Real Clear Politics pundit Sean Trende all but blames voters of color for Clinton's loss last week in his version of the Democratic party "autopsy" report that Republicans went through in 2008.
I have little doubt that a belief that demographics would save them at the presidential level led Democrats to take a number of steps that they will soon regret, from going nuclear on the filibuster to aggressive uses of executive authority. But one thing deserves special attention. A good deal of e-ink has been spilled describing the ways in which the culturally superior attitudes of the left drove Trumpism. This too, I think, derived from a belief that history had a side and that progressives were on it, combined with a lack of appreciation of just how many culturally traditionalist voters there are in this country.
Consider these factoids: In 2004, white evangelicals were 23 percent of the electorate, and they cast 78 percent of their vote for fellow evangelical George W. Bush. In 2012, they were 26 percent of the electorate, and gave Mormon Mitt Romney 78 percent of the vote. In 2016, Donald J. Trump, a thrice-married man who bragged about sleeping with married women and whose biblical knowledge at times seemed confined to the foibles of the two Corinthians, won 81 percent of their vote. Notwithstanding the fact that I have been assured repeatedly that these voters represent a shrinking demographic and that Republicans had maxed out their vote share among them, they were once again 26 percent of the electorate.
Two points demand attention. The first, which “demographics-is-destiny” types typically gloss over, is that Trump received more votes from white evangelicals than Clinton received from African-Americans and Hispanics combined. This single group very nearly cancels the Democrats’ advantage among non-whites completely. This isn’t a one-off; it was true in 2012, 2008 and 2004.
Second, you may wonder why this group voted in historic numbers for a man like Trump. Perhaps, as some have suggested, they are hypocrites. Perhaps they are merely partisans. But I will make a further suggestion: They are scared.
Consider that over the course of the past few years, Democrats and liberals have: booed the inclusion of God in their platform at the 2012 convention (this is disputed, but it is the perception); endorsed a regulation that would allow transgendered students to use the bathroom and locker room corresponding to their identity; attempted to force small businesses to cover drugs they believe induce abortions; attempted to force nuns to provide contraceptive coverage; forced Brendan Eich to step down as chief executive officer of Mozilla due to his opposition to marriage equality; fined a small Christian bakery over $140,000 for refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding; vigorously opposed a law in Indiana that would provide protections against similar regulations – despite having overwhelmingly supported similar laws when they protected Native American religious rights – and then scoured the Indiana countryside trying to find a business that would be affected by the law before settling upon a small pizza place in the middle of nowhere and harassing the owners. In 2015, the United States solicitor general suggested that churches might lose their tax exempt status if they refused to perform same-sex marriages. In 2016, the Democratic nominee endorsed repealing the Hyde Amendment, thereby endorsing federal funding for elective abortions. Democrats seemingly took up the position endorsed by critical legal theorist Mark Tushnet:
The culture wars are over; they lost, we won. . . . For liberals, the question now is how to deal with the losers in the culture wars. That’s mostly a question of tactics. My own judgment is that taking a hard line (“You lost, live with it”) is better than trying to accommodate the losers, who – remember – defended, and are defending, positions that liberals regard as having no normative pull at all. Trying to be nice to the losers didn’t work well after the Civil War, nor after Brown. (And taking a hard line seemed to work reasonably well in Germany and Japan after 1945.) I should note that LGBT activists in particular seem to have settled on the hard-line approach, while some liberal academics defend more accommodating approaches. When specific battles in the culture wars were being fought, it might have made sense to try to be accommodating after a local victory, because other related fights were going on, and a hard line might have stiffened the opposition in those fights. But the war’s over, and we won.
Perhaps comparing evangelicals to the Japanese in World War II was a bit much, and helped push evangelicals into a defensive crouch. Before my Democratic friends warm up their keyboards to protest “but we’re correct,” let me say that on some of these issues I agree with you! My point here is descriptive, not prescriptive. An aggressive approach to the culture wars and the sneering condescension of the Samantha Bees and John Olivers of the world may be warranted, but it also probably cost liberals their best chance in a generation to take control of the Supreme Court. That’s a pretty steep price to pay. It may well be that Democrats would be better able to achieve their goals if they were less, for lack of a better word, fundamentalist about those goals. Henry Clay famously declared that he would rather be right than president; he at least got his way on the latter.
If Republicans were told to pursue Latino and black votes in 2008, the advice to Democrats is now to kick these groups to the curb and actively court white evangelicals, the only group that matters politically anymore.
It's terrible advice, but I'm afraid Democrats are winding up to do just that, and should they do so, they will be lost for a generation.
And so will people of color. We've seen 18 months of the most racist presidential campaign in modern history, and the analysis is that not only Republicans won by directly appealing to the racism of white voters, but that to have any hope in the future as a political party, the Democrats must embrace the same message.
That is wrong, and I will fight that every step of the way.