Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman is 100% correct here: the perpetual right-wing outrage machine will always, always move the goalposts on "respect" and will always portray liberals as snotty elitists who hate Republicans.
In the endless search for the magic key that Democrats can use to unlock the hearts of white people who vote Republican, the hot new candidate is “respect.” If only they cast off their snooty liberal elitism and show respect to people who voted for Donald Trump, Democrats can win them over and take back Congress and the White House.
The assumption is that if Democrats simply choose to deploy this powerful tool of respect, then minds will be changed and votes will follow. This belief, widespread though it may be, is stunningly naive. It ignores decades of history and everything about our current political environment. There’s almost nothing more foolish Democrats could do than follow that advice.
Before we proceed, let me be clear about what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that the desire for respect isn’t real. As a voter says in “The Great Revolt,” a new book by conservative journalist Salena Zito and Republican operative Brad Todd, “One of the things I really don’t get about the Democratic Party or the news media is the lack of respect they give to people who work hard all of their lives to get themselves out of the hole.”
Nor am I saying there aren’t some liberals who express elitist ideas, because there are.
But the mistake is to ignore where the belief in Democratic disrespect actually comes from and to assume that Democrats have it in their power to banish it.
It doesn’t come from the policies advocated by the Democratic Party, and it doesn’t come from the things Democratic politicians say. Where does it come from? An entire industry that’s devoted to convincing white people that liberal elitists look down on them.
It’s more than an industry, actually; it’s an industry, plus a political movement. The right has a gigantic media apparatus that is devoted to convincing people that liberals disrespect them, plus a political party whose leaders all understand that that idea is key to their political project and so join in the chorus at every opportunity.
If you doubt this, I’d encourage you to tune in to Fox News or listen to conservative talk radio for a week. When you do, you’ll find that again and again you’re told stories of some excess of campus political correctness, some obscure liberal professor who said something offensive, some liberal celebrity who said something crude about rednecks or some Democratic politician who displayed a lack of knowledge of a conservative cultural marker. The message is pounded home over and over: They hate you and everything you stand for.
Now, readers know I've been yelling about the right-wing noise machine for years during the Obama presidency, and I'm glad to see that Waldman not only successfully identifies the problem, but the answer as well.
We see this again and again: Democrats bend over backward to show conservative white voters respect, only to see some remark taken out of context and their entire agenda characterized as stealing from hard-working white people to give undeserved benefits to shiftless minorities. And then pundits demand, “Why aren’t you showing those whites more respect?”
So when we say that, what exactly are we asking Democrats to do? It can only be one of two things. Either Democrats are supposed to abandon their values and change their policies, despite the fact that many of those policies provide enormous help to the very people who say Democrats look down on them, or they’re supposed to take symbolic steps to demonstrate their respect, which always fail anyway. How many times have we seen Democrats try to show respect by going to a NASCAR event or on a hunting trip, only to be mocked for their insincerity?
In the world Republicans have constructed, a Democrat who wants to give you health care and a higher wage is disrespectful, while a Republican who opposes those things but engages in a vigorous round of campaign race-baiting is respectful. The person who’s holding you back isn’t the politician who just voted to give a trillion-dollar tax break to the wealthy and corporations, it’s an East Coast college professor who said something condescending on Twitter.
So what are Democrats to do? The answer is simple: This is a game they cannot win, so they have to stop playing. Know at the outset that no matter what you say or do, Republicans will cry that you’re disrespecting good heartland voters. There is no bit of PR razzle-dazzle that will stop them. Remember that white Republicans are not going to vote for you anyway, and their votes are no more valuable or virtuous than the votes of any other American. Don’t try to come up with photo ops showing you genuflecting before the totems of the white working class, because that won’t work. Advocate for what you believe in, and explain why it actually helps people.
Finally — and this is critical — never stop telling voters how Republicans are screwing them over. The two successful Democratic presidents of recent years were both called liberal elitists, and they countered by relentlessly hammering the GOP over its advocacy for the wealthy. And it worked.
One million times this. Quit getting bogged down trying to win over white voters who have spent the last ten years hearing how Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are the antichrists. Show them how the GOP has rigged the game and tell them how you're going to fix it. And in primaries last night, we'll get to test this theory as FiveThirtyEight's Nathaniel Rakich explains.
The Democratic Party woke up this morning with a clear signal from Tuesday’s primary elections: The #Resistance means business. The more progressive candidate won in Democratic primaries around the country. The question, however, is whether those more liberal candidates will hurt the party’s chances in November.
The biggest — and most surprising — news of the night was nonprofit executive Kara Eastman’s nomination in Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District. Although former U.S. Rep. Brad Ashford had both the money and the backing of national Democrats, Eastman defeated him 51 percent to 49 percent. Like many of yesterday’s victorious Democrats, Eastman won by throwing red (blue?) meat to the liberal base: Where Ashford touted his ability to build consensus in Congress, Eastman promised confrontation and, well, resistance to President Trump.
Can a true blue anti-Trump unashamed liberal win in a state like Nebraska? We'll find out.
And Eastman wasn’t alone. In Idaho, state Rep. Paulette Jordan surprisingly cruised to the Democratic nomination for governor, 59 percent to 40 percent, over a more moderate, wealthier and better-known (he was the party’s nominee in 2014) rival. Jordan, who would become the first Native American governor in U.S. history if she pulls off the upset win, was endorsed by Democracy for America, Indivisible and Cher — three entities not usually known for their influence with Idaho voters.
I've talked about Paulette Jordan before in Idaho. She just won her primary by nearly 20 points. It wasn't even close.
Two Pennsylvania congressional primaries also pitted progressivism against pragmatism, and the progressives went two for two. In the 1st District, philanthropist Scott Wallace, the grandson of the Progressive Party’s 1948 presidential nominee, defeated former Navy prosecutor Rachel Reddick 56 percent to 35 percent. Reddick had made her conversion from the GOP a centerpiece of her campaign. In the 7th District, a split in the progressive vote nearly caused Democrats to nominate Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, who has made comments friendly to Trump and not so friendly to undocumented immigrants. However, Allentown City Solicitor Susan Wild defeated him 33 to 30 percent, with Bernie Sanders-endorsed pastor Greg Edwards in third with 26 percent. More than Nebraska’s 2nd District, both the 1st and 7th Districts in Pennsylvania are true swing districts, with a partisan lean of R+1 and D+0.04, respectively — in other words, they’re almost perfect bellwethers for the nation as a whole. So Democrats have a little more margin for error there in such a Democratic-leaning political environment. (Of course, if that environment changes … )
Eastman’s, Jordan’s and Wild’s victories were part of another trend on Tuesday night: Women dominated. They won 11 out of the 16 contested Democratic primaries for Senate, House or governor that featured at least one female candidate and no incumbent. In Pennsylvania alone — currently the largest state with no women in its congressional delegation — three women won Democratic primaries in seats likely to elect them in November: Madeleine Dean in the 4th District, Mary Gay Scanlon in the 5th District and Chrissy Houlahan (though it was uncontested) in the 6th District. Tuesday also represented the continuation of a strong election cycle for Emily’s List, the progressive political action committee that works to elect pro-choice women. Three of the five candidates they endorsed triumphed on Tuesday, as did one (Scanlon) that they spoke highly of.
Rakich's lazy "tea party" headline aside, it's time to stop playing the GOP's game and win like Democrats.
Let's do this.