Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

01 December 2017

A Blue White House in 2020

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Democrats are in despair. Republicans own the White House, the Senate, the House and the vast majority of statehouses and governorships.

As if this were not bad enough, the GOP president is an unqualified and incompetent buffoon. Coming after the brilliant, skilled, dignified, warm and empathetic leader who preceded him, Trump is not just a cause of emotional whiplash. He brings embarrassment and shame to every American traveling abroad. His near-daily antics depress every civilized American.

So what should the Dems do? Their troubles didn’t come overnight. They arose over decades. The Dems abandoned many states and whole regions to the party of extremists.

They had what pols call a “weak bench.” As a result, every American is now paying a terrible price. That price will get much steeper as the GOP’s tax scam, which now threatens to become law, begins to chew upon our economy, our health insurance, our body politic and what remains of our safety net.

Of course the Dems must rebuild their party state by state and precinct by precinct. They must return to their progressive roots. They must purge all vestiges of the Clintons, whose rudderless and principle-free “triangulation” destroyed their party, and with it the nation’s global leadership.

But all that takes time. The GOP took two generations, since Reagan, to turn its so-called “ideology” into practical control of every branch of government and lever of power.

Republicans managed this feat with an “ideology” that is nothing but vapid abstractions, devoid of concrete, practical ideas. They tout smaller government, lower taxes, less regulation, more guns, and more power to the rich and powerful. How much smaller, lower, less and more, and to what purpose? They never say. Yet by gerrymandering, suppressing votes, abusing voters and minorities, and packing the courts with so-called “conservatives,” they have turned that vacant ideology into plenary political power.

The Dems can and must reverse this process. Smart ones among them are doing exactly that, starting with the grass roots and city councils.

But that’s a long-run project. As the great economist John Maynard Keynes once said, in the long run we are all dead. What do we do in the interim to keep our American experiment in democracy and community alive and running?

Our best hope is for the Dems to recapture the presidency, as early as 2020. Here’s how.

Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 because she had consistently abandoned Democratic principles for expediency and “triangulation.” Her worst example was voting as a senator for war in Iraq without even reading the National Intelligence Estimate. And there are others. She also took big money from the folks who were busy rigging the economy. (How did the Clintons end up with a reported family fortune of $250 million from careers in “public service”?)

In part for those fundamental errors of judgment and character, and in part due to GOP propaganda and manipulation, the “Rust Belt” states of Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin all dumped Hillary last year and flipped red. No one expected that to happen, so Trump’s win came as a shock.

But in 2020, a Dem can win the White House without winning any of those Rust-Belt states. All the Dems have to do is keep Florida flipped (it went for Obama in both 2008 and 2012 but went for Trump last year), re-flip North Carolina, which Obama won in 2008 but lost in 2012, as Hillary did in 2016, and flip Georgia for the first time.

The tally of electoral votes in this scenario appears below this post. The Dems win 273 electoral votes, three more than needed to secure the presidency. And if the Dems are lucky enough to win any of the Rust-Belt states (except just smaller Iowa), each Rust-Belt state won could compensate for a loss in either Georgia or North Carolina, but not big Florida. If the Dems win even more Rust-Belt states, they could win by an electoral landslide.

The key to this victory is simple demographics. All three of the named Southern states have large minority populations—about 40% in Florida and Georgia, and nearly one-third in North Carolina. By 2020, Trump’s racism and bigotry, plus the GOP’s self-evidently minority- and immigrant-unfriendly policies, will have thoroughly alienated them. If the Dems can just get a few percent more of them to register and vote, they can win without any of the Rust-Belt states that abandoned Hillary in 2016.

In this enterprise, the wind of demographics is at the Dems’ back. Progressive northerners are constantly migrating South for warmer weather as they retire. In addition, the Puerto Rican exodus to Florida after the Hurricane-Maria “aid” fiasco will add a large number of Hispanic voters whom the Trump administration infuriates, and who are not nearly as conservative as the Cubans in Florida. And minorities of all types, inspired by the Obama Presidency, are coming of age politically. The South is therefore ripe for progress that will change America and transform the world.

The key is the commanding percentages of minority voters in these three Southern states. Here are the numbers:

Flipping Key Southern States

State FloridaGeorgiaNorth Carolina
Hillary’s Margin
of Loss (2016)
Black population15.6%30.7%21.4%
Hispanic population24.1 %9.3%9.0%
Total of Two

All the Dems have to do is give minority voters in these three states enough hope to register and vote, in numbers just a few percentage points more than in 2016. Then these states will flip from red to blue (or re-flip or stay flipped), at least in presidential elections. They will do so just as has Virginia, which went for Obama in both 2008 and 2012 and for Hillary in 2016.

That’s what Florida and North Carolina (all but Georgia) have already done at least once, inspired by the hope of seeing Barack Obama in the White House. In 2008, Obama won both Florida (the biggest prize) and North Carolina, but not Georgia. In 2012, he kept Florida but lost North Carolina.

Some misguided Democratic pundits propose attracting alienated white workers in the Rust Belt. Dems of course can do that in substance with a massive, job-creating infrastructure program. And they should.

But moving beyond substance and good policy to pandering would be a grave mistake. Trump and the GOP won white Rust-Belt workers not just by playing on their legitimate economic insecurities, but also by inflaming their latent bigotry and inveigling them into scapegoating minorities.

GOP propagandists and demagogues, including President Trump himself, have done this so successfully that significant fractions of white Rust-Belt workers may have become irreconcilable. These workers are very angry, often irrationally so. How else could they have voted for a man like Trump and still support him after a year of gaffes, narcissistic Tweets, and no significant accomplishment, let alone any that might change their fates for the better? How else could they believe that Trump’s and the GOP’s bald tax scam would be good for them?

Some of these white voters, especially the so-called “white nationalists,” are like irreconcilable Taliban. They may be won over in the long run, but the nation and the world can’t wait. So if the Dems want to save our country and our democracy, they must find other ways.

The other ways all revolve around neglected and abused minorities, which rise to near-dominant numbers in the South. These minorities know full well which party takes their interests to heart. All they need is good reason to register and vote. All they need is the same kind of hope that Barack Obama gave them in 2008 and 2012.

Obama delivered that hope just by being who he was. The Dems can easily duplicate his feat in 2020—when the demographic trends will be even more favorable for them. All they have to do is support truly progressive candidates who, wherever possible, are members of minority groups themselves. That’s why I’m supporting Stacey Abrams for Governor of Georgia with my money and my time (I’m not a Georgia resident).

In the sixties, when Lyndon Johnson pushed our first post-Reconstruction civil-rights laws through Congress with legendary arm-twisting, he had a sober warning for Dems. Those vital new laws, he said, would lose the South to Democrats for two generations.

Almost three generations have passed since Johnson’s warning. In the meantime, we have elected a half-“black” president—something even more astonishing, and infinitely more positive, than Trump’s anomalous win last fall. During all that time, the Republicans have stood on the wrong side of history: the side of racism, bigotry, division, inequality, oppression and (more recently) assiduous vote suppression.

But Johnson’s generational clock is running out on them. The Dems can secure their place in history (and reclaim national power) by holding to their core values of progressivism and egalitarianism.

If the Dems can’t win in 2020 by doing right by the values they stand for and by their most loyal voters, then they will have lost their way, just as the GOP has. They must not follow Republicans down the path of moral putrefaction by abandoning all goals save power and serving rich donors. Good things come not to the scheming, but to those who hold to principle.

The times also favor the Dems. The moral bankruptcy of Trump and the GOP favors them. Demographics in the South favor them: in-migration will only raise the electoral-vote power of flipped and flippable Southern states. All the Dems have to do is seize this opportunity to forge a New South by giving African-Americans and Hispanics (along with all other voters) reason to hope.

This is the greatest opportunity the Dems have had to create a durable new coalition in almost three generations. They must not let it pass.

Endnote 1: Following is a tally of a winning electoral-vote total that the Dems could receive in 2020 if they win all the states that Hillary won in 2016, plus Florida, Georgia and North Carolina:

Winning the White House without the “Rust Belt”

StateElectoral Votes
District of Columbia3
New Jersey14
New Mexico5
New York29
North Carolina*15
Rhode Island4

NOTE: In 2016, Hillary won all states listed, except the three marked with asterisks, namely, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina.

Endnote 2: Holding to principle does not mean refusing to compromise. It does mean refusing to abandon core principles of party distinction or party history. Three examples might be helpful.

When Bill held his little Oval Office party, with Phil Gramm, to sign the bill that repealed Glass-Steagal and many Depression-era regulatory bulwarks of our economy, he betrayed the core Democratic principle of a regulated economy, the legacy of FDR, and a principal distinction between the two parties, that between regulated and laissez faire capitalism. Another Democrat, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, took the floor of the Senate to lament the betrayal and correctly predict the Crash of 2008, almost to the year.

When Hillary “played the race card” against Obama in the hot 2008 primary campaign, she betrayed the Democrats’ core principle of equality. She also blurred the distinction between the parties that had subsisted at least since Nixon’s disgraceful “Southern Strategy,” by which he won the presidency in 1968. The fact that Hillary herself was and is not a racist only made this betrayal of principle more disappointing.

In contrast, consider the stance of Republican Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) today. He’s a deficit hawk worried about the huge hit to our budget that the GOP’s current tax scam would cause. If he’s able to command amendments that will reduce the tax cuts automatically in order to cap deficits, his doing so would be consistent with his core principles, assuming that, as a Republican, he doesn’t mind the huge giveaway to corporations and the rich at the expense of other taxpayers.

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