December 15, 2016

Democrats Divided On The Worth Of White Working Class Voters

The continuing Democratic civil war has a number of fronts, yet perhaps none are as contested as the question over what the party should do about working class white voters. Clinton’s failure in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, states Democrats had won for decades, makes this an acute problem for the party.

The question over how to approach these voters in the future has led some, like Vice President Joe Biden, to warn future candidates that they have to fix the botched approach Clinton took:

“Sounding like a frustrated Cassandra, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. lamented last week that Hillary Clinton had not done enough to reach white working-class voters in the presidential campaign… ‘I mean these are good people, man!’ Mr. Biden exclaimed in an interview on CNN. ‘These aren’t racists. These aren’t sexists.’”

Some like Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, also a member of Clinton’s VP shortlist, grew exasperated with his fellow Democrats who think the party can write off working class white voters:

“‘You don’t need those people?’ Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, asked with a tone of incredulity. ‘You’re going to wait how many decades before this other strategy works?’ Sitting at a conference table looking out at the National Mall here, Mr. Vilsack last week gently chided a reporter. ‘You’ve got me all wound up here,’ he said.”

Yet that’s exactly what some leading Democratic operatives are calling for the party to do. Dan Pfeiffer basically said the Democrats don’t need the Midwest anymore:

“Mr. Pfeiffer, the former Obama adviser, noted that red states like Arizona and Georgia were closer to turning blue this year even as Mrs. Clinton lost, and argued that new arrivals in Florida and North Carolina would make those states tilt Democratic.”

While pollster Cornell Belcher called anything less than a downgrading of their focus on the white working class a return to the campaigns of the 1980s:

“He said Democrats also should not react to this election by refashioning their appeal as though the country were just as white as it was when Bill Clinton and other centrists began the Democratic Leadership Council 30 years ago. ‘Why would we go back to running campaigns as though it’s the 1980s?’ Mr. Belcher asked. ‘Because it’s not the 1980s.’”

Democrats have a long road to go before they recover as a national party. Yet no path they take will be successful until they figure out this pressing question.