One of the reasons Democrats lost the 2016 election is their leadership’s obvious scorn for working class white people. That scorn was clear all the way back in 2008 when then-Senator Barack Obama spoke in San Francisco and sneered, “You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them…And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
Those are all the voters Hillary Clinton lost by focusing instead on wooing the glitterati in Hollywood.
Now, Obama’s doubling down. It turns out he doesn’t merely look down on white people in Rust Belt states – he doesn’t think they’re any great shakes in the South, either. “Attitudes about my presidency among whites in northern states are very different from whites in southern states,” Barack Obama said to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria. “So are there folks whose primary concern about me is that I seem foreign, the other, are those who champion the feeding off of bias? Absolutely.”
That’s not accurate. The gap is actually between urban voters (59 percent for Clinton) and rural voters (62 percent for Trump), and along educational lines (voters in the 50 counties with the highest percentage of college degrees voted for Clinton by a margin of 26 percent, voters in the 50 lowest voted for Trump by 31 percent). But Obama’s using the old, hackneyed myth that says that southern white people became Republicans because they’re racist, and that’s why they didn’t vote for him. In fact, after the Civil Rights Act, racist politicians stayed Democrats, and the voting shift toward Republicans in the south began in the 1950s thanks to the economic boom and the Cold War, as Mona Charen points out.
But Democrats can’t back off of this rhetoric – they’re too tied down to identity politics to recognize their own role in abandoning a key element of their electorate. So instead of attributing Republicans’ newfound sanguinity on big government to the ugly-but-typical follow-the-leader mentality that dominates politics, they’ve attributed it to racism – Valerie Jarrett said yesterday that Republicans may have only fought big government when Obama was president because of his race. So did David Axelrod.
Democrats continue to maintain that the bulk of Republican whites are racist, while the bulk of those who support Democrats aren’t – even though the polling data simply doesn’t support that. Democrats continue to target the South as more racist than the North, although the evidence doesn’t support this notion; Gallup found in 2013, “The South, a part of the country that one would not historically associate with racial harmony, does not actually fare as poorly as some other parts of the United States in terms of race and ethnic relations or racial or ethnic integration…. the South may no longer trail the rest of the country when it comes to specific measures of residential integration and of attitudes toward black-white relations.”
But that won’t stop the Democratic narrative.
That’s no way to win back voters – by calling them racist. Instead, Democrats should be using Republicans’ newfound warmth toward big government to their advantage by out-Trumping Trump. They won’t, because their allegiance to Obama’s new identity politics coalition requires them to play the race card, even when they’ve got nothing left in their hand.