In his Monday column at the New York Times, Paul Krugman said:
These days, America starts from a baseline of extreme tribalism: 47 or 48 percent of the electorate will vote for any Republican, no matter how terrible, and against any Democrat, no matter how good. This means, in turn, that small things — journalists acting like mean kids in high school, ganging up on candidates they consider uncool, events that suggest fresh scandal even when there’s nothing there — can tip the balance in favor of even the worst candidate imaginable.
He’s not alone. This is the explanation most elite media types will give for Trump’s victory, and it’s the one the neoliberal’s in the Democratic Party cling to. It’s also the reason the Democrats are unlikely to get the House or Senate back unless Trump, McConnell, Ryan and the rest of the Republicans do something so crazy that they sabotage themselves. With their latest health “care” gambit they may be in the process of doing just that.
But even if they do, and Democrats get one or both of the Houses back, it’s not the same as getting a mandate for reform. Getting elected because the other guy or gal is so abhorrent that even the crazies couldn’t bring themselves to vote for them is not the same as getting elected because you managed to sell your agenda.
"Getting elected because the other guy or gal is so abhorrent that even the crazies couldn’t bring themselves to vote for them is not the same as getting elected because you managed to sell your agenda."
And therein lies the problem. Democrats have no agenda, and they have no agenda because they believe the myth that the Party’s neoliberals, Krugman, Fareed Zakara, and many others of the elite media are spewing: that America is a closely divided nation that is center-right politically.
Let’s unpack Krugman’s statement.
We can start with his contention that “47 or 48 percent of the electorate will vote for any Republican …” no matter how terrible and against any Democrat no matter how good. Well, this is flat out wrong. First of all, less than 25 percent of Americans identify as Republican. Second of all, Trump won with only 26.1 percent of eligible voters. Third of all, total turnout has been in the 50 to 55 percent range for four decades now (with one exception – 2008, when a little over 58 percent turned out).
This means that 45 to 50 percent of eligible voters don’t turn out. The majority of these no-shows—43 percent of eligible voters—are independents. And these independents may lean Republican or Democrat, but they are not die-hards who give their vote to one Party or another automatically. In fact, a poll by Pew found that they are motivated not by loyalty to the Party they lean toward so much as hostility to the other Party’s ideas, and the majority of independents lean Democrat. Finally, the majority of Americans lean liberal on an issue-by-issue basis.
So, Krugman’s hardcore crazies who will vote for a Republican “no matter how terrible” and against a Democrat do not make up 47 to 48 percent of the electorate, they make up a small minority of potential voters of about 25 percent. Again, Krugman is not alone in seeing the political landscape as a closely divided world in which the scales can be tipped by small things like “… journalists acting like mean kids in high school … even when there’s nothing there.”
Here’s the problem with that view. It allows neoliberal Democrats to ignore the fact that it is their policies that have caused them to lose. They believe that little things can tip the balance, so Hillary’s loss, or the loss of the Senate, the House, and the vast majority of state governorships and legislatures is not a result of their failure to actually represent the voters’ interests over their donors, or their backing of Wall Street over Main Street, or their refusal to embrace progressive policies supported by the majority of potential voters—rather it is just little things that tipped the balance.
And as long as that scapegoat is allowed to exist, then the neoliberals will not change. Oh, they’ll try to create the appearance of change with gimmicks like their “Better Deal,” campaign. But at the end of the day, money will still talk, the voters will still walk, and too many crazies will still get elected.