The Democratic Party appears hell-bent on repeating the mistakes that led to its Election Day defeat and rejection by Swing State America. Its leading candidates for party chairman appear wedded to the very same blend of identity politics and disdain for Middle America that helped doom Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.
Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison and Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, who are vying to the lead the Democratic Party, are out of step with the wants, needs and expectations of their fellow countrymen. Ellison is a past acolyte of Louis Farrakhan, hatemonger extraordinaire and Nation of Islam honcho, and Perez has embraced the doctrine of the “disparate impact” to ride roughshod over the New York City Fire Department in a lawsuit charging racial discrimination.
According to the Daily Caller, Ellison’s ties to Farrakhan are no secret. As Fox News has noted, Ellison defended Farrakhan against accusations of anti-Semitism in 1989. But beyond that, Ellison demanded reparations for slavery, and he compared President George W. Bush and 9/11 to Adolph Hitler and the 1933 Reichstag fire.
Indeed, at his final White House press conference on Friday, Barack Obama didn’t even mention Ellison’s name when he was asked about the Democrats’ upcoming February fracas over the party’s chairmanship. Rather, the President spoke about “Tom Perez,” and he did so at length. As the Huffington Post summed things up, “The outgoing president wants his labor secretary, Thomas Perez, to succeed him as the top figure in the Democratic Party.”
Against that backdrop, is it any wonder that working-class voters — that is, voters without a four-year degree, even those outside of the South — voted Republican by record margins last month? To put things into perspective, Donald Trump won the white working class by two-to-one in both Michigan and Pennsylvania, while in Ohio Clinton’s deficit was 30 points.
Like it or not, winning the popular vote and capturing the White House are not the same thing, and the Electoral College is here to stay. Although Clinton won 65.8 million votes nationally, in the same ballpark as President Obama’s haul in 2012 and 2.8 million more than Trump, she garnered 100 fewer electoral votes than Barack Obama did four years ago.
Rather, as the 2016 election demonstrated, the Democrats’ Upstairs-Downstairs campaign playbook, a strategy that is predicated upon a less-than-solid alliance of coastal elites and an inner-city core, has grown stale. From the looks of things, from President Obama on down, the party is having a difficult time getting past the limitations of a message that resonates in New York, Chicago, Boston and San Francisco, but falls flat in places like Michigan’s Macomb County and Northeast and Southwest Pennsylvania.
To be sure, politics was always transactional, but these days it is also increasingly suffused with class and racial identity. And the numbers tell the story. The economic recovery has rejuvenated the stock portfolios of high-end America and sent 9 million more Latinos, African-Americans and Asian-Americans back to work. Yet, nearly 1 million fewer white Americans are employed. Not surprisingly, something had to give, and on Election Day it did.
For the Democrats, that is a glaring problem, one they appear constitutionally incapable of addressing. After all, the Democrats are the same folks who decided to showcase the mother of Michael Brown, who was shot and killed after he charged at a police officer “like a football player. Head down,” at their July Convention. They’re the same party who once upon a time told us that ObamaCare meant that if you liked your insurance and your doctor, you could keep them.
According to reports, the outcome of the race to head the DNC is not a foregone conclusion. Democratic donors are dissatisfied with Ellison, and Perez has yet to catch fire. New prospects surface almost daily. But the larger handicap for the Democrats is their inability to simultaneously address the Rust Belt’s real and legitimate concerns over the economy, immigration and condescension toward once accepted social norms.
Unfortunately, Ellison and Perez show no inclination or understanding of how to grapple with these seemingly intractable dilemmas. From here, it looks like the Democrats’ Coalition of the Ascendant is no longer on the rise.
Lloyd Green was staff secretary to the George H.W. Bush campaign’s Middle East Policy Group in 1988 and served in the Department of Justice between 1990 and 1992.