An­drew Hacker

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The Great Align­ment: Race, Party Trans­for­ma­tion, and the Rise of Don­ald Trump by Alan I. Abramowitz

The Great Align­ment:

Race, Party Trans­for­ma­tion, and the Rise of Don­ald Trump by Alan I. Abramowitz.

Yale Univer­sity Press,

196 pp., $35.00


“I ex­pect a Demo­cratic land­slide in 2018,” Ge­orge Soros told an au­di­ence at Davos in Jan­uary.

His lis­ten­ers were ea­ger to agree.

There are some grounds for this fore­cast. Since the pres­i­dent’s early weeks in of­fice, his Gallup dis­ap­proval rat­ings have been con­sis­tently higher than the ap­proval fig­ures. The fact that Hil­lary Clin­ton won the pop­u­lar vote in 2016 by a mar­gin of 2,984,757 sug­gests that the Democrats have strength in num­bers. Mil­lions of Amer­i­cans have been stirred by sep­a­ra­tion of mi­grant fam­i­lies, ev­i­dence of pay­offs, and a host of other calami­ties, in­clud­ing Trump’s ap­par­ent ea­ger­ness to es­trange the United States from the rest of the world.

Yet at this point, it’s best not to be too con­fi­dent. Repub­li­cans know they are the na­tion’s sec­ond-largest party. They have lost the pop­u­lar vote in six of the last seven pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. This, how­ever, has mo­ti­vated them both to de­velop strate­gies for shrink­ing the Demo­cratic elec­torate and to con­sol­i­date their own sup­port­ers to an ex­tent the Democrats have not. That Repub­li­cans come to the polls more re­li­ably, and more of­ten vote for their party’s can­di­dates all the way down the ticket, will make some midterm races dif­fi­cult for the Democrats to win. In The Great Align­ment, Alan Abramowitz, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at Emory Univer­sity, of­fers a num­ber of in­sights into why Repub­li­cans might pre­vail again this year. To start, he ar­gues that they feel more in­tensely about is­sues, in­deed about pol­i­tics, than Democrats usu­ally do, which spurs them to turn out reg­u­larly. He also ex­plains that their sup­port doesn’t de­pend as much on Trump as is of­ten thought. Trump has his fans, but they are mostly the same stal­warts who ral­lied to both Bushes, John McCain, and Mitt Rom­ney. Abramowitz found a .907 cor­re­la­tion be­tween votes for Trump and Rom­ney, about as high as one can get. Ac­cord­ing to Pew’s exit polls, 93 per­cent of Trump’s sup­port­ers in 2016 were Repub­li­cans or Repub­li­can­lean­ing vot­ers who would prob­a­bly have turned out had Marco Ru­bio or John Ka­sich headed their ticket. For Democrats, Novem­ber will be a chance to cut away at the Repub­li­cans’ leg­isla­tive ma­jori­ties. In the House, the most vul­ner­a­ble GOP seats, at least on pa­per, are in twenty-three dis­tricts that Clin­ton car­ried in 2016. If all of them flip this fall, Democrats will need only two more for con­trol of the House. Even that won’t be easy, how­ever. In to­tal, Clin­ton drew 3,473,937 vot­ers in these dis­tricts. Yet 549,254 of them failed to sup­port Democrats run­ning for the House. This was once called “ticket split­ting” and seen as a sign of in­de­pen­dence by vot­ers who vote across party lines. But it’s also an in­dul­gence, one that kept Clin­ton’s ma­jor­ity from re­gain­ing the House for her party. Even as Clin­ton was win­ning votes for her­self na­tion­ally, 4,436,198 fewer Demo­cratic bal­lots were cast in House races, which must mean those vot­ers ei­ther chose a Repub­li­can or sim­ply skipped that line (see Ta­ble A). By con­trast, Repub­li­cans over­whelm­ingly voted du­ti­fully down the bal­lot. (The par­ties had sim­i­lar num­bers of un­con­tested seats.)

In the Se­nate, twenty-six Democrats or In­de­pen­dents who cau­cus with Democrats are seek­ing re­elec­tion this year, in con­trast to only nine Repub­li­cans. A first step to­ward their tak­ing con­trol of the cham­ber would be to de­feat Repub­li­can can­di­dates in Ari­zona and Ne­vada, which is pos­si­ble. A far more dif­fi­cult task is that all twenty-six Democrats (or In­de­pen­dents) must keep their seats—and ten of them are run­ning in states that Clin­ton man­aged to lose. In 2012, when these sen­a­tors were last elected, they proved that their states could as­sem­ble Demo­cratic ma­jori­ties. But now they face midterm elec­tions, when fewer peo­ple, es­pe­cially Democrats, are usu­ally mo­ti­vated to vote. In the last such cy­cle in 2014, tak­ing the ten states to­gether, 11,292,503 Repub­li­cans turned out, while only 8,841,970 Democrats did. Not sur­pris­ingly, Repub­li­cans won across the bal­lot.

To be sure, in­cum­bency of­ten helps can­di­dates keep their seats. More im­por­tant is whether Demo­cratic vot­ers will over­come their his­tor­i­cal midterm in­sou­ciance. This is cru­cial not least be­cause in the Se­nate, with two seats per state, the GOP has in re­cent years had a ma­jor­ity out of pro­por­tion to the pop­u­lar sup­port it en­joys. I added up all the votes cast in 2012, 2014, and 2016 (plus a 2017 spe­cial elec­tion) that gave the cur­rent fifty-one Repub­li­cans and forty-nine Democrats their seats. These fig­ures can tell us, for ex­am­ple, how many back­home vot­ers sup­ported each party on De­cem­ber’s tax bill. By my count, the fifty-one Repub­li­can sen­a­tors spoke for only 41 per­cent of the vot­ers who chose that body. The forty-nine Democrats, who lost on the roll call, were speak­ing for 59 per­cent. To tilt the Se­nate this fall, Democrats may need an even higher pop­u­lar mar­gin than that. If Democrats can cap­ture only one wing of Capi­tol Hill, they should con­cen­trate their re­sources on the Se­nate. The rea­son is sim­ple: to avert the prospect of a solidly Repub­li­can Supreme Court, which will up­end the na­tion for at least a gen­er­a­tion. I’ve used a party des­ig­na­tion, rather than the cus­tom­ary “con­ser­va­tive,” be­cause I’m per­suaded by Abramowitz when he writes that “the jus­tices now di­vide along party lines on ma­jor cases with greater fre­quency than at any time in decades.” Trump will have two years to name new jus­tices—and af­ter An­thony Kennedy is re­placed, two more va­can­cies are en­tirely pos­si­ble, since Ruth Bader Gins­burg is eighty-five and Stephen Breyer is sev­enty-nine—and a Repub­li­can Se­nate would likely con­firm Trump’s nom­i­nees with alacrity. There’s no doubt that all of them will be re­li­able con­ser­va­tives in the mold of Neil Gor­such. Democrats should hope to avoid this out­come at all costs. Clarence Thomas, now sev­enty, may also find it ex­pe­di­ent to re­tire while Trump is in of­fice, sure that his sim­u­lacrum is on a list of pos­si­ble nom­i­nees.


The pool of pos­si­ble Demo­cratic vot­ers is eas­ily mea­sured: it con­sists of the Amer­i­cans who lined up for Barack Obama in 2008, show­ing a dis­po­si­tion to­ward the party, and to­ward a new kind of can­di­date. Fac­tor­ing in growth of the elec­torate, that pha­lanx would have 75,128,851 adults to­day. But Clin­ton’s to­tal vote count, again ad­justed to ac­count for the growth of the elec­torate, was equiv­a­lent to 9,275,129 less than that of Obama’s first bid. Rel­a­tively few in that deficit were de­fec­tors to Trump. More per­ti­nently, the Co­op­er­a­tive Con­gres­sional Elec­tion

Sur­vey found 1,456,774 Bernie San­ders sup­port­ers who voted for third par­ties or stayed at home. Had those sup­port­ers re­sid­ing in Wis­con­sin, Michi­gan, and Penn­syl­va­nia cho­sen Clin­ton, she would have won those states’ elec­toral votes. This sug­gests that among at least some Democrats, party loy­alty doesn’t run very deep.

Just as strik­ing, the Repub­li­can col­umn shows only a 1,821,140 short­fall from McCain to Trump—a 97 per­cent party loy­alty rate. The drop from Rom­ney in 2012 to Trump in 2016 to­taled only 142,904, a minute frac­tion of the 3,067,914-vote gulf be­tween Clin­ton’s to­tal and Obama’s four years ear­lier. Even though most Repub­li­cans sup­ported some­one other than Trump in the pri­maries, the num­bers af­firm that they over­whelm­ingly showed up for him in the fall. It’s hard to find stronger ev­i­dence of party fealty.

Re­cent midterms tell a sim­i­lar story. Slightly less than half of 2012’s Demo­cratic vot­ers did not vote in 2014. This non­cha­lance on the part of the 33,022,234 who stayed at home is not eas­ily fath­omed. But at least a few were de­terred by ob­struc­tive mea­sures, no­tably in Repub­li­can states, that set high hur­dles, such as govern­ment-is­sued IDs, for cast­ing bal­lots. True, not all of Rom­ney’s sup­port­ers voted in 2014. But close to two thirds of them did, giv­ing con­trol of Capi­tol Hill to their party, which re­tains it.

The ten spe­cial elec­tions that have been held since 2016, to fill nine House va­can­cies and one in the Se­nate, also bear out this con­cern. Democrats lost eight of them (see Ta­ble B). A com­mon so­lace has been that at least the losers fared bet­ter than Democrats or­di­nar­ily do in these dis­tricts, im­ply­ing that the de­feats were to be ex­pected—an at­ti­tude borne out by cov­er­age such as CNBC’s up­beat de­pic­tion of them as “a string of re­sults in which Democrats beat their 2016 per­for­mance.” Closer study of the fig­ures, how­ever, has con­vinced me that, apart from Utah, seven of the losses weren’t in­evitable. In the Kansas dis­trict, for in­stance, 90,541 of its con­stituents had voted for Clin­ton. Yet only 56,435 of them turned out for the spe­cial elec­tion, where the Repub­li­can edged in by a 7,609 mar­gin. That wouldn’t have oc­curred had just 7,610 of the 34,106 Demo­cratic non­vot­ers come through.

There were sim­i­lar sto­ries in Ge­or­gia and Ari­zona. More wor­ri­some were South Carolina and Texas, where fully 76,315 and 71,390 of the dis­tricts’ Clin­ton vot­ers stayed at home. Mon­tana is de­cid­edly a two-party state. Its cur­rent Demo­cratic se­na­tor won in 2012, and its Demo­cratic gover­nor was re­elected in 2016, both with re­spectable ma­jori­ties. Nor will it do to ar­gue that some Demo­cratic can­di­dates were un­ap­peal­ing, or, as in Ge­or­gia, new­com­ers to their dis­trict. In Ari­zona, the Democrats fielded a novice politi­cian, Dr. Hi­ral Tipir­neni, against Deb­bie Lesko, a well-known state se­na­tor. In Mon­tana, their House con­tender was a debt-rid­den, septuagenarian blue­grass singer, Rob Quist, whose op­po­nent, Greg Gian­forte, was charged with as­sault­ing a jour­nal­ist. Yet Repub­li­cans sup­port their can­di­dates re­gard­less of their lack of ex­pe­ri­ence or per­sonal short­com­ings. If Democrats want to win elec­tions, they may have to sim­i­larly mod­ify their stan­dards for their own can­di­dates. That said, Ta­ble B has some good news for Democrats: the po­ten­tial votes are there, even in Repub­li­can ter­rain. In the Penn­syl­va­nia dis­trict, which Repub­li­cans car­ried by twenty points in 2016, a young, en­er­getic, and hugely out­spent Demo­crat, Conor Lamb, squeaked in by 627 votes. But it wasn’t a solo act; fully 80 per­cent of Clin­ton vot­ers turned out for him. With those num­bers, even Repub­li­can re­li­a­bil­ity can be over­come. Lamb proved that deeper pock­ets needn’t turn the tide. Bill­boards, TV spots, In­ter­net ban­ners, even paid callers read­ing from scripts are no match for vot­ers who start feel­ing that an elec­tion is worth their time.1 The vic­tory in Alabama’s Se­nate race was a spe­cial case, since the Repub­li­can can­di­date, Roy Moore, was such a pariah. Still, Doug Jones’s win was his party’s first in statewide elec­tions for Fed­eral of­fice in twenty-five years. An in­cred­i­ble 92 per­cent of Clin­ton vot­ers came out for him, while only 49 per­cent of Repub­li­cans showed up for Moore. There’s never been a race where so many Repub­li­cans—684,668 by my count—sat it out.

The sources of Jones’s strength can be in­ferred from the exit polls, which re­vealed that his prin­ci­pal bloc was 375,484 black Alaba­mans, who were joined by 267,047 whites. No other statewide con­test, in any re­gion, has had any­thing like this racial break­down. It should also be noted that al­most 70 per­cent of whites voted for Moore. That Jones’s win was solidly due to black vot­ers is a land­mark. But it was also an anom­aly. Af­ter all, this is a state that gave Jeff Ses­sions 63 per­cent of its votes in his last con­tested elec­tion. 3. The prob­lem is not only that Democrats show too lit­tle en­thu­si­asm for vot­ing. It is also that Repub­li­cans dis­play lit­tle de­vo­tion to the idea of a univer­sal fran­chise. In re­cent years they have un­der­taken strate­gies for voter sup­pres­sion, es­pe­cially tar­get­ing ac­tive or in­cip­i­ent Democrats. One tac­tic by Repub­li­can govern­ment of­fi­cials is to pre­serve laws deny­ing the bal­lot to cit­i­zens with past con­vic­tions. Ac­cord­ing to the Sen­tenc­ing Project, more than six mil­lion adult Amer­i­cans are barred from vot­ing due to felony records. In Ken­tucky and Mis­sis­sippi, for in­stance, one in eleven res­i­dents lack full cit­i­zen­ship.2 Repub­li­can law­mak­ers think they know how most of them would vote.

A newer tac­tic has been to cull reg­is­tra­tion rolls, os­ten­si­bly to re­move peo­ple who have moved or died. Repub­li­can of­fi­cials in Ohio pi­o­neered the prac­tice, send­ing non­de­script post­cards to vot­ers that had missed re­cent elec­tions—some were veter­ans who had not voted while on tours of duty, and a dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­ber were low­in­come vot­ers and racial mi­nori­ties— with pre­paid re­turn cards ask­ing them to con­firm their ad­dress. Need­less to say, these were mostly se+nt in Demo­cratic wards, and as ex­pected, many cards weren’t re­turned, and those vot­ers were re­moved from the vot­ing rolls. A Reuters study of the coun­ties con­tain­ing Cleve­land, Colum­bus, and Cincin­nati lo­cated some 144,000 cit­i­zens who had had their reg­is­tra­tions ex­punged. When obliv­i­ous cit­i­zens showed up to the polls, their bal­lots were set aside and ex­cluded from the ini­tial count. In mid-June, the five Repub­li­can mem­bers of the Supreme Court up­held the prac­tice—set­ting a trou­bling prece­dent for fu­ture at­tacks on the fran­chise. A bet­ter-known prac­tice is to de­mand that vot­ers show an of­fi­cial iden­ti­fi­ca­tion doc­u­ment. The re­quire­ment is most of­ten for a driver’s li­cense, based on the aware­ness that fewer Democrats than Repub­li­cans have one. In 2016, the De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion cal­cu­lated that 16 mil­lion adults don’t drive, in­clud­ing 17 per­cent of adults in Ge­or­gia and 22 per­cent in Ok­la­homa. Al­though such states will is­sue a standin card, get­ting one re­quires find­ing a mo­tor ve­hi­cles of­fice, hav­ing a pic­ture taken, and fil­ing a lengthy form. In Wis­con­sin, where 419,116 adults lack li­censes, non­drivers who want to vote must give their weight, eye color, and So­cial Se­cu­rity num­ber. Repub­li­cans wouldn’t pur­sue all these reg­u­la­tions if they didn’t think they were ef­fec­tive. It’s likely they keep at least some vot­ers from the polls. In 2016, Trump won Wis­con­sin by 22,748 votes.

Then there is the mat­ter of ger­ry­man­der­ing. As Michael To­masky has noted in these pages, the chief ob­sta­cle to shift­ing the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives is its dis­trict maps.3 In 2012, Democrats gar­nered more House votes na­tion­wide, but came away with only 201 of the cham­ber’s 435 seats. Com­put­er­ized car­tog­ra­phers now de­cide dis­trict lines—a process that can be ex­ploited by the party in con­trol of the state leg­is­la­ture. One tech­nique used by Repub­li­cans in sev­eral states has been to re­draw the lines to con­cen­trate likely Democrats in a few dis­tricts, so their votes can’t be de­ployed in com­pet­i­tive races. In North Carolina in 2016, al­go­rithms en­sured that 86 per­cent of Repub­li­cans ended up sup­port­ing a win­ner, while only 35 per­cent of Democrats did. To­masky cites a Bren­nan Cen­ter anal­y­sis con-

clud­ing that Democrats “would need a near record 11-point na­tional mar­gin” to come out just one seat ahead in the House. That was last achieved in 1964, when Lyn­don John­son routed Barry Gold­wa­ter. In June, the Supreme Court post­poned de­cid­ing ger­ry­man­der­ing cases from Wis­con­sin, Mary­land, and North Carolina. But dur­ing oral ar­gu­ment, sev­eral jus­tices ex­pressed un­ease over be­ing asked to as­sess ac­tual or pos­si­ble maps. In Penn­syl­va­nia, the state’s supreme court gave that task to a Stan­ford law pro­fes­sor.

4. On a scale that gauged the in­ten­sity of po­lit­i­cal views, Abramowitz found that Repub­li­cans scored 82 per­cent higher than Democrats. A higher pro­por­tion of GOP vot­ers know pre­cisely where they stand on is­sues like abor­tion, guns, and im­mi­gra­tion. Democrats of­ten need whole para­graphs to spell out their po­si­tions on, say, for­eign trade, fos­sil fu­els, or in­come in­equal­ity. I asked sub­scribers to sev­eral Repub­li­can web­sites to tell me what drew them to the party. In short or­der, I re­ceived over a thou­sand replies, from terse to ex­pan­sive. There were rit­ual al­lu­sions to lim­ited govern­ment and sel­f­re­liance. But by far the most re­cur­rent were firearms and abor­tion. There’s also a third rea­son, one that barely a hand­ful of my re­spon­dents ad­mit­ted to. Here’s one who did: “They are the only party look­ing out for white Amer­ica.” These three is­sues, Repub­li­cans have found, are the ones that drive their vot­ers most re­li­ably to the polls. They were in­stru­men­tal in 2010 and 2014, and there is ev­ery rea­son to think they will be so again this fall.

At the first GOP con­ven­tion af­ter the 1973 Roe v. Wade de­ci­sion, with Nixon’s down­fall and the ac­ces­sion of the hap­less Ger­ald Ford, the party was ner­vous about its wan­ing base. Se­na­tor Jesse Helms of North Carolina, al­ways alert to a di­vi­sive is­sue, sug­gested tak­ing a stance on abor­tion. Catholics, who had long op­posed such tac­tics, were al­ready be­ing courted with ap­peals to “white eth­nics.” An anti-abor­tion plank was read­ily added. Evan­gel­i­cals had been per­mis­sive on the pro­ce­dure into the early 1970s, as the his­to­rian R. Marie Grif­fith deftly shows in her re­cent book Moral Com­bat.4 But that changed once Roe was ap­plied na­tion­wide, and Repub­li­cans saw a chance to pick up more of the evan­gel­i­cal vote.

Since 1976, ev­ery GOP plat­form has de­manded a broad ban on abor­tion, ide­ally en­shrined in the Con­sti­tu­tion. A Pew sur­vey last year found that 65 per­cent of Repub­li­cans want the pro­ce­dure to be made il­le­gal in all or most cases, while only 22 per­cent of Democrats do. What the fig­ures can­not con­vey is the fer­vor that Repub­li­cans bring to the is­sue. Many told me it comes first for them in judg­ing can­di­dates. The Democrats have so far not man­aged to mo­bi­lize such a large and im­pas­sioned body of sin­gle-is­sue vot­ers around the de­fense of the right to choose. With Trump’s ap­point­ments, a ju­di­cial volte­face is more likely than ever; it re­mains to be seen how much this prospect will im­pel peo­ple to the polls. And Roe v. Wade will not be on the bal­lots for House and Se­nate seats. Vot­ers will have to do their own re­search on where can­di­dates stand, plus how to re­act to Democrats who may take am­bigu­ous po­si­tions.

Nor, per­haps un­til now, had Democrats been able to mo­bi­lize around the is­sue of gun con­trol. In De­cem­ber 2017, CBS asked a sam­ple of Amer­i­cans how they felt about firearms. Par­ti­san lines were pro­nounced. Sev­enty-one per­cent of Repub­li­cans called pos­ses­sion a “vi­tal” right, while only 24 per­cent of Democrats did. Six times as many Repub­li­cans as Democrats said the coun­try would be safer if more cit­i­zens had guns, and eight times as many said that the Sec­ond Amend­ment is “part of what makes the coun­try great.”

Since 1968, Repub­li­can plat­forms have af­firmed the right “to col­lect, own, and use firearms.” The party’s most sweep­ing vic­tory came in a 2008 Supreme Court de­ci­sion, when its Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity sanc­tioned close to univer­sal pos­ses­sion. Clarence Thomas, in an an­i­mated opin­ion in Dis­trict of Co­lum­bia v. Heller (2008), noted that “roughly five mil­lion Amer­i­cans own AR-style semi­au­to­matic ri­fles.” There are now closer to eight mil­lion in cir­cu­la­tion. He added that they “do so for law­ful pur­poses, in­clud­ing self-de­fense and tar­get shoot­ing.” He omit­ted that ARs are mil­i­tary weapons, primed for rapid fire. Rather, they are fa­vored for mass mur­der— AR-15s were used by the mass shoot­ers in New­town, Aurora, San Bernardino, Suther­land Springs, and Park­land. Over half of Repub­li­cans told CBS that shoot­ings “are some­thing we have to ac­cept as part of a free so­ci­ety.”

But gun con­trol has be­come a flash­point for a new gen­er­a­tion of Democrats re­act­ing to Park­land and the mount­ing pat­tern of school shoot­ings. Get­ting young peo­ple reg­is­tered to vote is a clear first step. But the midterms won’t have fa­mil­iar names like Obama or Trump head­ing the bal­lots. So a col­lege sopho­more in Florida’s Sev­enth Dis­trict may need to be told to look on the bal­lot for Stephanie Mur­phy, who is de­fend­ing a vul­ner­a­ble seat, or in Cal­i­for­nia’s Tenth to search for Josh Hard­ner, who is tak­ing on a Repub­li­can in­cum­bent.

5. Fi­nally, there is the ques­tion of racial iden­tity. Since the early days of the New Deal, the GOP has been over­whelm­ingly Cau­casian. Amer­i­cans who view them­selves as white have av­er­aged 87 per­cent of its turnout in re­cent elec­tions; most of the rest have been His­pan­ics who also iden­tify them­selves as white. “The po­lit­i­cal­iza­tion of racial re­sent­ment among white vot­ers,” Abramowitz re­minds his read­ers, “be­gan well be­fore 2016.” It dates back at least to Nixon’s “South­ern strat­egy” and its adop­tion na­tion­wide. Un­like abor­tion and guns, white dis­quiet hasn’t been ex­plicit in party plat­forms and man­i­festos, al­though al­lu­sions to drugs, ur­ban crime, and ter­ror­ists all carry racial con­no­ta­tions and play on the anx­i­eties of many whites.

Ev­ery so of­ten, a sur­vey ques­tion un­cov­ers ap­pre­hen­sions that usu­ally stay un­der wraps. The Pub­lic Re­li­gion Re­search In­sti­tute put a state­ment be­fore a sam­ple of white Amer­i­cans and parsed the re­sponses by party af­fil­i­a­tions.5 The par­ti­san di­vide was strik­ing. Sev­enty-three per­cent of Repub­li­cans agree with the po­si­tion that “dis­crim­i­na­tion against whites has be­come as big a prob­lem as dis­crim­i­na­tion against blacks and other mi­nori­ties” (my ital­ics). Only 30 per­cent of Democrats be­lieved this. In other words, close to three quar­ters of an es­tab­lished party feel they en­dure so­cial in­equities on a par with a her­itage of bondage.

To be white in Amer­ica has been to pos­sess a sub­stan­tial as­set. Re­cent Repub­li­can id­ioms, such as Trump’s ref­er­ences to “shit­hole coun­tries” and “il­le­gals,” and his im­pugn­ing the pa­tri­o­tism of black ath­letes, in­ti­mate that white­ness has been de­val­ued—first by civil rights ad­vances and now by im­mi­grants, es­pe­cially those with darker com­plex­ions. So the party casts it­self as a refuge for a be­sieged race. Repub­li­can donors have long fi­nanced law­suits by white peo­ple who felt they had lost a po­si­tion or pro­mo­tion to some­one of an­other cul­ture or color, like Al­lan Bakke and Abi­gail Fisher, who sued col­leges on the grounds that their ad­mis­sions ap­pli­ca­tions were re­jected due to af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion.

The sur­vey found that race doesn’t loom as large for white Democrats. Ap­par­ently more of them have adapted to a mul­tira­cial na­tion, as well as to a di­verse party. At their 2016 con­ven­tion, a quar­ter of the del­e­gates were black, twice their share of the pop­u­la­tion. (Repub­li­cans man­aged to at­tract just eigh­teen black del­e­gates, not even one per­cent.) Many Democrats are com­mit­ted to racial jus­tice and a di­verse so­ci­ety, of­ten on a philo­soph­i­cal level. Repub­li­can feel­ings about race tend to be more fer­vid, of­ten with un­der­tones of fear or de­spair. In Novem­ber 2006, half­way into Ge­orge W. Bush’s sec­ond term, 42,082,311 Democrats took the time and trou­ble to vote, well out­match­ing 35,674,808 Repub­li­cans. Both cham­bers of Con­gress changed to Demo­cratic con­trol, pre­sag­ing Barack Obama’s sweep in the next cy­cle. Can this turnout be re­peated? It was gen­er­ally agreed that what spurred peo­ple to the polls in 2006 was out­rage over the morass in Iraq. Democrats have no less rea­son for out­rage this year. Repub­li­cans will point to low unem­ploy­ment, tax cuts, and Trump’s ges­tures on North Korea to jus­tify keep­ing Con­gress in their hands. But there are plenty of is­sues to rouse en­ergy on the Demo­cratic side. In­sen­si­tiv­ity, cu­pid­ity, and cru­elty are hall­marks of the Repub­li­can en­ter­prise, and they come now from a ter­ri­fy­ing fig­ure with­out prece­dent in Amer­i­can pub­lic life.

The ques­tion is whether Democrats will be able to chan­nel that out­rage into sup­port for some­times lit­tle-known state and lo­cal can­di­dates, some of whom will veer to­ward the cen­ter. The two cham­bers on Capi­tol Hill will stand a chance of shift­ing only if hith­erto un­in­volved vot­ers are will­ing to turn out for what­ever Democrats are on their bal­lots. So if there is drench­ing rain across the coun­try on Novem­ber 6, the fu­ture of the na­tion may turn on how many cit­i­zens deem it more im­por­tant to stay dry.

Protesters in front of the White House, Au­gust 2018

Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez cel­e­brat­ing with her cam­paign staff af­ter de­feat­ing in­cum­bent New York City con­gress­man Joe Crow­ley in the Demo­cratic pri­mary, June 2018

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