Jonathan Alcorn / Reuters
Democrats need to abandon the alternative facts that have led them to become obsessed with Trump voters.
Despite what you’ve heard from the Trump Resistance, Democrats are unlikely to win back the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterms.
There are a variety of reasons that the Democratic Party will likely remain the minority during Donald Trump’s entire illegitimate presidency, which will most likely last four full years. There is gerrymandering that makes it essentially impossible for Democrats to win seats in many states, there is a major fundraising gap, there is voter suppression – the list goes on. But there is one thing in particular that the Democratic Party is doing that is dooming it to failure next year.
According to 2016 postmortems, Democrats need to do a better job reaching out to the “white working class,” the demographic that supposedly won Trump the election (with a 45.9% minority of the popular vote) and has been ignored by establishment politicians in recent years. This premise is inherently flawed, as most Donald Trump voters were not poor or driven primarily to vote Republican by economic anxiety. Study after study confirms that bigotry – specifically racism, xenophobia, and sexism – were the top reasons Trump received support. A May 9 PRRI study even found that poor white voters were actually more likely to vote for Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump.
Yet the media – yes, even the “liberal media” – and national Democrats have fed into the narrative of the white working class Trump voter who simply feels abandoned by establishment politics. Therefore, everyone from Bernie Sanders to Elizabeth Warren to DNC leaders to grassroots activists have made it a priority to “reach across the aisle” and win over voters their party lost decades ago, when it chose under President Lyndon B. Johnson to champion civil rights and therefore alienate the Southern Democrats who favored segregation and Jim Crow.
So how’s that effort going? Well, even though Trump has been losing some support from his base recently, he still has the support of over 80% of Republicans, not a massive shift from when he started in January. With the conservative media in denial of the Russia scandal, it’s unlikely that Trump’s impeachable offenses will tank his ratings with conservatives. But what about the special elections? Democrats managed to flip two seats in Trump districts last week, a feat achieved through the hard work of grassroots activists. It shows that state races in supposedly red districts should not be ignored, and that should give Democrats hope and motivation for the future.
But when it comes to federal seats, Democrats aren’t doing so well. Yes, I’m sure you’ve heard that Democratic candidates did far better than they should have in Kansas and Montana, and that’s true. We saw double-digit improvements, driven primarily by grassroots activists across the country. But despite all that effort, despite thousands upon thousands of calls, the Republicans still won. In Montana, Republican candidate Greg Gianforte even assaulted a reporter the night before the election. Gianforte and the conservative media did not deny this, rather they justified it by capitalizing on the right’s hatred for the “liberal media.” And there is nothing to indicate that the assault flipped any voters. The crowd even cheered at the mention of the assault at Gianforte’s victory rally. Sure, Democrat Rob Quist came closer than expected, but is this really what Democrats consider to be a win?
There’s a way to make the Trump Resistance pay off electorally. But it requires Democrats to shift their mindset and abandon the alternative facts that have led them to become obsessed with winning over Trump voters.
As The Nation’s Steve Phillips and FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten recently explained, “Democrats can retake the House in 2018 without converting a single Trump voter.” How? All they have to do is ensure that Democrats and independents, who are united in their disapproval of Trump, can vote and do so.
This is a bit more difficult than it may sound. While Democrats are certainly motivated and are likely to show up in far greater numbers than perhaps ever before in recent midterms, the Republican Party has for the past six years managed to successfully enact voter suppression schemes through a variety of tactics that Democrats have been unable or unwilling to effectively combat. This includes gerrymandering, which allows Republicans to win more seats than Democrats in states such as Ohio despite Democratic candidates receiving more votes overall. As covered extensively by Ari Berman throughout the entire election cycle, it also includes “voter-ID laws, cuts to early voting, and barriers to voter registration,” which predominantly affect people of color, young people, and poor people – groups that all overwhelmingly vote blue.
And the GOP’s voter suppression efforts worked. In Wisconsin, a swing state Trump won by 22,748 votes, Republicans were able to suppress 200,000. Of course, the suppressed voters were predominantly black. Overall, if people of color, particularly black people, had voted in larger numbers, which necessitates being able to vote in the first place, Hillary Clinton would have won the election.
But rather than try to mobilize their base or even fight for the basic right of their base to vote, Democrats are wasting their time, energy, and resources trying to win over Trump voters. Not only is this misguided; it may unintentionally hurt the Democratic Party’s chances of getting its own voters – those who it takes for granted – to show up to the polls in 2018. It’s not particularly encouraging for marginalized folks to see Democrats laser-focused on the oppressors. The Republican Party as an institution has embraced bigotry with open arms, so watching the Democratic Party question whether “identity politics” – a derogatory term for recognizing the humanity of marginalized by advocating for their basic rights that ignores the fact that white male identity politics was integral to Trump’s campaign – is hurting the party in elections. Liberal commentators and national Democrats are literally discussing whether or not serving as the only political lifeline for the most vulnerable members of society is convenient for the party. It’s a gross, cynical discussion that invalidates the existence of marginalized folks and reveals yet again just how much the Democratic Party takes its most loyal voters for granted.
So in the process of hopelessly attempting to erode Trump’s base, Democrats are likely eroding their own base, thus destroying their only legitimate path to victory in 2018.
Democrats can talk impeachment all they want, but unless they get their heads out of the sand, talk is all they’ll ever have. Like it or not, conservatives are in a bubble so extreme that even assaulting a reporter can be spun positively. Democrats are already at a massive disadvantage in terms of resources, fundraising, and party infrastructure. Even with the boost of grassroots activism, focusing on the wrong people right now could be a fatal mistake.
Unfortunately, there are no real signs that Democrats have any awareness of the trainwreck that likely lays ahead. Donald Trump “won” the election through the Electoral College, a system created to preserve the power of slave states. In 2016, the system amplified the votes of whites and further suppressed the votes of people of color. But rather than fight that suppression, the Democratic Party has chosen to pathetically accept it, even mindlessly accepting false narratives about the 45.9% minority of voters who cast their ballot for Donald Trump. And now, those false narratives are driving the strategies of liberals across the nation.
Democrats can win back the House of Representatives in 2018. Victory is absolutely within their reach. But at the moment, they are on a hopeless path rooted in alternative facts, a path that will only turn away the very people Democrats need, and should be defending, regardless of political convenience.
Next year’s midterms are essential. And if Democrats don’t change course soon, they may never be able to recover.
Jordan is the Head Writer at Millennial Politics. She is also an activist, cinephile, and proud queer woman of color.
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