April 8, 2015


Democrats Have an Identity-Politics Problem : In the Obama era, Democrats have become a party defined by identity. What happens when they run out of candidates who can excite their diverse base? (JOSH KRAUSHAAR, April 7, 2015, National Journal)

[T]he main reason why Clinton is a near-lock for the nomination is that Democrats have become the party of identity. They're now dependent on a coalition that relies on exciting less-reliable voters with nontraditional candidates. President Obama proved he could turn out African-American, Hispanic, and young voters to his side in 2012 even as they faced particularly rough economic hardships during a weak recovery. As the first female major-party nominee for president, Clinton hopes to win decisive margins with women voters and is planning to run on that historic message--in sharp contrast to her campaign's argument playing down that uniqueness in 2008.

It's part of why freshman Sen. Elizabeth Warren inspires excitement from the party's grassroots, but former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, whose progressive record in office set liberal benchmarks, isn't even polling at 1 percent nationally. It's why Sherrod Brown, a populist white male senator from a must-win battleground state is an afterthought in the presidential sweepstakes. It's why Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, a runner-up to be Obama's running mate in 2008, quickly jumped on the Clinton bandwagon instead of pursuing any national ambitions. On Bernstein's list of 16 possible challengers, 15 are white and nine are white males. That makes many of them untenable standard-bearers in the modern Democratic Party.

Just look at the party's (few) competitive Senate primaries of recent vintage for an illustration of this dynamic. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, whose tenure as Newark mayor drew considerable scrutiny and occasional mockery, coasted to victory in a 2013 special election primary against Rep. Frank Pallone, a respected 25-year veteran of the House who had been angling for a promotion for many years. With Democrats lacking a single African-American senator at the time, Booker's election to the Senate was fait accompli.

The 2014 Hawaii primary between appointed Sen. Brian Schatz and then-Rep. Colleen Hanabusa hinged on issues of ethnic identity, pitting a white candidate against one who is Japanese-American (and was backed by the widow of the late longtime Sen. Daniel Inouye). Schatz, despite holding an advantage as the incumbent, only eked out a victory by 1,782 votes despite a lockstep liberal record and support from national liberal groups. (Asian-Americans comprise a 38 percent plurality of Hawaii residents; whites make up 27 percent.)

This year, the Democratic primary royale will be taking place in Maryland, where Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who is white, is pitted against Rep. Donna Edwards, who is African-American. Both are reliable progressives, but Van Hollen has held more prominent leadership positions. She has been playing up their differences on several issues--entitlement reform, most significantly--but the real contrast for voters will be on race. In a state where nearly half of the Democratic primary electorate is African-American, Edwards is betting she'll have a strong floor of support, regardless of what happens in the campaign. [...]

Consider: When President Obama was elected in 2008, the Pew Research Center found that 44 percent of whites defined themselves more closely with Democrats, while 42 percent did so with Republicans. In 2014, that two-point deficit for Republicans has transformed into a nine-point advantage. According to Pew, 49 percent of whites now consider themselves Republicans, while just 40 percent view themselves as Democrats.

It is certainly possible that an identity candidate would also choose to run on issues, but it is not necessary.  Thus you can get a President Obama who is running just to pad his resume, not because he actually wants to do anything as president.

Posted by at April 8, 2015 10:26 AM

blog comments powered by Disqus