If progressives were to become empiricists, they would look at the symptoms of the last election and come up with disinterested diagnoses, therapies, and prognoses.
Although their hard-left candidate won the popular vote, even that benchmark was somewhat deceiving — given the outlier role of California and the overwhelming odds in their favor. The Republicans ran a candidate who caused a veritable civil war in their ranks and who was condemned by many of the flagship conservative media outlets. Trump essentially ran against a united Democratic party, the Republican establishment, the mainstream media (both liberal and conservative) — and won.
Not that Hillary did not try to copy Obama’s formula. She brought on Obama politicos to staff her campaign. She supported all the Obama initiatives, from Obamacare and record debt to a collapsed foreign policy. She spoke in a faux-inner city accent the same way Obama had to get out the African-American vote. She outdid Obama’s clinger speech by her own twist of “deplorables” and “irredeemables.” She returned to her own hard-left phase of the 1990s. Yet she was trounced in the electoral college and saw the fabled “blue wall” crumble.
1) The African-American vote is vital to the Democratic party, but it is dubious to suppose that blacks will register, turn out, and vote in a bloc (as they did in 2008 and 2012) for a Democratic candidate other than Barack Obama. The very efforts to ensure that 95 percent of blacks will vote for other Democratic nominees might only polarize other groups in an increasingly multiracial and multiethnic America. Trump, of course, knows all this and will make the necessary adjustments.
2) Asians and Hispanics are less a monolithic voting bloc. Supposedly discredited melting-pot assimilation, integration, and intermarriage are still the norm and can temper tribal solidarities and peel away from Democrats a third of their assumed constituents — in an electoral landscape where there is already only a thin margin of error, given that Democrats have written off the white working classes. In the case of Latinos, red states such as Texas and Arizona are unlikely to be flipped soon by Latino bloc voting, especially if Trump closes down the border and ends illegal immigration as a demographic electoral tool of the Democratic party. And Latino electoral-college strength is dissipated in states that are likely to be blue anyway (California, Nevada, New Mexico).
3) The race/class/gender agenda so favored by coastal elites and promulgated by media, Hollywood, and popular culture is an anathema to Middle America, especially its strange disconnect between affluence and the mandate for purportedly progressive equality. Moralistic lectures from wealthy people are not a way to win over the working classes. Rants by Hollywood celebrities and racialist sermons by would-be DNC chairs will not win over 51 percent of the voters in swing states. The twin agents of progressive dogma, the media and the university, are themselves under financial duress, must recalibrate, and have lost support from half the country.
4) Fairly or not, the entire environmental movement, as represented by Al Gore’s campaign against global warming, has become elitist and often hypocritical, and is evident in the lifestyles of wealthy utopians who have the capital and influence to navigate around the irritating results of their nostrums. Building Keystone is a better issue than the Paris Climate Change protocols. There is little support for Bay Area environmentalism among blue-collar building trades and unions — largely because radical climate change is now a religion and skeptics are hounded as heretics.
5) For the foreseeable future, the blue wall of the Midwest seems more vulnerable than the red wall in the South. The small towns and cities in swing states are as electorally powerful as the large, blue cities.
6) What the media and Democrats see as Trump’s outrageous extremism now looks, to more than half the country, like a tardy return to normalcy: employing the words “radical Islamic terror,” or asking cities to follow federal law rather than go full Confederate, or deporting illegal aliens who have committed crimes, or building a wall to stop easy illegal entry across the U.S. border, or putting a temporary hold on unvetted refugees from war-torn states in the Middle East. In the eyes of many Middle Americans, all these measures, even if sometimes hastily and sloppily embraced, are not acts of revolution; they are common-sense corrections of what were themselves extremist acts, or they are simply continuances of presidential executive-order power as enshrined by Obama and sanctified by the media.
As a result, one might have thought that Democrats would look in 2017 to bread-and-butter economic issues and try to find candidates who are 21st-century updates of Hubert Humphrey or Harry Truman, or perhaps populist minority nominees or a younger version of Joe Biden. Or is it even worse? The Democratic party of 2017 is nothing like the party of 2008, when Hillary Clinton in the primaries ran as a guns-rights Annie Oakley, with a boilermaker in one hand and a bowling ball in the other, and Barack Obama kept assuring the nation that gay marriage was contrary to his religious principles.
Obama’s legacy is twofold: He took the party hard left, and he downsized it to a minority party of the two coasts and big cities.
Instead of seeing Barack Obama (both his successful two elections and his failed two terms) as the wave of the future, Democrats would be wise to reassess his electoral legacy as a unique phenomenon. In truth, Obama’s legacy is twofold: He took the party hard left, and he downsized it to a minority party of the two coasts and big cities. And then he faded off into the sunset to a multimillionaire retirement of golf and homilies.
The progressive movement, the Democratic party and its cultural appendages in entertainment and the media seem to be doubling down on a failed electoral strategy. Instead, they all hope that either Donald Trump will crack and spontaneously implode after some new sort of Access Hollywood disclosure, or that their own unrelenting invective will eventually grind him down, as it did with Richard Nixon.
Consider a potpourri of left-wing reactions to Trump. Would-be Democratic National Committee chairwoman Sally Boynton Brown pontificated: “I’m a white woman. I don’t get it. . . . My job is to listen and be a voice and shut other white people down when they want to interrupt.” Ashley Judd gave an incoherent rant at the Inauguration Day protest marches. In reading a bizarre poem, she variously compared Trump to Hitler, alleged that he had incestuous desires for his own daughter. and then indulged in rank vulgarity
Another Hillary Clinton bedrock supporter, Madonna, told the assembled thousands, “I’m angry. Yes, I’m outraged. Yes, I have thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House.”
Secret Service agent and loud Hillary Clinton supporter Kerry O’Grady wrote on her Facebook page that she would “take jail time over a bullet or an endorsement for what I believe to be a disaster to this the country.” Making her presidential preference clear, she ended her post with “I am with Her.”
BuzzFeed’s rumor mongering about Trump did not meet National Enquirer standards. Time magazine’s Zeke Miller decided, on no evidence whatsoever, that Trump had suddenly removed the bust of Martin Luther King Jr. from the Oval Office. Miller reported the scoop as breaking news — after all, it would confirm Trump’s alleged racism — before retracting the story.
None of these reactions will convince those in the swing states that they erred in voting for Donald Trump.
In sum, the architects of Democratic-party reform are themselves the problem, not the solution. On key issues, they represent a minority opinion, one confined to the entertainment industry, academia, race/class/gender elite activists, and the wealthy scions of Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and Wall Street. In addition, minority activists themselves do not get out in the heartland and mistakenly believe that the demeanor, mindset, and, yes, guilt of white urban liberal elites in their midst characterize the white working and middle classes in general. And they mistakenly assume they themselves cannot be out-of-touch elites, given their ethnic and racial heritage, when in fact many most certainly are. Do Eric Holder and Colin Kaepernick know more about poverty and hardship than a West Virginian miner or an out-of-work fabricator in southern Ohio? Does an affluent Van Jones visit depressed rural Michigan to lecture out-of-work plant workers and welders about their endemic white privilege?
Do Eric Holder and Colin Kaepernick know more about poverty and hardship than a West Virginian miner or an out-of-work fabricator in southern Ohio?
The current Democratic reset plan certainly does not resemble the 1976 strategy of nominating a governor from the South in order to avoid another 1972 McGovern catastrophe; nor does it share the 1992 wisdom of nominating Bill Clinton to fend off a second Dukakis disaster.
For now, the Democratic-party strategists are doubling down on boutique environmentalism and race/gender victimhood, while hoping that Donald Trump implodes in scandal, war, or depression. They are clueless that their present rabid frenzy is doing as much political damage to their cause as is the object of their outrage.
— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The Savior Generals.