The Republican and Democratic parties have a similar problem with the tension between maximizing long- and short-term prospects for success. Long-term strategy and planning are difficult, if not impossible, in political parties unless they happen to be the beneficiaries of a one-party system (as in China). Competitive parties are always forced to subsume the long-term to the short, given the logical reality that if they don't hold power in the short-term any strategies intended to play out over time will be difficult to implement. Beyond that, parties are composed of political actors with ambition, few (if any) of whom are going to sacrifice their own short-term interests for something that might benefit someone else down the line.

In the GOP, as I've written about many times in the past, some people seem to realize that the party base of older, white, and largely rural voters is rapidly shrinking in comparison to more diverse and urbanized America. They are forever coming up with some new strategy to broaden the party's appeal, the kind of thing that 20 years ago would have been called "minority outreach" without causing widespread cringing. The problem, of course, is that the party's best short-term strategy for maximizing its success is to double down on white nationalism, something they've done with increasing regularity since 1980. Each election cycle someone in the Party says "Ok this time let's try to appeal to Hispanics, it's important!" and then when it doesn't work immediately, and when they sense that it's not going to gain them anywhere near as many votes as the usual dog-whistle (or plain old whistle) stuff, they go back to what they know.

The Democrats have a similar, although fundamentally less loathsome, dilemma. For years they have known that they need to increase their appeal among what used to be their core constituency, pre-1990: what we generically call "The Working Class." As Republicans rely increasingly on elderly white conservatives, the Democrats have become heavily reliant on highly-educated, largely white professionals. The Democratic base also includes African-Americans, Latinx, LGBTQ+, the young, and other important demographic groups, but the more policy preferences are bent to the desires of better-off middle-or-upper class Democrats, the less appeal it has to those other groups. So the Democrats too find themselves torn in a way this nomination process has demonstrated quite well: try harder to appeal to younger, more diverse, economically distressed people who constitute a huge pool of potential voters who don't tend to show up and vote, or simply max out on the people you can be confident will vote (and, not incidentally, write contribution checks, which are also important)?

Super Tuesday and the reaction to it underscored some of that tension. There were loud cries even on Tuesday evening that the increase in youth turnout Sanders predicted he would produce did not materialize – in short, evidence that while everyone theoretically understands the need to appeal to those voters for long-term success, in the short term the only logical strategy is to give people over 55 what they want: a Biden campaign promising not to change anything too much and to get things back the way they like.

It's not illogical, it's just counterproductive in the long term. Every time the GOP doubles back to "Let's be really racist" it makes even harder the task of, uh, broadening its appeal with people of color in the future. Similarly, every redouble to "This system works well, it just needs some tweaks and better people in charge" alienates more younger voters who very much do not believe that. You can argue, correctly, that "They're not voting now, they're not going to help us win, we can't afford to direct our efforts at them." Any electoral strategy based on young people showing up to vote is risky, to put it mildly. But at the same time, it's hard to shake the depressing realization that each election, each legislative session, each major battle in which the Democrats default to "Look, this is what our loudest and most committed supporters want" makes expanding that base in the future a little bit harder.

31 thoughts on “DOUBLE BACK”

  • Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Bill Clinton, Hilary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid, Andrew Cuomo, Kirsten Guildebrand, etc. etc. All of these people supported the Occupy Movement as much as Bill O’Reilly did. The “young people” absolutely knew this and when it came time to register to vote, this same group of people sanctimoniously declared “why should we support Occupy? They aren’t registering Democratic.”

  • I've followed you for a long time. It's rare to see you have such a huge blind spot. This article (like nearly all others) keeps saying "working class" when it means "WHITE working class." The Dem Establishment that conspiracy minded morons scream about is comprised largely of the (apparently) unshakeable vote of the black working class, for whom the now-despised Dem political class have been literal saviors. They're not anxious to tear down the entire system, janky as it is, because they (with good reason) have no faith that a rebuilt system will end up with them better off.
    Here's the thing, there is nothing at all special about white working class people. Their votes count the same as black and brown working class people. Those WWC who are not white supremacists are already happily in the Democratic Party, and don't have issues with the Dems' inclusive platform.
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but are you implying "Where are the black people going to go if the Dems try to get the Good Old Boy vote"? If you are not saying that Dems should pander to white racists in order to achieve Real Change, then what are you saying?

  • Both parties are in the midst of positive feedback loops, these self-reinforcing dynamics that we see. The main difference is that the Republicans make zero effort to "reach out" or "compromise" at all, because they know that their base of fist-shaking codgers will always show up to screw over their grandchildren. It's all just a big game of bullshitting each other and pwning libturds, and the base of knuckle-dragging mutants is entertained enough by that to tune in for the next wacky episode.

    The Democrats decide, like Charlie Brown trying vainly to kick that football over and over again, that reaching out to people who despise them is a more productive use of their time and ad money than maybe finding something, anything, to motivate the huge untapped base of young voters slightly to their left. The attitude is that they should just show up and shut up, and be grateful it doesn't get worse for them.

    I'm no marketing wizard, nor do I play one on the teevee, but I suggest that threatening potential consumers with consequences if they don't buy your product is, well, perhaps not the best way to move your product.

  • The Democrat elite do not consider their base to be working people. They hate working people. They hate them and are more distant from them than Republicans are to working people. Look at the Democratic elite reaction to AOC. A fucking bartender, in OUR PARTY? How could that happen? She makes them vomit a little in their mouths, they hold up handkerchiefs to their faces when she's around. This wasn't true once, but it sure is today.

    The Republicans on the other hand are always talking about working people. Admittedly their version of working people is very white. But still. Pickup trucks and rolled-up sleeves and trucker caps feature prominently. The MAGA hat is a working class hat.

    I think this is hard for political scientists to wrap their heads around, but: the Republicans are the party of the working class in America. Seriously! I'm not joking! They are now and will be even more in the future. Seriously! The Democrats HATE the working class, and they're successfully exterminating an uprising from their left flank whose name rhymes with Schmernie. If the Republicans ease up even a tiny bit on the racism, they're going to get a big portion of the working-class Latino and black populations. The old black people who remember civil rights marches will stay solidly Democratic until they die, but… what have Dems done for people recently? Every industry that preys on poor black folks is solidly supported by the Democratic Party.

    The GOP party base isn't shrinking! It's growing! There are more old people today than there were yesterday, and there will be more tomorrow than today. Modern tech is keeping them alive longer than ever, and Fox News is doing great at bringing in new recruits. And party ID is the same – as many people identify as Republicans now as before Trump came along, it's the DEMOCRATS that are bleeding party identification numbers.

  • I look at the comments and wonder whether some folks are idiots or just like to play in traffic–while blindfolded.

    The DNC sucks.

    The choices are shitty.

    If anyone reading this thinks that voting their conscience or sitting it out, come November, is a good idea then they must have been in a fucking coma since November 2016.

  • @dc, yeah, i feel like i'm taking crazy pills! Chuck Schumer's (and HRC's) strategy of "we'll win two suburban moderate (yeah, right) Republican voters for every one we'd lose with Sanders" (or whatever the fuck that was) was obviously a bust.

    But, if I take off my tinfoil hat*, it seems obvious that Biden despite his MANY flaws is the preferred candidate of the Dem electorate so far, at least down here in The South, where even Barack Obama himself would not win any electoral votes in the general election. At least I can laff about Mayor Pete tanking, so there's that.

    I WILL say to the trolls(?) that I've been waiting for some kinda generational shift all my life and it still ain't happenin'. Shit just keeps moving right.

    *My tinfoil hat wonders if Sanders would've won TX had the state not shut down hundreds of polling places in brown and black precincts last week.

  • The strategy of the d party is the same of a store that is always running "loss Leaders" to a clientel that will never buy anything but the sales.
    In the end they will go bankrupt.
    As long as the d establishment prefer thuglican lites such as lipinski, cuellar, munchkin or thuglicans who change their registration, and nothing else, such as spectre or crist they will continue to lose.
    as long as they pick "leaders" wholly owned by 1% on wall street such as shumer who will come out for a party that will throw their consituents under the bus for a large campaign contribution. Recent example is rewriting debate rules for bloomberg after he financed golden hand shakes for perez and other dnc "leders".
    The complaint is always that "those" people, the young, hispanic etc don't vote so why not sell them out?
    How about looking at it from the other side. if the d's don't fight for us why bother supporting them. The last two, supposedly, d presidents, obama and clinton, were self identified "rockefeller" thuglicans. Prisoners of the 1% who supported "liberal" social issues as long as it didn't cost anything or inconvienced their paymasters.
    Look at Obama appointing Penny Pritzker as commerce secratary while she was actively trying to break the unions at her hotels. Hardly inspires any confidence from unions.
    But money speaks louder then workers rights.
    But remember it is ONLY the fault of "those" people for not voting.

  • Ok.

    Gin, infuse my liver.

    *I HAVE THE POWER!!!!*

    These comments are retarded.


    And the DNC has the influence of a college professor or a high school guidance teacher.


    Instead, there is a hundred head hydra that you will never kill. Ever. That is democracy. With the internet, foreign help and money is becoming more and more obvious. It will easily influence cities and pop culture centers. Not so much Kentucky.

    Because of the haphazard distributism of the electoral college, Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsyltucky, and Arizona will determine the presidents for the rest of your lives.

    Your mewling about "revolution" and the "establishment" is masturbatory fantasy. You're just revealing your own ineffectual helplessness.


    Oh, that hurt? Boo the fuck hoo.

    When the "revolution" happens, you won't be posting shit on the internet. And neither will I.

    I voted for Warren. She lost. But I'm not going to sabotage myself over it.

    Get the fuck over yourselves.

    Go live out your Les Misérables fantasies somewhere else.

  • Ultimately, voters have agency. They are not just a box that behaves in way A if party strategists do X and in way B if party strategists do Y. If voters want something they can inform themselves and vote in the way that is most likely to get them towards that thing.

    Somehow US primary voters in the last four years have maneuvered themselves into a situation where the choice for most powerful job in the world 2021-2025 is now between three gerontocracts two of which show obvious signs of severe cognitive decline and the third of which recently had a heart attack. What worries me most is what this indicates about the electorate's power of judgement, before even considering policy proposals.

  • Safety Man! says:

    Well, unfortunately the rationalization is true. If young people (and I’m an older millennial) had actually shown the fuck up to vote, Biden would have suspended his campaign. For the first time in what, a century, there are more young voters than older ones, so it is as simple as getting asses off the couch (admittedly a Election Day Federal holiday would help).

    On the other side, this idea that any centrist democrat is going to peel off Trump voters is lunacy. These people think any democrat is going to confiscate their guns and put babies in blenders (not making that up). You can’t play chess with someone once they start throwing feces.

    I really hope Biden picks Warren as his VP.

  • The feedback loop of giving the "actual voters" what they want instead of "possible voters" is the price of having actual primaries. They tyranny of the masses. Ironically, even if there were bold, forward thinking folks at the DNC, it wouldn't matter because the people who vote are mainly older people either retired or on the glide path to same who are mainly interested in stability and are afraid of change. I'm not sure who is going to motivate younger folks to vote – or how – but if they ever decide to start voting they could really start a revolution. But given the choice between an actual fascist, a Social Democrat and a Centrist, they overwhelmingly chose to not participate.

  • We could go back to pre-1972 days of smoke-filled rooms and come up with an appropriate candidate for the times with regional or issue-based balance for the VP, but what would that look like today? Warren seemed to be the consensus 2nd choice candidate in polls, so maybe the DNC picks her for broad support across the party? But, as we saw during the primary system, she couldn't get anywhere near enough support to win a primary. Would she be a better candidate who could get more votes than Biden would in November? I don't know. Maybe they would pick a Sanders/Harris (for example) ticket, getting excited young voters for the old dude, balanced with a younger person of color who has a real lefty voting record. Would that work? Neither of them did/are doing well enough in getting enough votes now, what is the evidence that Sanders would get enough votes in November?

    You can complain about the Democratic party choosing incrementalism over real reform, but enough incrementalism can eventually produce the reform, while doing nothing makes it worse for everyone in the short-term. To give a couple of examples-The ACA isn't perfect and I would prefer Medicare for all, but there is nothing stopping additions to the ACA to produce Medicare for all through offering Medicare through the exchanges, or at least a German/Swiss/Dutch model of cheap, universal healthcare. It would be great if we could end massive student debt, but the laws banning loans to underperforming colleges were a first step that could be built on. And with Trump and Republicans in control, what do we see? They are going after these items. You can hope for change with a single vote or you can keep pushing and pushing and steadily improve things until we get all the way there. I'm not sure that that's exciting for voters, but that's essentially what the New Deal did, and that gave Democrats power for a generation which saw real governmental reform that had a positive affect on people's lives.

  • All will be, er, well when secure technology will permit kid voters to simply swipe left or swipe right.

  • biden has already tweeted to Warren to stay in the senate. She will not be his running mate. get over that fantasy.
    DNC still playing identity politics when concrete material benefits should be offered.

  • @Lit3Bolt Oh, there are are no elites? Just billionaires and corporations who apparently have no influence whatever on the DNC and the media? Who would have thought. Nobody has any more power than anyone else in our society I guess

    I'm sorry your candidate sucked shit in the primaries but I'm gonna have to ask you to shove it up your ass.

  • For me, the part that's worrisome is Biden's likely to surround hisself with people who are incurious about why the economy can't support as much activity as it did half a century ago, if he thinks to ask he's liable to hear something including "Creative destruction", or "Them's the breaks" and very little about why they were in a weakened condition. To admit the fortunes of the 90% could influence those of the .01%, even a little bit, might cast doubt on the ability of the .001% to secede from the smelly multitudes completely.
    FWIW, a hypothetical Biden administration would be a step up, too close to the cess pit, but, at least, not actually in the cess pit.

  • There's a vocal minority in the Democratic party leadership that wants the party as a whole to retreat from identity politics and focus on white working class men who live in small towns and rural areas.

    I am disappointed that the cognitive dissonance hasn't rendered them catatonic.

  • Those Democrats don’t want “the party as a whole to retreat from identity politics”. They want the party to retreat from the maudlin, reductionist preoccupation with group identity and newcrit victimology which, along with “Bad America” juvenilia, has hamstrung the American left in recent years among ordinary, otherwise tolerant folks who work for a living and don’t support preening, pharisaical and self-referential denunciations of their own country. Those Democrats know that’s precisely why HRC lost Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. And it’s not as if Sloppy Joe isn’t ready to pander.

  • Dear Inky:

    I know that you've been busy doing who knows what, but…

    maybe this reminder from a month and a half ago will jog your memory:


    I'm sure that somewhere (on top of the dryer or maybe behind the clothes hamper) you've got that file of evidence supporting your assertion of several months back that Ed is a supporter of Islamist terrorists. We RILLLLLLLLLLLLY want to believe that you're not a lying fuckbag who would rather shit on someone who they've never met (Ed) rather than honestly debate.
    I will stop posting things like this as soon as you quit being the lying fuckbag that you seem to be, by default.
    Fuck off, troll.

    I know that your handlers have told you that there's an upside to be being a lying fuckbag–but they meant that for THEM, there's an upside. You're just a disposable tool. Oh, and, you're an asshole. So, lying fuckbag and asshole, then. Good.

  • So, I'll just point out that the Republicans, and not the Democrats, are now talking about giving money to the general public to combat the upcoming depression.

    As I say, political scientists need to forget anything they ever learned about Democrats being the party of the working class. Republicans are going to own that title. Democrats are going to be the party of what, elite wealthy people in NY and LA, I guess.

  • MS,

    I am not an American, so this is not necessarily only about the US parties, but more generally the same comes up in other countries e.g. the UK or Germany.

    What is the "working class"? The traditional definition was AFAIK: people who have to sell their labour (earn a salary) for a living, as opposed to owning a business small or large, or a farm, or enough investments so as not to have to work at all.

    But that is not how the word is used in these discussions. When the media report about the working class, they go to rural areas and interview well-off pensioners, small business owners, and, sometimes, elderly white workers. They strangely do not prefer to interview an immigrant single mother working shifts in the meat processing plant, or a PhD student, or a young hipster standing at a bar in the city, but it is not immediately clear to me why those three – who are extremely likely to vote [insert local progressive party] – are not counted as working class. Because they clearly are working class.

    The definition of working class under which [insert local conservative party] "are the now the party of the working class" is using the criteria of (1) whiteness and (2) low degree of educational attainment. But again, that is not really a sensible definition of working class. An educated Asian can be working class, and a white high school-drop out can own his own trucking business. So this is just a euphemistic way of saying that [insert local conservative party] is, in tendency, becoming the party of uneducated nativists (among them some working class), and [insert local progressive party] is, in tendency, more attractive to the educated and tolerant (among them many working class who somehow don't count because they are too dark or have a degree?).

  • My definition of working class is broad and includes anyone who works for a living. As I said in my first comment, the Republican definition is pretty white. But my point is basically this: if a black gay single mother working in a meat-packing plant came up to me today, in 2020, and said "which party is more likely to help me out in this coming economic depression?", my answer is… the Republicans. The Republicans! Insanity! But true.

    Sure, maybe it's incidental to helping white people. But it's Mitt Romney and NOT Nancy Pelosi who is out there arguing to send checks to everyone. The Republicans understand that actually helping the general public is a useful thing to do, politically; and the Democrats do not. They simply don't. Those on the Democratic side who do understand it (people like AOC or Bernie) are also the ones who are ostracized from the Democratic ranks precisely because of that.

    > The definition of working class under which [insert local conservative party] "are the now the party of the working class" is using the criteria of (1) whiteness and (2) low degree of educational attainment.

    First, the vast, vast majority of the USA is "low degree of educational attainment", so if you want a party of nothing but university professors, great, but you're not going to win any elections that way. That sort of casual elitism against human beings who are just as good as you are is a huge turn-off, and it is a deep part of the current Democratic Party (wasn't true once, definitely true today). The most racist people I meet in my day-to-day life are all advanced degree holders, so please do not think that hanging around a university for 8 years makes one into a non-racist.

    The Democrats are still getting many of the votes of poor black people, poor hispanics, poor young people in general, and so on. But I think that's going to be less and less true as time goes on. What we see in the primary is that these people are rejecting the "business as usual" of the Democratic Party and looking for people like Sanders, people who promise to actually do something for them. But the Democratic Party HATES Sanders and AOC, absolutely hates them.

    What happens when a Republican comes along – as they will – who promises good stuff for everyone, actually delivers it, and tones down the racism just a bit? The Democrats get *wiped out* forever is what happens. The Democratic Party is pushing away as hard as it can all poor people and all young people (young now meaning "under 45" because the entire US political system is now geriatric). The Republicans are, in a limited and white way, reaching out a hand to them. But that's more of a hand than the Democrats are willing to extend.

  • While I was commenting, Trump issued an order to HUD banning evictions and foreclosures. For everyone, not just white people.

    And Pelosi's chief of staff is here on Twitter arguing in this thread:

    Arguing AGAINST any direct payments to the public and for some sort of neoliberal bullshit involving 92 forms being filled out and then you getting rejected in the end. It is simply a fact here that Mitch McConnell, Mitt Romney and Donald fucking Trump are economically to the left of Nancy Pelosi. Trump and friends, no matter how miserable they are, have that glimmer of political instinct that says "helping general public helps me get elected". Nancy Pelosi does not have that.

    Or I guess you could argue that she's trying to sabotage Trump's reelection. She's never shown any instinct to do that before, though, and I think the feel of the whole situation would be different. She's not objecting to the principle of helping Republicans nor to the principle of sending money, she's objecting to the principle of sending money that actually gets to people without a lot of hassle. Refundable tax credits, LOL.

    She's just awful at her job. Everyone under 45 knows it. Next year, it'll be everyone under 46, the year after that, under 47. How long does the Democratic Party last?

  • MS,

    I see what you mean. I was talking about who usually votes how, but you are talking about how right-wing populists do things that appeal to the working class. Your prognosis makes sense, especially looking at certain countries in E Europe further along that way…

  • Lexical notes: "party base" is those who consistently turn up and vote for anyone of their party. "CCDP" is the Central Committee of the Democratic Party – my shorthand for the loose collection of senior elected officials, major consultants, and big donors/bundlers who shape the party's internal battlespace.

    Fundamental to your analysis, Ed, and overlooked in the comments is this: for a group of reasons dating to the mid-70s the Dems have suffered a progressively concentrated base. That base forms the majority in wealthy, urbanized, coastal states where it can reliably maintain Dem party dominance internally and in the federal congress. It even appears to hold a numeric advantage over the GOP base. Unfortunately for them our electoral system renders this largely moot, especially in the senate but also in presidential races.

    For at least the last 20, and possibly 30 years the Dems have only taken the presidency by fielding charismatic, iconoclastic candidates who promised big changes. Those candidates win by exciting and drawing in a sufficient fraction of the 40% who otherwise don't vote at all. That's the Obama to Trump voters who turned PA, MI, and, WI when the Clinton campaign considered them safe "blue wall" states, among others. The CCDP, however, still refuses to learn despite Clinton, Kerry, and Gore. Obama was actually the insurgent in 2008. You know where I'm going with this.

    Sanders also had that draw, evidenced by the slice of voters who walked out when he failed to secure the nomination in 2016. They weren't sore losers like the 2008 PUMAs who threatened to do so out of spite, they were a collection of otherwise non-voters, otherwise republicans, and disaffected hard hats giving the Dems one last chance. It is significant to note here that 90,000 voters in urban Michigan tracts voted the downballot and left the top of the ticket blank. Now the CCDP has selected (by clearing the field) the most lukewarm, Reagan democrat available and the result will be even more humiliating.

    Ideology notwithstanding, and contra the hypothesis of many here, it is long past the time when pandering to that ageing, reactionary base was a winning strategy for the Dems. Unfortunately, they keep round filing the memo.

  • I suspect the thumb on the Biden side of the scale is the work of the major Democratic donors, whose hearts are with the rest of the .001%, even if they are more civilized than GOP donors. The notion that The United States might revert to a society where wealth is secured by service to the 99% * is disquieting and threatens their self esteem. FWIW, if Biden is the nominee, I'll vote for him, he's a vast improvement over "The Tangerine Shitgibbon".

    *A short list: Howard Hughs, Edwin Land, Stephen Jobs and Bill Gates all gained wealth when Federal tax rates were at levels deemed ruinous by today's wealthy.

  • @ Tim H.:

    All of those men you name were actual geniuses AND hard workers. Neither of those qualities is on display in any meaningful way in much of what passes for the ruling elite in the U.S.

  • @democommie:
    That fits with how I think of "Contemporary conservatism", a loose confederation of gold bugs, FDR haters, trust fund brats, white supremacists and a few bewildered paleocons. No real substance, held erect by money.

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