The conventional wisdom about the 2016 presidential election is this: Hillary Clinton lost the election because Republican Donald Trump won Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, states which Democratic nominees had won for at least the past six elections.
Bottom line: if Hillary had won those three states, she would be occupying the White House today. All she had to do was to spend more time in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and persuade just 100,000 plus voters not to cast their ballots for Trump.
The political pros (the same people who insisted in 2016 that Hillary would win) now argue that the mistake made by the Democrats was to embrace an election strategy that relied on urban professionals and cosmopolitans, educated women and progressive millennials, African Americans and Hispanics. That coalition was at the core to President Obama’s two election victories. Hillary was supposed to add even more women to this winning electorate.
We are all familiar now with what she should have done: target the members of white working class, the unemployed and forgotten men and women in the de-industrialized area of the Rust Belt states. She should not have called half of Trump’s voters a ‘basket of deplorables.’
According to this argument, if she had just campaigned harder, Macomb County, Michigan, the white working-class country that has been the subject of quite a few doctoral dissertations by political scientists, she could have won the state.
So it is not surprising that leading Democratic hopefuls like that proud Native American, Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders – who is actually an Independent ‘caucusing’ with the Democrats – are running on the promise to regain the support of those miners in West Virginia not to mention those United Automobile Workers in Michigan.
That a growing number of young Democrats who, like newly elected New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, now identify themselves as ‘social democrats’ or ‘democratic socialists’ or whatever would only make it more likely that the politically alienated members of America’s working class would detach themselves from that false consciousness which led them astray in 2016. They will recognize that a dull Harvard professor, an aging New Yorker who lives in Vermont (and had spent his honeymoon in the Soviet Union), and 28-year old Latina, display their values and represent their interests.
Last July, the above mentioned Warren together with New York senator Chuck Schumer and California representative Nancy Pelosi, and other Democratic biggies left the Beltway for small-town Berryville, Virginia, to roll out their ‘new’ agenda with a populist pitch – A Better Deal for American Workers – aimed at winning back the working-class voters they lost to Trump in November in 2016.
Warren, Schumer and Pelosi looked as delighted to be visiting the archetypical working-class outpost as most of us are when spending a weekend with our mother-in-law. And it is doubtful that the blue-collar workers who attended the ‘rally’ organized by the Democrats paid much attention to the mishmash of proposes government plans. Deep in their hearts, the ‘deplorables’ sensed what those guys from Manhattan, San Francisco, and Harvard Square, really thought about them.
The white blue-collar workers from the Rust Belt states who had voted for Trump in 2016 did not pay a lot of attention to the specifics of his economic plans and trade agenda. In fact, most of them were not under the illusion that a President Trump would be able to bring all those manufacturing jobs back from China.
The forgotten Americans from Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan went for Trump in 2016, for the same reason that some of them had cast their ballots for Obama in 2008 and 2012, because they felt that the billionaire from New York cared about them and would try to ‘do something’ to assist them in their time of trouble.
There is no reason to believe that those sentiments have changed since 2016 or would change anytime soon. If anything, even if you believe that launching trade wars against China would not revitalize America’s manufacturing sector, the fact that President Trump was willing to challenge the elite consensus on trade, and embrace a tough approach vis-à-vis China and America’s leading trade partners – and perhaps even save a few jobs in the mining industry – makes it very unlikely that the members of the Republican Party’s new electoral base would desert the Donald two years from now.
What would Warren and Sanders or for that matter, the self-proclaimed populist Democratic Sherrod Brown pledge to do in 2020? Would they be tougher than Trump with the Chinese, the Mexicans, and the European Union? Would they be willing to pick up fights with the powerful environmentalist wing of their party in order to save a few manufacturing jobs? Would they find a way to fight for American workers without endangering the so-called ‘liberal international order?’
The irony is that the Democrats’ best chance of winning the 2020 presidential race is by adopting the strategy that in all fairness had almost led Hillary to victory in 2016. All she needed were just a few more votes in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan, which in retrospect was not a mission impossible.
In a way, any analysis of the outcome of the midterm races makes it clear that contrary to Trump’s victory chants during his post-election press conference, it is the Republican Party that is in big trouble in the short, medium and long run.
Why would Trump, presiding over what looks like an economic boom, be celebrating in face of tight Senate and gubernatorial races in Georgia, Tennessee, Florida and even Texas (Texas!), red and Republican leaning states, or the big losses in Arizona and Kansas and in some of the districts in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan that went for Trump two years ago.
Let’s face it: demography is the Democrats’ most reliable electoral ally. Does anyone question that what has happened in Arizona in the midterms – and in California a long time ago – when Hispanic voters help tip the elections in favor of Democrats will not take place in Texas sooner than later? Or that the dependable bloc of conservative and Republican voters, those aging white Christian voters will go to heaven in the coming years and be replaced by left-leaning millennial voters, the kind that provided Rep. Ocasio-Cortez with her margin of victory in the election in New York? Or that the mining industry and rural areas are the past, and that metropolitan areas and the high-tech industry are the future?
The Democrats, like British Labour, will never be again the party of working class – and consolidate their hold over the electoral groups that are now leaning to the political left – single women, cognitive workers, white urbanites, the millennials, the feminists and the gays, who are joined by African Americans, Hispanics, and (surprisingly) Asian Americans.
And let us not forget those suburbanite women, including Republican suburbanite women and quite a few Republicans men, who have abandoned the Republican party during the midterms in states such as Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania and other red states. You do not have to be a Nate Silver to figure out that if those voters had switched to Hillary in 2016, she would be occupying the White House now. Add to them newly registered Hispanic voters in these and other states, and Trump is a loser in 2020: the guy who led the last rearguard battle of Norman Rockwell America.
Which bring us back to Hillary Clinton and the possibility that she would try to run again in 2020. And why not?
Hillary 2020 makes more sense the more you think about it. The electoral map would favor her and unlike Warren, Sanders and the rest of the potential Democratic competitors, she would be a safe bet. An ally of Wall Street and the Silicon Valley, she would not wreck the expected economic boom. She is not an identity-politics radical but she’ll get the women vote. By now we are familiar with all the dirt about her and factor that into our calculations. And, hey, she is five years younger than Joe Biden.