The Democratic divide is not just between moderates and progressives
Voters of color appear to be an afterthought in all the breathless prognosticating after Iowa and New Hampshire
Are frightened Democrats in the middle of an ugly fight to the death between the so-called progressive and moderate wings of the party? To observe the weeping and gnashing of teeth after the New Hampshire primary, you might think so. Let’s just say, that reaction is premature and missing the point.
Yet there are already calls from some in the Democratic establishment, such as it is, for consolidation of the moderates to fight a Bernie Sanders surge that would presumably cast the party into the electoral wilderness in 2020, when the main focus, the reasoning goes, is to beat Donald Trump. To be fair, that seems to be top of mind for all those who want Trump out of office. When I go to the market or gym, anyone of a certain political persuasion even vaguely familiar with what I do for a living asks me “who can beat Trump” before I get a “hello.”
I get the urgency with each passing day, as an emboldened president interferes with career prosecutors at the Justice Department, gloats as a Purple Heart recipient with shrapnel in his body is marched out of the White House or floats the possibility of overhauling programs such as Medicare, breaking his own campaign promise.
But I’m honest when I answer: “I don’t know, it’s early and anything can happen. Remember 2016.” Well, I guess they do remember, which is why they’re so nervous.
It’s more than a little insulting, though, to a lot of voters to want to wrap everything up before the Nevada caucus, the South Carolina primary and Super Tuesday, before the diverse electorate that will determine who gets to stand onstage and accept that nomination has had a chance to weigh in. By the way, those are also the voters who could make the difference in November.
With 1,990 delegates needed to clinch the presidential nomination, and a neck-and-neck race with Pete Buttigieg at 22 and Sanders at 21, we should stop counting?
Especially after an Iowa caucus gone awry, the argument that Iowa and New Hampshire, with the power to make or break candidates, should not go first makes sense, despite being dismissed as sour grapes when former hopeful Julián Castro made it.
Before all the votes were cast in the New Hampshire primary, former Vice President Joe Biden was on the ground in South Carolina, perhaps anticipating his poor showing in the first-in-the-nation primary, and shoring up what has been called his “firewall.” Primary winner Sanders was heading that way, with events planned in the Super Tuesday state of North Carolina, preceded by appearances from campaign surrogates Nina Turner and Susan Sarandon. In South Carolina, Tom Steyer was visible in ads and mailings, creeping up in the polls and picking verbal fights with a Biden supporter.
Michael Bloomberg was everywhere, or at least he seemed to be, with ads and staffing across the country and his own Southern swing in the works.
Note that Andrew Yang, the only candidate of color on the last debate stage, has suspended his campaign, squashing the hopes as well as the dreams of the Yang Gang. Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, failing to gain traction, also bowed out, so, “poof,” all the African American candidates have disappeared.
Though the winnowing down is necessary and expected, does anyone wonder if the first states had been shuffled to include, maybe, Georgia and Texas, or New Jersey and California, Castro and Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris — and the issues they put front and center — might have drawn more attention and donor support, and survived to fight another day?
Flipping the script
The question has been asked, why has it been so difficult for Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar to gain support from African American and Latino voters? Why not turn that around to ask why white voters have been so eager to support candidates who have shown little traction among black and brown voters?
When I expressed that thought, someone who presumably has it all figured out, testily lectured: “They,” meaning those black and brown voters, “will just have to suck it up.”
Paternalism is an ugly look, for Democrats as well as Republicans. It does not and should not work that way, and newly crowned front-runners should be prepared.
Klobuchar, riding high after a praised debate showing gave her campaign a boost and a strong, third-place New Hampshire finish, is getting another look and stronger vetting, including on the prosecutor past that caused some of Harris’ troubles. When a host on ABC’s “The View” grilled her about her past failure to prosecute officers in police-involved killings and one case the AP has reported on and reviewed that resulted in a young man in jail and lots of questions, Klobuchar’s answers leaned heavily on “systematic racism” boilerplate.
Based on Buttigieg’s deer-in-the-headlights reaction in the last debate when asked about disparate rates of marijuana arrests, based on race, in his time as South Bend, Indiana, mayor and his nonscripted follow-up that linked pot possession to gangs and violence and “slaughtering,” well, it will take more than the endorsement of South Carolina state Rep. JA Moore from Charleston, an African American, to move past his well-documented stumbles with voters of color and the word salad he offers when asked about them.
Guys, when you’re polling lower than the poster child for stop-and-frisk with black voters, you’ve got work to do.
That doesn’t let Bloomberg off the hook. He may have a raft of African American mayors, including Steve Benjamin of Columbia, South Carolina, on his side, and black voters who have been special targets of the current president are nothing if not practical. But as long as he’s a candidate, expect to hear Bloomberg on a loop, saying, “The way you should get the guns out of the kids’ hands is throw them against the wall and frisk them.” As someone who has a black son who has been profiled (and multiply that by a lot of black and brown folks), believe me, those words never lose their sting.
All the breathless prognostication and punditry expended on Iowa and New Hampshire doesn’t make it game over, as much as Democrats looking for unity might want to make it so.
Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.