Who’s Deplorable Now?

Democrats wonder if they still need the Midwest.

By James Freeman
Feb. 25, 2019 5:08 p.m. ET

Election night at the New York Hilton Midtown on November 8, 2016. PHOTO: SPENCER PLATT/GETTY IMAGES

It must be exhausting these days serving as a Democratic political operative. The party remains in a seemingly endless debate over how much to favor some demographic groups of American voters—and how much to punish others.

At one point there seemed to be a Democratic consensus that the party’s disappointing performance in 2016 had a lot to do with ignoring or deploring blue-collar voters in the Midwest. And at least some of the party’s current and potential 2020 presidential candidates still hold this view.

This week in the New York Times, Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns report from Iowa:
With polls indicating that electoral viability is as important to voters as any policy issue, a handful of the party’s prospects are already holding up their Midwestern credentials to make the case that they are the ones who can turn Big 10 country — Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin — blue again.

But the Timesmen add:
Yet far away from the mounting snowdrifts that line every curb here, there is a growing school of thought that Democrats should not spend so much time, money and psychic energy tailoring their message to a heavily white, rural and blue-collar part of the country when their coalition is increasingly made up of racial minorities and suburbanites. The party should still pursue voters who have drifted toward Republicans, this thinking goes, but should also place a high priority on mobilizing communities more amenable to progressive politics.

The numerical swap between the three Rust Belt states that handed Mr. Trump the White House and the most alluring trio of Sun Belt targets is nearly even: Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin have a combined 46 electoral votes, while North Carolina, Georgia and Arizona offer 42. And an aspirational “reach” state like Texas would offer a larger trove of electoral votes for Democrats than the combined total of Ohio and Iowa, states that have started to slip away from the party.

Perhaps Democratic politicos are just trying to play the policy hand they’ve been dealt. If one were to design an agenda to alienate blue-collar voters in the industrial Midwest, it would look a lot like the Green New Deal.

But deploring traditional Middle Americans who work with their hands might not be any more fun for the Democratic nominee in 2020 than it was for Hillary Clinton in 2016. That’s because assembling a winning coalition without them may require a lot of psychic energy.

Public broadcaster David Bernstein of WGBH in Boston writes in Politico about the increasing strength President Trump is showing in some recent polls of Hispanic-Americans. Mr. Bernstein throws cold water on the Sun Belt strategy:
Now, here’s the brutal truth for Democrats: If Hispanic Americans are in fact showing surging approval of Trump, he could be on his way to matching or exceeding the 40 percent won by George W. Bush in his 2004.

If Trump does 12 percentage points better than his 2016 numbers with the growing Hispanic vote, it pretty much takes Florida, Arizona, Georgia and North Carolina off the table for Democrats, who would need to sweep Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to reach the 270 electoral college votes needed to win the White House.

At the same time, that 12-point shift would give Trump a clear shot at winning Colorado and Nevada, states where Hispanic voters make up well over 10 percent of the electorate and where Clinton won by 5 percentage points or less in 2016.

Democrats may have helped Mr. Trump’s re-election chances when they decided that limiting border wall funding was more important to them than securing legal status for people brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Louise Radnofsky and Natalie Andrews report in the Wall Street Journal:
Even when lawmakers began meeting behind closed doors to hammer out a 2019 spending deal that would include some money for border barriers, Democrats in both chambers agreed early in the process in a meeting in Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s office that the Dreamer issue would stay off the negotiating table unless the president intervened and insisted on it.
Some argued that temporary protections in exchange for a permanent wall was a bad deal. A senior Democratic aide said the decision was made because there was limited time to resolve a range of spending issues, and throwing immigration policy into the mix could have thwarted negotiations.

House Democrats now plan to introduce a version of a bill next month to grant permanent protections to the Dreamers, an aide to Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D., Calif.) said. But the measure will be heard by the Judiciary Committee before it has a vote, meaning it could be several weeks, if not months, before a floor vote.

And of course Democrats gave away their leverage to force Senate passage by refusing to give the President the wall funding he sought. It’s almost as if Democrats would rather use immigration as a political weapon than craft a legislative solution.

Sean Sullivan of the Washington Post reports on another challenge for Democrats hoping to pursue a Sun Belt strategy. The humanitarian crisis in Venezuela could become an electoral crisis for certain U.S. politicians. Mr. Sullivan writes:
Adding to the tension is growing concern among Democrats that Trump and his allies, seizing on the party’s leftward shift, will move to portray his potential 2020 challengers as socialists and point to Venezuela’s collapse as a symbol of what’s wrong with the views they espouse.

Florida Democrats are disavowing the recent refusal by presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a self-described democratic socialist, to label Maduro a dictator and call for him to go, though Sanders has criticized him.

“They are clearly ignorant comments, and someone who’s running for president of the United States should be better briefed and knowledgeable about this crisis in Venezuela and how it impacts the Florida political landscape,” said Christian Ulvert, a Florida Democratic strategist who is of Nicaraguan descent and whose husband’s family has roots in Venezuela.

Sounds like pretty soon the Democrats may be back up north looking for candidates with Midwestern roots. But who’s going to break the news to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her Green New Deal comrades that the party may still need Middle America?


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