Four years ago, Bernie Sanders put up a surprisingly strong fight against Hillary Clinton on the strength of his support among white working-class voters, who proceeded to desert Clinton in November. On the basis of those two elections, the left quickly formed a series of conclusions. The working class had become alienated by neoliberal economics and was searching for radical alternatives. Because the Democrats had failed to offer the kind of progressive radical alternative Sanders stood for, voters instead opted for Trump’s reactionary attack on globalism. In order to win them back and defeat Trump, Democrats needed to reorganize themselves as a radical populist party.
On the left, this explanation was accepted so widely it became foundational, a premise progressives would work forward from without questioning its veracity. The Sanders campaign argued that its connection to the white working class would enable Bernie to compete in areas that had abandoned Democrats years ago. “Some in the Sanders camp envision possibly making a play for Iowa, Ohio, and Indiana, as well as states such as Kansas, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Montana,” reported Politico one year ago. Every left-wing indictment of the Democratic mainstream was made in explicit or implicit contrast to this imagined counterfactual of a Sanders-led party riding triumphant through the heartland of red America.
Even before any votes were cast in the primary, cracks were opening up in this analysis. A close look at the 2016 primary data showed that many of Bernie’s white working-class supporters were the same voters who had swung to Hillary Clinton in 2008 — they were protest votes against the Democratic Party, not affirmations of socialism. Polling on economic conditions swung dramatically positive as soon as Trump was elected, and even though Trump merely continued the same growth trajectory he’d inherited, the approval of his handling of the economy has hovered well above his overall approval. Trump’s ability to rebrand the same expansion and make it popular suggests the economy itself was not the source of the electorate’s discontent in 2016.
And then in 2018, leftists insisted Democrats were making a catastrophic error by nominating moderates to contest swing districts, rather than Sanders-style populists. The lack of a sharp left-wing economic message would surely prevent the upsurge in turnout Democrats needed to take the House. That prediction also failed. Democrats produced a wave election on behalf of moderate voters.
The second Sanders campaign has shown conclusively how badly the left misunderstood the electorate. It is not just that Sanders has failed to inspire anything like the upsurge in youth turnout he promised, or that he has failed to make meaningful headway with black voters. White working-class and rural voters have swung heavily against him. In Missouri and Michigan, those voters turned states he closely contested four years ago into routs for his opponent. Some rural counties have swung 30 points from Sanders 2016 to Biden 2020. The candidate in the race who has forged a transracial working-class coalition is, in fact, Joe Biden.
As I said a few months ago, 2020 was going to come down to a choice. The choice was whether the Democrats would chase working-class white voters who abandoned Obama and Clinton for Trump, or if they would strengthen the Obama coalition and turn out enough people to beat the Trump voters anyway.
Biden's rise since Nevada proves the latter is the path forward, and what do you know, it's attracting white voters back to the party too because three years of an incompetent, evil moron in charge is making people recalibrate their priorities.
Maybe you’ve never heard of Livingston County, Michigan. It’s not Oakland County, the vote-rich behemoth located next door; nor is it Macomb County, the much-mythologized home of the culturally conservative “Reagan Democrats” who began defecting to the Republican Party decades ago. It’s a lot less populated, and a little too far from Detroit, to attract much notice from journalists and pundits. And yet, as the returns rolled in Tuesday night from Michigan’s primary, it was Livingston that told the most compelling story. Not for what it said about Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden, but for what it said about Donald Trump.
Four years ago, Livingston was a safe haven for Republicans. Voters there—white, educated, upper-class commuters who head east to Detroit, south to Ann Arbor and west to Lansing—gave no hint of a coming realignment. The county’s congressional seat, property of the GOP for 15 years, was locked down. Its political culture, anchored by a love of God, guns and tax cuts, seemed uncrackable. When the presidential primaries were held, the Republican contest attracted nearly three times more voters than the Democratic counterpart. Trump carried the county by 30 points against Hillary Clinton in November 2016, arguably his most impressive pound-for-pound showing in the state.
Today, Republicans are looking over their shoulders in Livingston County—and for good reason. They’re not worried Trump is going to lose there; they’re not worried about a wholesale change in the area’s political DNA. They’re worried about the only thing that matters in Michigan: margins. The reason Livingston is now represented by a Democrat in Congress is because Elissa Slotkin, the freshman Democrat, only lost the county by 19 points, limiting the damage in a way that allowed her to eke out an upset win with strong performances elsewhere in the 8th District.
There was a temptation for Republicans to dismiss Slotkin’s victory as an outlier, to not sweat a 30-point margin slipping to a 19-point margin. But there can no longer be any doubt about the trajectory of Livingston County and the trouble it poses for the GOP: In Tuesday’s Democratic primary, there were 27,458 votes cast in the county—compared to 17,591 four years ago. For Democratic turnout to jump 56 percent in any affluent, well-educated suburb is incredible; for it to happen in a deeply, fundamentally conservative place like Livingston County is astounding. Some people might think a difference of some 10,000 votes is no big deal. But in a state that was decided by some 10,000 votes, it’s a very big deal.
The real "revelation" is people finally admitting that sexism killed Clinton's chances to win, that especially, white men were never going to vote for a woman. And remember that admitted pussy-grabber Donald Trump won white women too.
And 2020? Well you know what? That's still true. Ask Kamala Harris or Liz Warren how Democrats handled having a second shot at nominating Not An Old White Guy.
America is still in the 1950s in a lot of respects.