Saturday, November 12, 2016

Small Town Blues

I was expecting to do an autopsy on the Republicans, but now I find myself looking at the corpse of the Democratic party.  How could things go so wrong when all the major polls pointed their way in the final days?

Probably Hillary's biggest mistake was drawing on celebrity endorsements to carry her to victory.  She had Jay Z and Beyonce lighting up the stage for her in Cleveland.  She had the Boss in Philadelphia.  Lady Gaga introduced her in Charlotte.  Madonna staged a last-minute rally for her in New York.  It seemed like all the stars were aligning for her.  Even the President and First Lady were on hand to give her their seal of approval Monday night in Philly.

Much of this was gauged to bring the black vote out in inner cities, but it seemed to do the reverse with rural and suburban white voters standing in long lines on election day to cast their ballots.  It was painful to watch John King scroll up a bigger picture of Milwaukee looking to see if there were any votes left in this urban center that might tilt Wisconsin her way.  He even called Clinton HQ to see if they had a more up to date vote count.  There simply weren't enough votes left to overcome a 20,000 vote deficit.

The single biggest mistake the Democratic Party made was to cede Small Town America to the Republicans.  They ignored the large swatches of red, sure that those little islands of blue held enough votes to offset the rural vote.  After all, it worked for Obama twice, why not Hillary this time around?

One of the things that made the Bernie campaign go was that it ventured into every corner of the political map.  It knew it had to draw small town votes to offset Hillary's clout in major cities.  He had a grass roots network second to none, which would have been happy to mobilize voters for Hillary if only she had asked.  Instead, her arrogant campaign team led by John Podesta played this election by the numbers and ultimately got burned.

The Democratic Party used to represent the small guy, but over time the party has become entrenched and relies more and more on urban voters to carry elections.  After resounding losses at the state and Congressional level in 2010 and '14 you would think they would change their strategy.  Look to the red counties and see if there are any openings.  After all, there were plenty of blue collar folks upset with their Republican local and state officials over the stagnation of small town America.  But, the Democratic Party turned a cold shoulder, giving these areas up because there were just too many to justify a concerted effort.

It was close in Iowa at one point, but Hillary hardly set foot in the state after the primaries, and once Iowans got over their initial distaste they became Trumpkins like so many other rural folks because at least he made the effort to appeal to them.  In Florida, Trump hopped all over the state, while Hillary concentrated her efforts in the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale area, figuring this was enough to carry the state.  Her campaign call in North Carolina was Charlotte.  What appeared like a comical side trip in Minneapolis, nearly carried the state for Trump.

Of course, none of it makes much sense if you try to analyze it in any depth.  Failed Republican governments are largely responsible for the decline of Middle America.  Wisconsin is a basket case after 6 years of Scott Walker, but thanks to voter suppression legislation and a visceral contempt for establishment, cheeseheads decided to go for Trump, who himself skipped out on the state the last weekend.

One of the major problems with a presidential election year is that all these folks look to the top of the ticket rather than their own local and state candidates.  They let themselves get easily taken by sloganeering because they see the national election as a spectator sport.  It all comes down to who can come up with the best zingers, and Donald delivered them in shovel fulls.  Hillary stumbled each in every time to drive one of her slogans home.  Listen to her draw from Jay Z in Cleveland. Talk about curbing your enthusiasm.

If nothing else, Hillary should have laid out her vision from the start, talked up re-energizing Middle America.  She didn't necessarily have to go to these small towns personally.  She could have used surrogates.  Bernie should have been the go-to guy here but we hardly heard a peep out of him in the general election.  Hillary was contented to let John Podesta crunch out the numbers, believing he had a blue firewall in the Upper Midwest that would offset Ohio, which quickly turned red after it got over Trump's blatant misogyny.

The only problem with this math is that all these cities are in decline.  Population has dropped substantially in Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburgh.  Former industrial cities have been drying up for decades.  It was only a matter of time before the small town vote would outweigh the big city vote, but Podesta was undeterred.  He stuck with the same game plan that carried Obama to victory, believing there were enough votes in urban centers to carry the day.

What next disheartened Democrats?  Crying isn't going to help.  It only makes us look like a bunch of pussies.  Time to pull up our sleeves and get dirty.  It isn't likely the situation is going to get any better in these Midwestern states under Trump, so now is our chance to go back out to the small towns and farm regions and reclaim these folks.  Dismissing them as uneducated voters sure as hell didn't work.  Time for Plan B.  Talk to people!

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