Quick Pitch by Jerry Mileur, How Democrats Regroup
The Democrats lost the 2016 election because the party forgot who it was. For the past quarter century, the Northeastern and Far Western states have been reliably Democrat, states the party should win with minimal effort. Elections have turned on the states along the Ohio River and the Upper Mississippi, all of which, except for Illinois, require serious attention if the Democrats were to win.
Two things of note about these states. The first is NAFTA. Job losses from NAFTA have been around 40,000 a year and offset nationally over the Obama years by the creation of almost 200,000 job annually. Job losses to NAFTA, however, have not been distributed equally across the country, but have instead been heaviest in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan, precisely the states Trump took away from the Democrats in 2016.
The second point is that the population in all of the northern midwestern states along the Ohio and Upper Mississippi Rivers, except Illinois, are more than 80 percent white. The Democrat strategy from the outset targeted women, African Americans, and Hispanics, and had almost nothing to say to whites and especially to white males. The demographic revolution in our politics has not really touched these states, but in a way that only makes immigration a greater threat to them. It may be true that technology is the principal cause of job losses, but the Democrats made no attempt to carry that message to voters and had almost nothing to say to voters whose lives were diminished by job losses.
It is easy to cast the Trump vote as racist. It is also wrong. By largely ignoring voters experiencing economic stress and tactically focusing attention on other groups and other issues, the Democrats handed a large segment of the vote in these states to Trump whose populist campaign capitalized upon it. The Clinton campaign has only itself to blame for losing the presidency and, if the Democrats copy it in the future, their only hope for success will be that the Trump presidency crashes and burns. There are too many Republicans in Congress whose future lies in that not happening to make it likely to happen.
More than anything the Democrats need to remember that, in politics, "it's the economy, stupid," and that the best strategy is to speak to all Americans as Americans and not as a sub-sets of the whole.
Jerry Mileur is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at The University of Massachusetts at Amherst. His most recent book, "The Stars are Back; The St. Louis Cardinals, the Boston Red Sox, and Player Unrest in 1946" (Southern Illinois University Press, 2013) combines his love for baseball and politics.