Tuesday, December 6, 2016

About 70,000 White Supremacists

With the difference between Trump and Clinton in the three key states in this election down to around 70,000 votes (and still shrinking, though this could change again with recounts), I think we need to grapple with the fact that our initial knee-jerk explanations for Clinton's electoral loss were all wrong. As that number shrinks, and as Clinton's popular vote lead continues to grow (at 2.7 million as of this writing), it becomes clear that so much of the hand-wringing over identity politics and Democrat outreach to the white working class (whoever that is), might be dangerously misguided. There might be a simpler, but, in some ways, more distressing reason for Clinton's electoral college loss.

I'm drawing my conclusion from two primary facts: Trump outperformed Mitt Romney with white voters and all the polling indicated the Clinton would win. Combined with the enthusiasm of the KKK for the Trump campaign, the role of Steve Bannon in his campaign, and the spike in hate crimes after election, these facts points to one potential conclusion: About 70,000 white supremacists in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania who had not voted in recent elections and/or came from demographics that do not regularly vote (and thus were unlikely to be polled) turned out for Trump.

That's it. In our electoral college system, 70,000 votes (or even less) in the right states will overpower millions of votes elsewhere. It had nothing to do with Clinton's messaging on economic issues, and probably nothing to do with how much time she spent in various states, and probably nothing to do with the Democrats focus on voter registration rather than turning out registered Democrats. It was simply that a population that had previously dropped out of the political process and who happened to live in the right places turned out to vote. A population that is, in many ways, beyond influence.

This is not to say that Clinton ran a perfect campaign or that Comey had no influence on the election, or that the media's creation of a false equivalency didn't have an impact, but, that the population all of those things had the greatest impact on was not the white working class (whoever they are) or third party voters, or Democrats who might not have been energized by Clinton who didn't vote, but on a population that I haven't seen much discussion of yet: moderate Republicans.

Trump did win the Republican primary, but along the way, more Republicans voted against him than for him. (He has yet to win the majority of votes in any of the contests he's run in.) In a crowded and weak field, Trump was able to win because he had a simple message that spoke to the base, he was already famous, he got tons of free publicity from the media, and, he energized a population that probably wasn't doing a lot of primary voting before. In short, in the relatively low turnout primaries, against the likes of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, and, likely with the help of an awakening white supremacist movement, Trump still was not able to convince the majority of Republicans to vote for him.

And yet, when November came around, despite many prominent Republican leaders opposing him throughout the entire primary process, despite most Republicans voting against him in the primaries, and despite a series of actions and scandals that would have ended the campaigns of any other candidate at any other time, moderate Republicans decided the little R next to his name was more important than anything else. I suspect that the thirty-year smear campaign against Hilary Clinton and the false equivalency perpetuated by the media, and the balance of coverage about Clinton focusing on her email non-issues rather than on her policy ideas and qualifications, had their biggest effect not on third party voters, not on Democrats who stayed home from the polls, and not on voters who switched from Obama to Trump, though they were all impacted as well, but on moderate Republicans who did not switch their votes enough to counteract the surge in new white supremacist voters. Perhaps I've missed it in my media stream, but it seems like all of the Republican hold-your-nose Trump voters have gotten a pass. There are Republicans who should have known better and who bear as much responsibility for Trump's election as those who didn't vote at all.

For Democrats, this interpretation poses a huge problem. You can change a message, you can change outreach focus, you can change voter turnout goals, you can change which voters you are most trying to turn out, but you can't and shouldn't really try to court the votes of white supremacists. At best, you should simply have a political system in which white supremacist beliefs are unacceptable and they drop out of the process as had likely been the case, and at worst you always have enough non-white supremacists voting in all parties and in all elections to overcome any white supremacist voting block. But with the electoral college system, 70,000 unexpected votes or less, in the right places, can overcome millions of votes everywhere else.

The real goal then, for Democrats, or really, for everyone who doesn't want a system that can be swayed by well-placed fringe populations is election reform and despite that being the obvious solution to a Trump election (at least as the data stands now) it's not very politically attractive. And it calls for either a constitutional amendment or for a significant number of states to change how they allocate their electoral college votes (though, that's not actually binding.) and, given that Republicans can only win the Presidency for the foreseeable future if millions of voters in California can be nullified by thousands of voters in the Midwest, it is highly unlikely this will happen. Or, to put this another way, Republicans only stay in power because our electoral systems (sometimes in good ways but mostly in bad ways) dis-empower voters in urban centers.

The problem, of course, came because, in our rush to declare a winner, to have a headline, to fill in the map, we drew conclusions before all of the information was in. If the results were kept secret until all the votes were counted, the narrative of this election would have been a lot different. Instead of Clinton abandoning the white working class (whoever they are) or the “economic anxiety” of the rust belt (despite most people in exit polls believing Clinton superior on the economy), or the failure of “identity politics,” we would have always been talking about what this election actually is: a fluke of our outdated system. One that could be easily corrected—given Trump's obviously lack of qualifications for the job—with another feature of our outdated system. The real danger here, is that, too often, the first narrative sticks whether it is true or not (especially when it is advantageous for someone) and Democrats seem willing to act and react as though they were soundly defeated in this election.

In the near future, this tells me one thing about how Democrats should interact with the Trump administration. Given that Clinton won the popular vote, given that the electoral college results hinged on such a slim plurality, and given how Trump has conducted himself, before and after the election, Democrats should give him, his administration, and his policies as much respect as Republicans gave to President Obama. None. Fight every single one of his appointees from the cabinet on down. Use every procedural trick to delay, block, degrade, and prevent every policy the Republicans offer, even the ones that seem reasonable. Filibuster everything. Abuse it the way Republicans abused it. I mean, they hobbled the Supreme Court on purpose. There may not be a good lesson on how to win future elections to come out of this, but it is clear the Democrats need to fight as if they are saving America from a kleptocrat who sneaked into power on an obsolete technicality, because that is what happened.

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