The Democratic Party is lacerated on the left as being feckless and ineffectual. This is, doubtless, true. The basic two reasons are this, their approach to politics is frozen in the 1990s and their infighting. The main divide in American politics is urban/rural while they still imagine it as regional but an urban Southerner is likely to be a liberal while rural person from most northeastern states is likely to be conservative. Living in Charleston, I am surprised by how many tourists think Charleston is a conservtive city. It’s not. It’s politics are defined by socially liberal, fiscally moderate, yuppies, much like lower Manhattan or Silicon Valley. They like virtue signalling their gay pride while being NIMBYs who try to keep poor people out of their sight and neighborhoods unless those poor people are in domestic work. That said, there are a lot of Bernie types here, as well.
Joe Cunningham, whose campaign I interned on, had a blanket strategy for winning by appealing to moderate conservatives since this is a red state. Yet, downtown Charleston isn’t a traditional Southern demographic. It is best described as Manhattan yuppies and Brooklyn hipsters. Almost literally given the that Charleston’s population is largely transplants from the northeast. Talking about how independent you are and how moderate you are isn’t going to appeal to the Democratic voters of Charleston. To the yuppies ad hipsters, he sounded like someone who was pretending to be a redneck for votes. Which, he was. In Charleston, he needed to talk about social issues like LGBT stuff and also environmental stuff. Without going too far and alienating the more rural electorate. In the hinterlands, he needed to talk about jobs and education.
Cunningham needed a strategy which recognized the demographic realities of the Charleston metro area. While identity issues are controversial, merely being pro-gay isn’t enough to alienate moderates. Being pro-trans is. He needed to talk about gay rights, racial justice, and the environment enough to excite the socially liberal parts of his district while stoping before he went too far for the moderates. Gay marriage is supported by most of the country, including moderate conservatives. Unlike trans issues, it is safe enough for the back-country while still progressive enough to excite the city.
Democrats don’t look at polls or focus groups that much, they base their tactics on outdated stereotypes and seem to do this out of fear. They are afraid of being called “liberal” and they’re afraid of going against supposed conventional wisdom. This is not about being bold, it is about listening to their guts stuck in 1995 despite all of the demographic data and social science contradicting their gut-feelings.
The next problem the Democrats have is their famous infighting. Infamously, they took down Al Franken. A man guilty of fairly little and who polled well and had a wide apeal. If an otherwise good candidate has, say, blackface photos from forty years ago, ignore it. A large portion of the left has very misplaced priorities. My fellow progressives need to not allienate the moderates and cannibalize their own allies for venial transgressions. As I’ve said on this blog, they can’t, for example, demonize all opponents of gay rights as homophobic monsters. Most people are pro-gay marriage but have friends and family who are not so that cultural battle must be fought with more grace and librality.
Joe Cunningham is, currently, running for governor and his latest polemic was to claim that Henry McMaster was too old. First, that hurts any geratric candidate on our side. Henry McMaster is 75 and there are many 75 year olds on our side that should not be discredited because they may have good policies and good polling. He needs to go to some old abandoned textile mill in the upstate and talk about how we’re losing to China and Henry McMaster’s policies are making us lose to China. That we need strong infrastructure, an educated workforce, affordable health care with an emphasis that medical bankrupcy weakens our economy against other countries.
They need to be less militant on identity issues and also raise economic issues, education, and environmental issues to the forefront. The rust belt and the rural regions’ biggest concern is their economic position. The polls say this. Cultural and social issues are a low priority for them. If they voted for Trump, it was for his economic protectionist policies more than anything else. The Democrats can win Ohio if their main platform is economic with pro-gay and pro-environment policies emphasized for the cities, stopping short of trans issues. We have the polling to know what will work, we just don’t do it. Now, we also need to focus on the what is more broadly endangering liberal democracy such as the lack of community, belonging, and so forth that makes things like nationalism so appealing. In the short term, we just need to win elections. We need to listen to the science and the demograohic data.