Monday, April 16, 2018

Changing Circumstances

It's too early to handicap the 2016 presidential race. It's too early to predict the outcome of the general election or even the outcome of the primary race in the Democratic Party. (It's even too early to do so for the GOP nomination, though if a President Trump runs for re-election, the outcome is predetermined.)

It's too early in part because we don't know who, or how many candidates, will vie for the Democratic nomination.  Mentioned at one time or another have been Kamala Harris, Adam Schiff, and Eric Swallwell of California; John Hickenlooper of Colorado; Chris Murphy of Connecticut; Joseph Biden of Delaware; Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii; Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts; Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; Steve Bullock of Montana; Cory Booker of New Jersey; Andrew Cuomo and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York; Sherrod Brown and Tim Ryan of Ohio; Joaquin Castro of Texas; Bernie Sanders of Vermont; Terry McAuliffe and Tim Kaine of Virginia. Your mileage may vary.

Some of these guys and gals will decide against competing for the nomination but other politicans, not yet thought of, will do so. Additionally, there is the possibility of celebrities, most controversially Oprah Winfrey, and oddly including Michelle Obama. That a couple of months ago Steve Zuckerberg was floated- seriously- as a possible candidate demonstrates how a list can change in almost the blink of an eye.

And so it is with appropriate caution that Steve Mahtesian would consider in Politico Magazine the likelihood of Joe Biden, "the rare national Democrat who can connect with blue-collar constituencies that have long since left the fold," running for, and winning, the Democratic presidential nomination.

Yet, in "Joe Biden Is The Front-Runner. Uh-Oh," Mahtesian acknowledges that the former vice-president has had in his career conflicting views about financial reform, abortion, and criminal justice reform.  He concludes "as a septuagenarian white male, Biden is a highly unlikely prospect to lead that new coalition" of Democrats committed to a decidely liberal or progressive perspective on these issues.

That's accurate as far as it goes, including the immediately following and final remark "it's a testament to his talents that it's even subject to debate."

But hold on there- on the notions that he would be a longshot or that it's subject to debate.

If individuals change (as they do), events, the mood of the public, and rivals change even more.  That's demonstrated by an extremely informative, even insightful, article by Five Thirty Eight's David Wasserman dated February 12, 2016. Given Hillary Clinton's defeat in the 2016 general election and the most common explanation of it, the piece comes with what now appears to be an ironic, if not myopic, title. However, in the body of the article Wasserman explains

It’s becoming increasingly apparent that Hillary Clinton is relying on a coalition that looks almost the opposite of the one she assembled in 2008. Eight years ago, she prevailed among working-class whites while losing well-educated whites and African-Americans to Barack Obama. But her path to overcoming Bernie Sanders and winning the 2016 nomination now appears to rely on a marriage of upscale whites and African-Americans.

As in 2008, Clinton supporters are still likelier to be older voters, women and self-identified Democrats rather than independents. But in terms of class and race, Clinton’s support looks surprisingly similar to Obama’s. Maybe that shouldn’t be so shocking: Clinton has talked up her connections to Obama, bringing him up repeatedly during the debate Thursday night, and primary voters who preferred to “generally continue Obama’s policies” backed Clinton by 42 percentage points in Iowa and by 25 points in New Hampshire.

Eight years ago, in the run-up to New Hampshire, Obama seemed poised to simply run away with the nomination after Iowa gave him a convincing win and signaled the viability of his candidacy to African-American voters elsewhere. But Clinton’s stunning upset in New Hampshire revealed for the first time that she could count on working-class white Democrats, who loudly and clearly told Obama, “not so fast.”

This is a crucial bit of electoral history that is conveniently ignored because it doesn't fit into the narrative of the 2016 presidential election in which Hillary Clinton beat opponent Donald Trump among young people, racial/ethnic minorities, and affluent and educated voters while getting clobbered by the white working class (and the elderly).

Admittedly, that narrative is borne out in significant part by the vote breakdown nationally, as well as Clinton's stunning and ultimately decisive defeat in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, states traditionally won by Democrats and arguably dominated by the white working-class. Additionally, Clinton was defeated by Trump in the huge swing state of Ohio (another "working-class" state), won in November 2008 and November 2012 by the Democratic nominee, as well as in nearby Kentucky and West Virginia.

Ironically, in her New Hampshire contest with Barack Obama in 2008 (video below from primary night 4/08 in Pennsylvania)

her entire 7,589-vote victory was attributable to big margins in just five working-class Granite State towns: Manchester, Nashua, Rochester, Salem and Berlin. This pattern became a blueprint for Clinton’s later primary wins in working-class states like Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

In the 2016 primary campaign, Clinton generally beat Sanders among more affluent voters and especially the better educated, and among blacks. Similarly, among whites in the general election, she garnered more support than did Trump from blacks and hispanics and the more highly educated.

In those states which Obama won and Clinton lost in the month of November, several factors intervened, including Obama's superior campaign skills, the opposition each faced, and the issues highlighted during the campaigns. Further, the Party has increasingly responded to a constituency- which Obama himself emphasized- of ethnic and sexual minorities, the well-educated, secular individuals, urbanites, and women voluntarily single. These groups have noticed. So have the others.

Hillary Clinton found it far easier to capture the support of white working-class (and elderly) voters when she ran against Barack Hussein Obama than she did running against Donald Trump.  However Clinton has changed probably was the least significant factor in this shift. Additionally, times change; issues change; voters change.

Democratic Party activists generally are energized by the need to regulate the financial services industry, expand reproductive and other rights of women, and reform law enforcement and criminal justice.  Intuitively, therefore, it's likely that candidate Joseph R. Biden Jr. would face obstacles with the popular base while continuing to appeal to white working-class voters. But as Hillary Clinton would admit if subjected to truth serum:  don't bet on it.

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