Monday, February 10, 2020

On White Daddy and Electability, Again

When you think about it, a white male Democrat hasn't won a US presidential election since Bill Clinton did in 1996, a quarter century ago.

At the same time, polling data from the past year or so consistently have white men - specifically Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders - as performing better against Trump in 2020 general election matchups than do the candidates who are women and/or people of color. Here's one sample poll from early February 2020, for instance, from Real Clear Politics:

General Election Poll vs. Trump, 2/2/20: Biden +6, Sanders +4, Warren +3, Buttigieg +1
Interestingly, the numbers for Trump tend to stay about the same no matter who he's matched up against. It's voters for the Democratic candidate who tend to peel away the further away from "cishet white man" the Democratic candidate is. Some polls, for instance, even show billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who entered the race relatively recently, doing about the same as Joe Biden.

Another data point is that historical polling data from February 2016 shows that Hillary Clinton was polling at about where Joe Biden currently is polling versus Trump. In fact - unlike Biden or any other 2020 candidate - she regularly had a double-digit advantage on Trump at around this point in the campaign. Current numbers, of course, are also before Trump and the Republicans really start going after the nominee. Although I'm sure their efforts to cause chaos and in-fighting are already well underway, we can expect such things to amp up after the Democratic National Convention when they can really solidify around different narratives and attacks on the nominee.

All of these factoids together concern me for our 2020 prospects.

Hillary Clinton bested Trump in the 2016 popular vote by literal millions of votes, of course, and Trump squeaked out an electoral college win in swing states after a, to put it mildly, clusterfucked cascade of colliding factors worked against her. The thinking this time around is that Bernie or Biden or, I guess, Bloomberg would be able to win at least some of the swing states that Clinton lost, a premise that seems to rest largely on the usually-unstated assumption that these men would win because they are white men.

Yes, I know other reasons are put forth as to why these men would win, and they usually involve some variation on the narrative that, unlike the fine specimens of politicians that these white men are, Hillary Clinton was History's Worst Candidate Ever.  As white male politicians such as Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and even Martin O'Malley (yes really) looked around the post-2016-election aftermath and thought the world needed their gloat-bragging that they could have done what "the woman" didn't do, they helped write into existence the pervasive narrative that the USA was in dire need of White Daddy to come to the rescue.

Now, I don't think it's even necessarily sexist to point out that much of the electorate has bought into the sexist hype around the dire need for a white male candidate "because of everyone else's bigotry." What was largely lost in the national discourse, if one can call it that, around whether Bernie Sanders actually told Elizabeth Warren that he thought a woman couldn't win the presidency, is that a presidential contest is not like a one-on-one chess game. It's a popularity context, the results of which are an expression of millions of voters' prejudices, hopes, dreams, fears, and countless factors outside of the control of the candidates themselves.

That supposed frontrunner Joe Biden, who would perform catastrophically in a debate against Trump anyway, is treating the match-up like a boxing match and, like most 2020 candidates, has yet to acknowledge everything Clinton was up against, demonstrates primarily that he is not anywhere near equipped to face the challenges of the general election that are yet to come.

Trump is unquestionably so terrible that I think many people and institutional powers are circularly settling for mediocre candidates who don't, actually, have a great chance at beating Trump because they "reason" that "everyone else" is settling for these candidates because these are the only candidates who can win.

Or, they felt deeply threatened by Clinton's near-win in 2016 and so are implicitly or explicitly demanding consolidation around certain white male candidates. We are, I believe, still experiencing the fallout of a 2016 election cycle that was deeply misogynistic across the political spectrum and in which, in true American form, many people demanded everyone immediately stop "relitigating" (ie, processing, analyzing, writing about).

And so, here we are, with many of the same issues cropping up. That one of the major players in the 2016 Democratic Primary decided to run again while the other was largely told to go knit in the woods for the rest of her days hasn't helped the situation.

But, such is life, here in the backlash.

On the Bernie front, I think hardcore Bernie supporters, many of whom operate in a rhetorical environment as though Republicans simply don't exist, are in serious denial about how he would fare against Trump/Republican attacks against him and "radical socialism." In the recent Iowa Caucus, Bernie halved his support in the state after 5+ years of campaigning for president and ended up essentially tied with the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana that no one had heard of a year ago.

My strategy for 2020 is therefore to vote for the candidate whose policies I most agree with and who I think would be most effective as president. For me, that person is Elizabeth Warren. If that person, for you, is Biden or Bernie, more power to you. But, if you're only supporting certain candidates because you think a white man is the "safer" candidate against Trump, I think that's questionable logic.

No candidate is a safe one in this age of propaganda, disinformation, and foreign collusion. Certain candidates have been granted a huge assist from the hype about white male electability, but none of that has accounted for all of the additional noise that exists in our current political landscape.

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