Democrats know this. How could they not? Preppy hedge-fund executive Glenn Youngkin just took more than 70 percent of the vote in 45 rural counties in Virginia to nudge past Terry McAuliffe. That wasn’t because Youngkin was wildly charismatic or because Trump had endorsed him. It’s because blue-collar white voters believe Democrats are deeply hostile to them culturally, especially the progressive wing.
An old white guy from a blue-collar family with a reputation for being a moderate may well have been the only candidate Democrats could have nominated last year capable of beating Trump by holding down losses among working-class whites. The party sensed that too, which is why Biden consolidated non-progressives so quickly in last year’s primaries after he won South Carolina. I think Dems also sense that a black woman from California perceived as being further left than Biden himself would have a particularly hard time connecting with those same working-class whites, which partly explains (not wholly, just partly) why virtually everyone thinks Kamala 2024 is dead on arrival.
The problem for Democrats isn’t that they failed to grasp the point Maher’s making. The problem is that they thought they had the numbers to render it irrelevant. Between their steep majorities among the growing nonwhite population and their gains in the suburbs in 2018 and 2020, I think they assumed they could afford to cede rural whites to the GOP and still win. Then they watched Trump nearly get reelected by cutting into their margins with working-class nonwhite groups last fall. And then they watched Youngkin flip a Biden +10 state by peeling off formerly Democratic votes in the suburbs while running up Kim Jong-Un margins in the rural counties.
Now they’re in trouble and desperate for a candidate who can either blow the roof off among nonwhites and white suburbanites, neutralizing the GOP’s gigantic advantage in rural districts, or a candidate with enough rural appeal to cut into the GOP’s lead in those areas while not bleeding a critical amount of support among nonwhites and progressives. Is there a single figure in the party who fits that bill? If, say, Jon Tester ran for president, would the left tune out the election despite his track record of voting reliably Democratic on legislation?
You can see why some observers are already reaching out for dark-horse candidates like John Fetterman as a potential 2024 nominee to try to solve the Democrats’ problems. Fetterman is hard left on policy but in appearance he’s a white working-class stereotype — tall, burly, bald, confrontational. He might have the policy program needed to keep progressives enthused and the cultural bona fides to convince rural whites that he doesn’t disdain them. He gets them on some level, unlike virtually everyone else in his party.
Maher singles out the Squad in the clip below for voting no on the infrastructure bill as an example of Democrats being out of touch with what voters want, which is fair in one sense and unfair in another. Nearly the entire Democratic caucus voted for the bill, after all; it was Republicans who tried to block it, with 13 important exceptions. Which party was really out of touch? But Maher’s right inasmuch as the Squad’s no votes haven’t gone unnoticed by their own constituents, who are all for progressivism until it starts to get in the way of concrete improvements that their communities need.
Dwayne Murray, a high school basketball coach in [Squad member Jamaal] Bowman’s district, likes and supports his congressman after initially opposing him when he successfully unseated the area’s longtime congressman, Eliot Engel, in 2020.
But Murray told The Daily Beast that his initial reaction to the infrastructure vote was “disbelief.” His hometown of Mount Vernon—just outside New York City’s borders—has made national news for its dangerously decrepit wastewater infrastructure. The infrastructure bill, among other things, proposed $55 billion to fund water and sewer improvements.
“I was just completely flabbergasted that knowing what circumstances are with us, that he’d actually vote that way,” said Murray. “It said to me, and apparently a lot of other people, that idealism is more important than deliverables.”
“They’re going to be in a tough spot when the Department of Transportation announces a project in their district anytime in the next 10 years,” said one progressive congressional aide of the Squad to the Daily Beast, while praising them for having been so “brave.” But they weren’t brave. They had the luxury of voting no only because centrist Republicans provided the margin Pelosi needed to get to 218. If Republicans had walked away, AOC and the rest would have grudgingly voted yes.
Now those centrist Republicans are being pilloried for their votes on the right despite the fact that they did what the Squad declined to do, putting their communities’ interests over their party’s. That’s something to bear in mind as we watch Maher here, that neglecting one’s constituents is a partisan temptation, not a uniquely Democratic one.