Republicans still assume that the only reason Barack Obama became POTUS is that he is black, because all those non-Republican voters are into “identity politics” and are attracted only by gimmicky candidates, i.e. racial minorities and women. A non-gimmicky candidate would, of course, be a white man.
Along these lines, Josh Kraushaar writes that Democrats have an “identity problem.”
The question of the moment–as the competitive GOP field grows larger by the day–is why Hillary Clinton is barely being challenged for the Democratic nomination. And the answer lies within the changing nature of her party. …
… the main reason why Clinton is a near-lock for the nomination is that Democrats have become the party of identity. They’re now dependent on a coalition that relies on exciting less-reliable voters with nontraditional candidates. President Obama proved he could turn out African-American, Hispanic, and young voters to his side in 2012 even as they faced particularly rough economic hardships during a weak recovery. As the first female major-party nominee for president, Clinton hopes to win decisive margins with women voters and is planning to run on that historic message–in sharp contrast to her campaign’s argument playing down that uniqueness in 2008.
Do you remember that HRC “played down” her gender in 2008? I sure don’t.
It’s part of why freshman Sen. Elizabeth Warren inspires excitement from the party’s grassroots, but former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, whose progressive record in office set liberal benchmarks, isn’t even polling at 1 percent nationally. It’s why Sherrod Brown, a populist white male senator from a must-win battleground state is an afterthought in the presidential sweepstakes. It’s why Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, a runner-up to be Obama’s running mate in 2008, quickly jumped on the Clinton bandwagon instead of pursuing any national ambitions. On Bernstein’s list of 16 possible challengers, 15 are white and nine are white males. That makes many of them untenable standard-bearers in the modern Democratic Party.
Of course, being a white male is an “identity” also. As it says here, people who vote Republican tend to be older, whiter, wealthier, and much more conservative than the public at large. See also this new research from Pew, showing that the demographic groups that strongly identify with the Republican Party are Mormons; white evangelical Protestants; white southerners; white men; whites; and people aged 69-86. I’d call that an identity problem.
But old white wingnuts are dedicated voters, which everyone else (alas) is not. Does “everyone else” need a gimmick to be inspired to vote?
It isn’t that simple. The real reason Hillary Clinton has been crowned Miss Inevitable is that, for whatever reason, Democratic Party insiders have decided she’s going to win, and news media go along with this. I don’t think her support in the base is as strong as polls might show. Polls this early are all about party loyalty and name recognition; Hillary Clinton has name recognition running over, but Martin O’Malley has no name recognition outside of Maryland. And there is no leftie media/think tank infrastructure supporting a backbench of wannabee candidates as there is on the Right; O’Malley is on his own to get attention.
I like O’Malley, and I like Sherrod Brown, too, and would happily support either one over HRC for the Democratic nomination. And I think a lot of other potential Democratic voters would feel the same way if they ever learn who O’Malley and Brown even are. Tim Kaine, on the other hand, has a history of going squishy at inopportune times; I’m not sure if I would favor him over HRC. I’d have to think about that.
I do run into people on the Web who say they support Clinton because they think it’s time we got a woman president, but I seriously don’t think HRC’s gender will help her much in the general. Likewise race by itself doesn’t get anyone elected; there have been other African-Americans running for President before Barack Obama. A candidate needs more than a gimmick.
Progressives fell in love with Elizabeth Warren because she gives voice to a genuinely progressive perspective, not because she’s female. Notice we don’t exactly genuflect to Diane Feinstein. I honestly believe a white man who said the same things as well as Warren does would be considered a champion of progressivism also. It may be that, all other things being equal, not being a white male might be a small advantage to the Democratic base, but it’s not the primary factor in choosing a candidate. I doubt there’d be many crossover African-American votes for Dr. Ben Carson, for example, right-wing expectations to the contrary.
Consider: When President Obama was elected in 2008, the Pew Research Center found that 44 percent of whites defined themselves more closely with Democrats, while 42 percent did so with Republicans. In 2014, that two-point deficit for Republicans has transformed into a nine-point advantage. According to Pew, 49 percent of whites now consider themselves Republicans, while just 40 percent view themselves as Democrats.
Yet among minorities, the Democratic advantage has mostly held or increased–even from the high-water mark of 2008 for Democrats. Pew found 81 percent of blacks identified as Democrats in 2008; that proportion is now 80 percent. Democrats have lost some support from Hispanics since Obama’s landslide in 2008, but it’s at higher levels than before Obama’s presidency. In 2014, 56 percent of Latinos identified as Democrats–a larger share than when Democrats swept Congress in 2006 (51 percent). And the fast-growing bloc of Asian-American voters now consider themselves more Democratic than when Obama first took office–in 2008, 57 percent identified with the Democrats, while 65 percent now do. To get these voters to show up, Democrats need to recruit candidates who reflect their newfound diversity. …
But while nominating a diverse slate of candidates is a laudable goal, there’s great risk when a party becomes obsessed with identity over issues. It fuels racial polarization, where one’s party label or positions on issues becomes synonymous with race or ethnicity. There’s less coherent connection among their constituents’ interests–beyond gender or the color of one’s skin. If Clinton runs a biography-focused campaign, it will require her to be more open and authentic–traits she has never demonstrated in her long career in public life.
For all the GOP’s recent internal struggles, the dividing lines within the party have primarily been over policy: tea-partiers against the establishment, Chamber of Commerce rank-and-file versus social conservatives, hawks against Paulites. Among Democrats, the dividing lines are much more personal. If Clinton wins a third straight Democratic presidential term, it will reaffirm the power of identity in American politics. But if she loses, Democrats will find themselves in a messy identity crisis, without many leaders left to turn to.
In other words, Kraushaar assumes that the only reason women and nonwhites are moving away from the Republican Party is that Those People are into “identity” and don’t care about policy, whereas the party whose voting base gets whiter and more XY-chromosome oriented by the second attracts people who are interested in policy.
Let us pause to let the deeper assumption behind that assumption soak in.
Now that we’ve all caught our breath, let’s go on …
I don’t need to repeat to all of you the many kinds of government policy that impact women more than men, the poor more than the wealthy, and nonwhites more than whites. You know this stuff as well as I do. Republicans remain oblivious to these issues, however, no matter how many times they are pointed out to them. It’s like they’re blinded by the white.
Likewise, I think the reasons the Dem base doesn’t reliably turn out to vote, especially in Midterms, has more to do with falling expectations that government will become responsive to their needs, and of course with white male wingnuts are allowed to run everything that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. But it’s complicated.