After the stunning defeat of Hillary Clinton, progressive mandarins are calling for a complete rebuilding of the Democratic Party. Here, for example, is Robert Reich's eight-step program. Unlike the Republicans after defeat, who double down on their ideological convictions and nihilistic congressional maneuvers, it may well happen. And it may be for the good. I don't know.
One thing I doubt is that the Democrats can win back the vaunted white working class. Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, who is challenging Nancy Pelosi for House Minority Leader, said, “We need to speak to their economic interests, that we get it, that we understand, that we talk about those things and we try to fight hard for those things.”
Well, how? President Obama saved General Motors, including the Lordstown, Ohio, assembly. Yet that county supported Trump over Clinton by six points. Obamacare provided more health insurance for whites than for blacks and Hispanics combined. Yet exit polls show whites voted 58 percent for Trump vs. 37 percent for Clinton, who had detailed policy proposals to help working Americans. As you can see from the map above, the Rust Belt states that went for Trump have plenty of counties that were doing well. The same thing with the hard-red South. (Although, as I wrote in the Seattle Times, blue states are the economic superstars for reasons that most red states shun).
Perspective is important. Hillary Clinton has won a larger majority of the popular vote than any candidate in modern history who did not also win the Electoral College. We vote by states, but even here it was a near-run thing. Trump won Michigan's 16 electoral votes by two-tenths of a percentage point (how'd that protest vote work out for you?). In the end, she couldn't get the low-single-digit additional points in key states that Obama had previously won.
Could Sanders have done better? I doubt it after months of right-wing media attacking him as a SOCIALIST. As I've written before, I suspect it may be years before we know all the elements of this defeat. Among them: the endless media drumbeat over meaningless emails, speeches and the Clinton Foundation (vs. soft-peddling Trump's genuine corrupution); FBI Director James Comey's last-minute insertion of the email issue, ultimately innocent but played up big in the media; the involvement of Russian intelligence; misogyny; fake news on such sites as Facebook; the "third term curse;" voter suppression in GOP-controlled states, and progressives overplaying their hand on cultural issues.
But it wasn't just the Democrats who played "identity politics." The Republicans have been doing this for decades. GOP strategist Kevin Phillips crafted the Southern Strategy to successfully peel away some of the old Confederacy for Richard Nixon in 1968. Play on white resentment of blacks after passage of the Voting Rights and Civil Rights acts. St. Reagan told stories of the "welfare queen" driving a Cadillac and the "strapping young buck" buying steaks with food stamps. George H.W. Bush had scary black murderer Willie Horton, furloughed from prison by the liberal Gov. Michael Dukakis (Horton committed assault, rape, and robbery while out. And, to be fair, the first person to use Horton as an issue was Dukakis' primary opponent, Al Gore).
By the 1980s, the Party of Lincoln had come a long way (as vice president, Nixon had a strong civil rights record; the 1964 laws that broke Jim Crow came partly thanks to Republicans who gave LBJ the votes that overpowered Southern Democrats). Southern Strategy Republicans spoke in code. But they successfully began amassing a white majority. By 1992, Bill Clinton won only 39 percent.
Trump took this to a new level of explicitness, especially regarding immigrants and with particular resonance about Muslims. The United States already accepts about 1 million new legal permanent residents per year. One doesn't need to be a xenophobe to worry that this level is destabilizing to what might be considered the majority American culture, the sustainability of taking large numbers of immigrants, or the negative effect on wages. Add in the persistent white anxiety about illegal immigrants, and it's a potent mix. Interestingly, Trump won 29 percent of the Hispanic vote, eight points better than Mitt Romney in 2012.
White working-class populism is less convincing than the cultural and low/misinformation causes. After all, the business leaders who denuded countless cities and towns of their economic crown jewels and keep wages stagnant will get big tax cuts, no antitrust barriers, and radically reduced regulation under a Trump administration.
The Sanders supporters who were outraged that President Obama didn't criminally prosecute the banksters that brought the world to the brink of a second Great Depression won't find allies among the Tea Party. They believe the crisis was caused by mi-norities taking out loans. They supported a President-elect and party that promises to deregulate finance and banking. Too many of those Midwest blue-collar heroes, allegedly victimized and talked-down-to by the coastal "elites," in fact made their own beds. They abandoned unions. They bought products made in China at Wal-Mart, the model of driving down American wages. They adopted Southern values, from the region that took easily as many of their jobs as Mexico.
This is about racial antipathy and the nation's cultural and demographic future. And they — including large numbers of educated people, including surprising numbers of white women, won.
Don't think the "clock" can't be turned back. In 1917 and 1924, laws were passed that severely curtailed immigration, especially from "undesirable" countries. They remained in effect until 1965. As for the racial animus — Obama Derangement Syndrome writ large — enough whites didn't like the prospect of a multi-culti America with them in the minority. They voted. I doubt that priority would have been different if their wages had tripled every year since Obama entered office. And Democrats can't win them over.
They can hope for a massive Republican stumble, as finally culminated in 2006 and 2008. After George W. Bush mired us in unnecessary war and nearly destroyed the economy, it was easy to imagine he would do to the GOP what Herbert Hoover did in 1932. But the Republicans came right back in 2010, winning the House. They went on to take the Senate, a historic number of statehouses, and now the presidency.
It's hard to imagine what would be left to govern after their next series of disasters.