Democrats may be giddy over President Donald Trump’s low approval ratings and the infighting within the GOP, but that doesn’t change the fact that at all levels, Democrats are losing elections. The long-standing Democratic coalition has fractured.
While the Republican Party seems to be impeded by certain ideological differences, they still know how to win elections. And they have positioned themselves to gerrymander successfully at all levels of government. The three branches of the federal government are now controlled by Republicans. They dominate a majority of state and local governments. Thirty-one of the 50 state governors are Republicans, and Republicans control 32 state legislatures and the majority of county governments throughout the country.
Hillary Clinton’s popular vote victory notwithstanding, the Democrats still lack a winning national coalition. It has been nearly a year since they suffered humiliating defeat in 2016. Yet not much has changed. The Democrats’ old-guard, business-friendly Congressional leadership still holds a tight grip on power. Bernie Sanders’ progressive wing is increasingly resisting this leadership. The Democrats continue to lose the support and turnout of working class voters and have come up short repeatedly in post-Trump special elections.
Democrats now embrace identity politics, emphasizing the particularized interests of racial, gender and ethnic groups. They have abandoned their traditional, broad-based party politics. Democrats are betting their future on the ascendant constituencies of empowered minorities and social liberals. But identity politics by its nature undermines the common bonds that unite us.
Importantly, politics based on diversity sidetrack our efforts toward common goals of economic fairness and justice – an urgent issue for the middle and working class Americans. Judging by the social and news media we rely on, the books we read and the lawsuits we file, diversity has become an omnipresent sacred cow. It offers a misguided vision of social justice. And, conveniently, compared to serious economic reform, it costs us nothing.
Identity politics tends to distract from and silence the assertion of such economic issues as inequality, financial insecurity and a declining middle class. These issues were persuasively raised by Messrs. Sanders and Trump in the 2016 primaries. Advancing one group’s interest over another’s promotes division. It invites people to turn inward and to obsess over their particular grievances, to surround themselves with like-minded voters, thereby creating a moral force-field to form coalitions and exercise group solidarity through demonstrations and movements. But this approach, by its nature, is fractious, non-inclusive and precludes any broad-based political alliances.
Thomas Edsall, a prominent analytical journalist, published an autopsy of the 2016 election. His primary sources were top Democratic pollsters, strategists and academics. In “The Democratic Party Is in Worse Shape Than You Thought,” Mr. Edsall concluded that crucial constituencies formerly with the Democratic Party left for a complexity of reasons. The primary loss was among workers, and not just white workers. He emphasized that it would be difficult to win back formerly loyal Democrats who defected to President Trump. He took notice of another threatening trend: declining voter turnout among key elements of the Democratic coalition, i.e., minority, young and single voters.
The shift of Obama voters to President Trump was estimated at between 6.7 and 9.2 million, heavily concentrated in the Midwest and other Rust Belt states. The biggest common denominator among Obama and Trump voters is their view that the political system is corrupt and does not work for people like them.
The prominent Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg concluded that the Democrats suffer a working class problem. It started with the Great Recession and President Obama’s bailout of wrong-doing financial elites while many, many Americans lost jobs, income, savings and homes. It was compounded by the Democrats’ pursuit of multinational trade agreements and their favoring of Wall Street and corporate interests.
Look at the political power shift to the right following the 2016 election. The Democrats have 12 fewer U.S. senators than when President Obama was sworn in, 63 fewer House members and 16 fewer governors. In 2018, Democrats need to win 26 seats to regain control of the House. They have the lowest number of state legislators in more than 100 years. In only six states do Democrats control both the governorship and the legislature — the lowest number in our history.
American workers and the less fortunate have lost faith and trust that the Democrats care about them and will advance their concerns. Federal efforts to service diversity and focus on specific-group interests almost always come at the expense of white voters. However, Mr. Trump has forced Democrats to begin to examine their party’s neglected liabilities, growing resentment toward its elites and the frail loyalty of its supporters. Earth to Democrats: To exercise political power you have to win elections.
Perry L. Weed, attorney and founder/director of the Economic Club of Annapolis. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.