The last several
years months of election exegeses, explaining the Jump of Trump, have been funny because they mostly come in three flavors. The first, from Clinton loyalists, pointed the finger at everyone and everything except a crappy candidate and crappy campaign, mainly at Trump’s alleged ties to the Kremlin. The second, from people who never much liked Clinton, explain that au contraire, it was the crappy candidate and crappy campaign. The last, from more sober-minded and above-the-fray Democrats, are along the lines of this Washington Post article, explaining the changes in the composition of the electorate that favored Trump and disfavored Clinton. Fewer blacks and more whites voted, compared to 2012, so Clinton lost.
The implication here might be that the Democrats Obama-era coalition is dependent on a black candidate to motivate black turnout- simply pandering endlessly to #BlackLivesMatter as Clinton did isn’t enough. Democratic consultants who take this stuff seriously are no doubt spending their frequent flier miles to cozy up to Cory Booker or Kamala Harris in hopes of their starting a run in another 23 months or so. This is certainly a more productive and (small-d) democratically-grounded use of Democratic time and energy than endlessly rehearsing how Yuriy Dolgorukiy got his long paws into John Podesta’s pizza receipts. But I don’t think this is how Democrats are going to win again. Obama in 2008 was a really, really unusual combination- a black candidate who was nonthreatening to middle-of-the-road Iowa white voters, motivating and exciting to thousands of college-age volunteers and campaign workers, and genuinely inspiring to millions of black voters. Booker and Harris are both talented (if somewhat flavorless) politicians, but I’m not convinced they can pull off that act.
Nor do I think the Democrats need to go the way of Old White Men. Biden and Bernie are both too old, and those are the only two old white guys with national presence and popularity. Besides, Democrats have become too fond of the dialectic where their only choices are fire-breathing identity politics (or its simulation by Hillary’s Twitter account) and fire-breathing roll-out-the-guillotines economic Jacobinism. Focusing on old white guys (or Heaven forfend a young Zuckerbergian #disruptor) will push the Democrats to embrace more extreme and dumb economic ideas than are dreamt of in your free college’s philosophy seminar.
Democrats need Midwestern White Women. This is both true in electoral terms- they lost because too many white women in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania didn’t go their way, and because they lost white women by a fair margin nationwide- and in terms of candidates. They need to get a bunch of white women who are used to talking to soccer moms and getting them to volunteer for their campaign to go talk to soccer moms and get them to volunteer for their campaign. Here are the current female Democratic Senators:
- Diane Feinstein (California)
- Kamala Harris (California)
- Mazie Hirono (Hawaii)
- Tammy Duckworth (Illinois)
- Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts)
- Debbie Stabenow (Michigan)
- Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota)
- Claire McCaskill (Missouri)
- Catherine Masto (Nevada)
- Jeanne Shaheen (New Hampshire)
- Maggie Hassan (New Hampshire)
- Kirsten Gillibrand (New York)
- Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota)
- Patty Murray (Washington)
- Maria Cantwell (Washington)
- Tammy Baldwin (Wisconsin)
Of those, I’d guess Gillibrand or Klobuchar would have the best combination of relative youth and slightly centrist positioning. But really, Democrats should restrain their impulse to clear the field for their favorite, and should get a bunch of them to throw in and then duke it out in debates before the primaries. The Democrats’ downfall both in and out of electoral politics in recent years has been in making too many topics off limits to debate and argument and contest. Democratic primary voters will be hungry for a winner by 2020, one assumes, and less eager to impose ideological purity tests than they were in 2016. Whether Trump will look as vulnerable and listless as he does now is anyone’s guess.
The biggest danger to this approach, as I see it, is not Democratic failure but success. If the Democrats retake the House or the Senate in 2018, there will be a lot of pressure on them from their constituents to begin nonstop investigations of Trump, looking for something to impeach him with. This will be very exciting for them, and will distract them from their true path back to power, which is in being maximally boring.