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Democratic Fissures
The party’s constituencies don’t necessarily have the same interests.

New York governor Andrew Cuomo (left) and New York City mayor Bill de Blasio

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Mona Charen

The Republican party is roiling with internal conflicts, say the analysts. The Tea Party is confronting the establishment. The non-interventionists are at war (forgive the expression) with the interventionists. The libertarians would like the party to endorse same-sex marriage.

Fair enough. These conflicts will play out during the primaries in 2016, and we’ll discover whether they are serious fault lines or merely squabbles.

Meanwhile, the Democratic party, supposedly the firm fortress of the “middle class,” minorities, and women, is actually showing some internal stresses as well. Little fissures are snaking through the crust, perhaps reflecting tectonic movement beneath.

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The president’s approval rating has been tumbling downhill. Obamacare, the poor economy, and now also foreign policy are considered weaknesses. A recent AP-GfK poll found that 58 percent disapprove of Obama’s handling of foreign affairs. Nearly twice as many Americans believe the economy will worsen in the coming year as say it will improve. The Harvard Institute of Politics reports that among voters between the ages of 18 and 39, 57 percent disapprove of Obamacare. By a two-to-one margin, voters under 30 believe that the quality of their health care will get worse as a result of the law.

The grand alliance of minority groups, young voters, public-employee unions, and women that propelled Barack Obama to two comfortable victories may be fraying.

Though the Democrats encourage the fiction that members of their coalition have the same interests, this is not the case. Children, especially black and Hispanic children, have an interest in school choice and charter schools. The teachers’ unions have an interest in preventing reform of the public schools.

Asian Americans have an interest in eliminating racial quotas in education, as quotas tend to set ceilings, rather than floors, on their acceptances to colleges. Black and Hispanics think (though it’s a matter of vigorous dispute) that their interests are served by maintaining racial quotas. (Count me among the doubters: Proposition 209 in California, the 1996 referendum that outlawed racial preferences, actually increased the number of black and Hispanic graduates at the University of California.)

Asian Americans now constitute about 15 percent of California’s electorate. Since the 1990s, they’ve leaned toward the Democrats. They gave Barack Obama 72 percent of their votes in 2012. This has confused some Republicans, who note that Asians tend to uphold the kind of values Republicans champion: high rates of marriage, self-reliance, entrepreneurship, and educational achievement. It may be that Democrats have done a better job of courting them. Or it may be that Asians’ liberal views on gay marriage, immigration, and abortion incline them toward the Democrats.

But recent moves by Democrats in California to reinstate preferences in higher education have met with a backlash. Writing in The American, Abigail Thernstrom notes that when a constitutional amendment was proposed that would have overturned Proposition 209, Asian Americans rebelled and forced Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez to table it. This is the first time that Asians have broken with the Democratic party over this issue.

In New York, one very liberal Democrat, Mayor Bill de Blasio, met resistance from a slightly less liberal Democrat, Governor Andrew Cuomo, when he struck at charter schools. Charters are precious to voters who are strongly attached to the Democratic party — blacks and Hispanics. They are anathema to another loyal Democratic constituency — the teachers’ unions. The sound you hear is the cracking of an alliance.

As for the “war on women,” it may be wearing thin. Wendy Davis, candidate for governor of Texas, who has carried all the familiar liberal standards into battle, is trailing her Republican opponent even among women voters, only 32 percent of whom view her favorably, compared with 46 percent who are unimpressed.

Sure, that’s Texas. But a November 2013 poll found that Obama’s approval rating among women had dropped by ten points since the 2012 election. The Paycheck Fairness dog-and-pony show choreographed by the White House elicited some snickers when Jay Carney was confronted with the fact that women in the White House earn only 88 cents on the dollar compared with men. The point was not, as Carney seemed to think, that the administration had been caught in hypocrisy, but that comparing gross wages of the two sexes without considering other factors is inherently fraudulent.

Republicans, meanwhile, have advertised the fact that poverty among women has increased from 14.4 percent to 16.3 percent during Obama’s time in office.

The Democrats may be able to hold their coalition together in 2016, but the fissures suggest openings for challenge.

— Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2014 Creators Syndicate, Inc.



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