Monday, November 16, 2020


Will Bunch, the progressive Philadelphia Inquirer columnist, is concerned.
Yes, Democrat Joe Biden is America’s president-elect, and for that we can thank his surging support in the suburbs.... But now that it’s nearly two weeks since Election Day, and a blurry, complicated mosaic is slowly coming into focus, it’s clear that the bigger, long-term picture ought to alarm Democrats.

... what if Republicans became the nation’s blue-collar party, period — and broadened its appeal to millions of middle-class Hispanics and Blacks? The 2020 results not only showed the conservative party making inroads toward exactly that, but raised a giant question mark: Would a Trump-y candidate who’d actually delivered tangible things to the working class, and who wasn’t so racially offensive, have won the White House?
The villains in Bunch's piece are history's greatest monsters, well-educated liberals, whom Bunch portrays pretty much the way they're portrayed on Fox News.
The current zeitgeist was nailed in a cover piece for Politico Magazine by Tim Alberta that looked at how the preelection polls failed to capture a deeper working-class resentment toward the Democratic Party, as experienced by a centrist Democrat who barely survived her race, Michigan Rep. Elissa Slotkin. He wrote: “At the root of our polarization, Slotkin argued, is one half of the country believing it is enlightened and the other half resenting it.” Alberta asked if the Democrats could “embrace a ‘different era,’ one that demands rapid and unremitting evolution on all things cultural, without condescending to those who are slow to come around?”

... academics [are] the vanguard of the college-educated culture club that also includes Hollywood and “the knowledge economy” of media figures and Silicon Valley which is, of course, the focus of the resentment that has driven a populist revolution in this country.
That last sentence could have come straight out of a Tucker Carlson monologue.

What do those of us in "the college-educated culture club" do that's so awful? How do we torment the working class? We use ... neologisms! (No, please -- not the neologisms!)
Is the political conundrum of the moment summed up in one word — “Latinx,” which was popularized in academic circles and also the LGBTQ community in recent years as a solution to a seeming problem of how to describe the hundreds of millions of people with roots in Central or South America with a word that’s gender-neutral and not colonial-sounding? Today, “Latinx” is widely used by white progressives even though it’s an utter bafflement to culturally conservative brown folks in places like Texas or South Florida the term is supposed to describe. Writer Hector Luis Alamo dismissively told Mother Jones that “Latinx” is “an academic word, and that group always thinks it knows what’s best for the rest of us."
(This is a bizarre complaint, given the fact that Bunch uses a different alternate synonym for "Hispanic" -- "Latine," with an e -- throughout his essay.)

Bunch is right to say that despite a popular-vote lead that will probably approach six million when the slow counts in New York, Maryland, and New Jersey are completed, Joe Biden could have lost the Electoral College if a small percentage of the vote -- tens of thousands of votes -- had flipped in key states. (This is also true of Trump in 2016, of course.) Bunch writes:
... even with the pandemic, I believe [Trump] could have won those votes and the 2020 election if his narcissism and incompetence hadn’t blocked him from a) stirring up resentment of “egghead” elites in ways that were less openly racist and b) governed as a true populist instead of a garden-variety pro-billionaire Republican.

... What if the president had been smart enough to engineer a second stimulus, just ahead of the election, or embraced other populist items like a living wage or a massive infrastructure program? And how much better would Trump had done with the Hispanic voters who were receptive to the GOP’s social conservatism and free-market economics if he hadn’t, for example, dismissively tossed paper towels at Puerto Ricans instead of offering real relief from Hurricane Maria?
Where do I start? First, you can't just award Trump's vote gains among the non-white working class (and among the white working class) to the GOP in perpetuity and simply assume that the next Trump will have more political savvy. Trump's know-nothingism and unwillingness to compromise with his enemies were the whole point, even for non-white Trumpers. What they love is how he fights people. If he'd compromised with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and embraced economically liberal programs, he wouldn't have been the Trump they adored. They voted for the style, not the policies. (He'd also have lost the support of the GOP establishment.)

Bunch believes that President Biden needs to embrace economic populism, and quickly.
If Biden’s first actions as president were to raise the minimum wage and lower the cost of insulin, that could go a long way toward stopping defections among the Black and brown middle class and even win back some rural whites — not a majority of them, at first, but enough to matter in our current 51-49 election mode. That won’t be easy — and if Republicans win those two contested Senate runoffs in Georgia, it may be impossible — but it’s also arguably the lowest hanging fruit.
I'm not optimistic about the Georgia runoffs, so I assume Biden won't get to do these things. I hope I'm wrong about Georgia, and I agree that Biden should make these items top priorities. (I'm sure he agrees.)

But even if he can get them done, it won't blunt the appeal of a chest-thumping Republican populist. I'm reminded of this story from the spring of 2016:
Obama Gets Scant Credit in Indiana Region Where Recovery Was Robust

ELKHART, Ind. — Seven years ago President Obama came to this northern Indiana city, where unemployment was heading past 20 percent, for his first trip as president. Ed Neufeldt, the jobless man picked to introduce him, afterward donned three green rubber bracelets, each to be removed in turn as joblessness fell to 5 percent in the county, the state and the nation.

It took years — in 2012, Mr. Neufeldt lamented to a local reporter that he might wear his wristbands “to my casket” — but by last year they had all come off. Elkhart’s unemployment rate, at 3.8 percent, is among the country’s lowest, so low that employers here in the self-described R.V. capital of the world are advertising elsewhere for workers, offering sign-up bonuses, even hiring from a local homeless shelter.

... Yet where is Mr. Neufeldt leaning in this presidential election year? He may keep a photograph of himself and Mr. Obama on a desk at the medical office he cleans nightly, but he is considering Donald J. Trump.

“I like the way he just won’t take nothing off of nobody,” Mr. Neufeldt said....
See? It's all about style. Obama won a few white working-class voters, but they love a Republican who postures as a tough guy, and the more ignorant, boorish, and obnoxious Trump became, the more they liked him.

Assuming Trump doesn't win the 2024 nomination (though he really might), the next Republican presidential candidate will try to replicate what Trump did this year -- and will probably fail. No one stirs up resentment the way Trump does (because it's visceral for him, whereas most of the others are just faking it). Anyone tacking on policy ideas that Democrats could embrace will lose some of the support Trump consolidated, because being at war all the time is what they liked about him. And let's acknowledge reality: Trump is repellent to us, but he has an extraordinary charisma that half the country finds captivating. No one else in the Republican Party -- not Don Junior, not Tucker Carlson, and certainly not Cotton or Crenshaw or Haley or Hawley -- comes close. Trump can't be replicated.

And yet he lost.

Bunch writes:
... history may look back on 2016 not as a fluke but as a realignment election, in line with the long-term impact of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition in 1932 or the rise of Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy in 1968.
But FDR won in a landslide. And while Nixon barely beat Hubert Humphrey in the popular vote, his voters plus George Wallace's voters combined for 57% of the vote. That combination went on to become the GOP coalition.

Trump won nothing like these margins. He lost the popular vote by 2% in 2016 and by 4% this time. His successor will take advantage of the structural advantage Republicans have in the Electoral College, while also taking advantage of the GOP's vastly superior national messaging.

But Trump's successor won't be Trump. Unless he runs again, Republicans will struggle to replicate his appeal.

No comments: