: W. Democrats would admit to their tin ear, that they weren’t listening from their high moral perches to the once rock-solid, blue-collar base and to folks in the hinterlands who resent their urban and sub/exurban cousins who, they feel, are cheating them out of their slice of the economic pie. Nor are Democrats paying attention to data that explains their misfortune and predicts their future unless and until they get a clue.

In an incisive piece that challenged the assumption of inevitable Democratic political dominance, Bloomberg News’ Megan McArdle writes, “If Democrats want to get their mojo back, they’re going to need to do more than get a small minority of voters to turn out for a march. They’re going to need to get back some of those rural votes.

“To do that, they’re probably going to have to let go of the most soul-satisfying, brain-melting political theory of the last two decades: that Democrats are inevitably the Party of the Future, guaranteed ownership of the future by an emerging Democratic majority in minority-white America.”

That will entail resisting focusing their energy solely on “resistance” and moving to political action. For one can have all the passion possible for all things dastardly Donald Trump, but if that passion does not translate into registering new voters, developing and supporting younger candidates, reaching out and reconnecting with blue collar and rural voters, and working with and supporting local parties in every county no matter how “red,” it will likely be for naught.

One salient point McArdle makes regarding immigrants ought to give Democrats pause: “Immigrants don’t necessarily stay loyal to the party of immigrants.” Once assimilated, their desire to be perceived as “true Americans” takes precedence in their values hierarchy. Yet, they often hold to the teachings of their native religions, which often run contrary to American secular values: e.g., abortion and same-sex marriage.

A major conundrum for Democrats relates to how their votes are inefficiently distributed. In a detailed analysis of why Trump won, RealClearPolitics writers Sean Trende and David Byler cite the steady decline in the Democrats’ share of the 1988 rural vote, 45 percent, to 2016 when it got 30 percent. Inversely, Democratic numbers in large cities and megalopolises grew by leaps and bounds. But our system—think Electoral College and U.S. Senate—is not uniformly predicated on popular vote. It’s the reason Hillary Clinton blew out Trump by three million, yet lost the presidency and why Democrats did not regain control of the Senate.

The problem, Trende and Byler write, is the Democratic coalition fell apart in areas below the mega and large cities. Hillary’s “performance in small cities was closer to Al Gore’s 2000 performance than either Obama’s or Bill’s landslide wins. Beneath that, her performance was a disaster; she ran behind Michael Dukakis in large towns, about 10 points behind him in small towns, and about 15 points behind him in rural areas.  She ran over 20 points behind Bill in small towns and rural areas.”

Translate that into Colorado terms: Democrats rocked the vote in the Denver-Boulder axis and in pockets of blue across the state, but poorly elsewhere. That was especially true in Pueblo County, which went red for the first time since Richard Nixon’s crushing of George McGovern in 1972. Clinton carried the state but not with a majority. Arguably, if Gary Johnson weren’t on the ballot, Trump might’ve won.

“Winning mega-cities by 30 points is great,” Trende and Byler continue, “but her margin there was mostly (though not entirely) neutralized by her poor performance in large rural areas and small towns alone.”

While Democrats can feel indignant and outraged over a system that led to Hillary losing despite winning, the reality is that’s the reality.

So, what then?

Next week, Democrats: A tale of two parties.

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