Consistent readers of my articles here at American Watchmen and my column know how I have been highly skeptical of the Democratic Party. The party is becoming more ideologically pure and left of center at time when the Republican Party just embraced and helped elect a man who can best be described as “lacking an ideological compass.” Indeed, Democrats seem intent on electing a Chairman of the DNC that is either a handpicked Obama hack or a Israel bashing, Bernie Sander’s progressive.
But, Democrats do have some reason to be optimistic about about a revival of sorts. The seeds of a party revival can be found in the suburbs of Atlanta, Denver, and Philly. In these places, on Election Day, voters revolted against Trump’s GOP and overwhelmingly backed Hillary Clinton.
Take soon to be HHS Secretary and current Congressman Tom Price’s suburban Atlanta district. In 2012, it backed Mitt Romney with 61 percent. This go-round, the district barely backed Trump 48-47. More substantially, in the entire metro Atlanta area Clinton managed to win white voters by a single point, fueled by her 3 point win in Cobb County. Romney won Cobb County by double-digits four years earlier.
You can also look at suburban Philadelphia. Trump was absolutely crushed in the Collar Counties. He finished 50,000 votes behind Mitt Romney. Whereas Romney narrowly carried Chester and and came extremely close in Bucks County, Trump lost all four. Additionally, Senator Pat Toomey’s narrow victory last year was because he outran Trump in the suburbs by multiple thousands of votes.
Hence, the road to recovery for Democrats is a relatively simple one. Win over socially liberal, fiscal conservatives in the suburbs while holding down their urban, progressive base. Ideally, this would pair the Obama coalition with business friendly and hawkish conservatives and moderates. Ultimately, such an effort would concede some blue-collar support to the GOP but attach a larger share of growing electoral blocs to the party.
Democrats would need some things to work in their favor for this to happen. First-off, they need Trump to overreach and for his agenda to become unpopular. Trump being personally unpopular is probably not enough to hurt the Congressional GOP majority significantly.
Trump’s personal unfavorable numbers have already been proven not to be a drag on Congressional Republicans. Just ask Mike Coffman of Colorado and Barbara Comstock of Virginia who won reelection in districts Trump lost by double-digits.
Secondly, Democrats would have to reject some of the most damaging foreign policy aspects of the Obama Era, particularly his outward hostility to Israel and pandering to identity politics as a way to get votes. Fighting to defend parts of Obama’s legacy is one thing. But, defending the President’s blunders in Libya, the Crimea, and elsewhere are not winners for the party.
Indeed, Clinton ran as a more hawkish candidate than Trump and it certainly helped her in more hawkish conservative circles. Clinton made a pointed effort to run as a hawk and distance herself from the more dovish wing of her party in an effort to win over suburban voters in purple locations. It worked!
Ideally, such a strategy would lock in Democratic successes in the party’s future, Virginia and Colorado, while making a renewed play for Sunbelt states (Georgia, North Carolina) and Southwestern states (Texas and Arizona) still slightly out of their reach. Moderate whites would be mollified while the more diverse elements of America’s electorate would be welcomed into the party. Again, the party might lose some Midwestern support but a talented Presidential candidate and local, individual candidates would probably perform a lot better than Clinton and many Legacy Candidates did last year.
Democrats can crow about Clinton’s win in the popular vote but it ignores a crucial element. She won over a lot of traditionally Republican voters (for no Electoral College benefit). Fully, 25 percent of Clinton voters said in exit polls “the government was doing to much.” A majority, 50 percent of all voters, agreed. The Democratic Party cannot write these voters off.
Now, such a strategy runs counter to the mindsets of Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. It runs counter to the strategy of the two front-runners for the DNC nomination. To these Democrats, only a rush to the Left will energize their base and show Americans the party is listening.
However, the ideologically pure approach of the progressive wing of the party ignores the cultural disconnect between blue-collar America and Democratic leadership. The threat of terrorism, concerns over illegal immigration, worsening race relations, ambivalence on abortion and gay marriage, all helped pushed blue-collar voters away from the party. It is hard to see these voters coming back to the party while Trump pushes many of the issues they care about. It is quite possible, when all is said and done, Trump could help push Northern whites into the party just as Reagan and GWB pushed Southern whites in.
On the flip-side, suburban, college educated voters are more open to embracing diversity and a more active governmental role in the economy. A more hawkish Presidential nominee who distances himself/herself from the Code Pinks of the party and embraces diversity would be well positioned for success.
Democrats only need to look at election results from the last few years for vindication of this theory. In 2013, the party found success in Virginia partly on Terry McAullife running so strongly in affluent, GOP suburbs. Last November, Clinton carried 48 of the 50 most educated counties in the US. Many were racially diverse and urban/suburban. She lost because Democrats cannot continue to count on continually rising support from blacks and other racial groups.
Inroads into affluent, suburban, GOP territory would provide the party a springboard to the majority. Come 2018, it would give the party some Governorships and Legislatures in the run-up to redistricting. Additionally, it would give the party a larger voice in Congress, protect some red-state Democrats from electoral blow back and give the party a bench for 2020 and beyond.
But, if the party continues to let the ideological bomb-throwers dictate their economic, foreign, and social policy they are in trouble. In the coming months, we shall see if the party follows the path of Walter Mondale or Bill Clinton in the aftermath of a humbling electoral defeat.