The Democrats lost the White House in 2016 because working people in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania voted Republican.
The Democrats had relied on those “blue wall” states since 1992. The wall was breached when white, working-class voters rejected Hillary Clinton, who contemptuously referred to half of them as a “basket of deplorables.”
The New Deal Coalition
Blue-collar Americans of the baby boomer generation (born between 1946 and 1964) remember their parents’ stories about the Great Depression and President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s leadership in World War II. White, working-class voters were an important anchor to FDR’s so-called New Deal coalition.
That Democrat coalition consisted of labor unions, liberals, Catholics, Jews, African Americans, Southern Whites, the poor, and people on relief.
The New Deal Coalition held strong through the 1960s Civil Rights and the Great Society social welfare programs. Ronald Reagan loosened the Democrat grip on blue-collar voters during the 1980s. The coalition was somewhat repaired by Arkansas populist and serial womanizer Bill Clinton.
Loss of jobs in the rust belt was partly to blame, but Democrats still don’t get the real reason.
So, how did the Democrats lose much of their blue-collar support after 1992? In rust-belt states like Michigan and Pennsylvania, it was the loss of industrial jobs.
But it goes a bit deeper than economics. If it were only economics, poor working-class Republican voters would never support Republicans whose policies favor the wealthy. Political analyst Andrew Levinson was pretty much on point in his Washington Monthly article, What Democrats Still Don’t Get About Winning Back the White Working Class.
What Trump got right was how working-class voters really feel.
Levinson, who is no Trump fan, gives credit where it is due. Donald Trump, writes Levinson, “very successfully tapped into a deep mental and emotional perspective in white working-class life—a distinct kind of modern class consciousness, class resentment, and class antagonism.”
Trump’s success, Levinson continues, “is almost entirely unacknowledged in current (Democrat party) discussions regarding how to reach these voters….”
Levinson argues that white working people see groups, who are the “power elite.” None of those groups totally dominate society, but each “in one way or another mistreats them and holds them in contempt.”
Those groups consist of the political class–politicians who are “utterly corrupt, and entirely parasitic” living in complete isolation from ordinary people. Next are the rich liberals, followed closely by college professors and the entertainment industry and mainstream media.
It is crucial to recognize that working people see those groups as “living in worlds that are economically and sociologically high ‘above’ them.” While blue-collar voters have distinct negative feelings about each of those groups, those groups resemble each other” in their indifference to the needs of ordinary people and hold them in contempt.”
Levinson acknowledges that conservatives have succeeded in their decades-long efforts “in creating among the broad majority of white working class…a deeply imbedded view of Democrats as the party of the educated urban elite” whose goal is to impose their liberal agenda “through a cynical alliance with minorities.”
Levinson comes to the conclusion that the Democrats can win back the working voters when left-wing progressives like Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tone down their radicalism and accept more moderate, traditionalist Democrats into the fold. Neither Sanders nor Ocasio-Cortez, however, has demonstrated an inclination to hear and respect the more centrist voices of their party.
What Levinson got right to win back the White House in 2020, Democrats need the white, blue-collar voters. What he fails to recognize are the irreconcilable differences between blue-collar voters and the Democrat power groups that blue-collar workers detest. Specifically:
- The political class with the aging leadership of Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi and crazy radicalism of Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez cannot bring working class people back to the Democrat tent. The political class does not listen to anyone outside of their inner echo chamber.
- The social elite—rich liberals, college professors and their student followers, Hollywood and mainstream media—are an organic part of the problem. The Democrats rely on the social elite for financial support and favorable publicity. This group feeds the political class in an incestuous relationship that views ordinary folks as focus group fodder and relevant only on election day.
The immutable fact is that working class values are in conflict with progressive ideology. At the national level, the Democrats will probably ignore voters who work for a living while continuing a leftward drift.
If so, plan on another 4 years of Donald Trump.