It’s Harry Enten, a smart guy whose statistical pieces on elections for FiveThirtyEight and CNN I’ve linked many times. This segment has caught the attention of, among others, Newsweek, Breitbart, and Mediaite, where Colby Hall writes of Enten, “he likely is about to get some unwanted attention from conservatives and Men’s Rights activists who will take issue with his assessment of who will be the most electable Democratic candidates in the 2020 race for the White House.”
Here’s Newsweek’s transcript of what Enten had to say in his “power rankings” segment for CNN today. Show of hands — and hold them high, because I want to know where the idiots are: Who doesn’t think this is an accurate assessment of the racial dynamics in the coming Democratic primary?
“If you want to win in the Midwest, there may not be a better man than this guy,” Enten said while talking about Senator Sherrod Brown, noting the Ohio legislator’s success as Republicans dominated in the state’s other races. “So if Democrats want to play, this is an interesting guy for them. I will point out though, another white male. I am very suspect of that this year going into a Democratic primary with women doing well and the African-American face of the Democratic party, I am not sure it’s the time to nominate a white man.”
Enten’s not giving you his personal take on white male candidates writ large or white men in general, he’s saying that to Democratic primary voters being a traditional white male candidate may be more of a liability than an asset at this point. Which is true. By the time 2020 gets here, it’ll be 16 years since they’ll have nominated one for president and almost 24 years since they successfully elected one president. (Trivia: The last white male Democrat to win a majority of the popular vote was, er, Jimmy Carter, who got 50.1 percent. To find the last white male Democrat who won with a decisive majority of the popular vote you have to go back to LBJ’s landslide over Goldwater in 1964.) The party depends even more heavily now on minority and women voters to offset the GOP’s advantage with whites and men than it did in the past. And because the left measures all things in terms of “progress,” nominating a white guy after the trailblazing candidacies of Obama and Hillary will be seen by some as a “step back.” Activist righties spend much of their time nowadays complaining about the left’s obsession with identity politics, with good reason, but that’s exactly Enten’s point in the segment. Identity politics will matter next year in the primary. A lot.
In fact, I think an unspoken threshold question for the primary is this: Where should the party’s electoral emphasis be placed, on biological identity or class identity? Berniebros are convinced that their guy got close-ish to defeating Hillary in 2016 because there’s a secret unmet demand for populist socialism across this great land that was overcome last time only because of Clinton’s many establishment advantages. That doesn’t mean Bernie has to be the guy in 2020 but it does mean that identity is less important to a successful Democratic campaign than running hard to the left is. The woke brigades, though, will prioritize differently. Yes, left-wing economic policies are important but it’s crucial that the party’s leadership accurately represent its core constituencies. A party that relies on women and minorities deserves women and minorities in leadership roles, starting with the presidential ticket. The debate between those two sides about how to prioritize has already begun, with even people as far afield as Michael Avenatti chiming in. The class-identity group believes that Dems won’t beat Trump unless they find a way to claw back some of his working-class white support. Economic populism can do that. The biological-identity group believes that the key to beating Trump is to put the Obama coalition back together and to build on it. Turn out enough women and minority voters and you can simply outvote MAGA Nation if need be.
All Enten’s saying when you cut through it is that he thinks the woke wing of the party will speak more loudly next year than the class warriors. And he’s not betting heavily on that. Number two on his list of likeliest nominees right now is none other than while male Beto O’Rourke. But look: There’s a reason why Kamala Harris is seen by so many as the early favorite despite having been a senator for less than two years and still little-known to much of the country, and it’s not because she’s some world-beating charismatic talent on the stump. Partly it’s that she represents America’s biggest state, which will vote early in the primaries; partly it’s because she’s carefully cultivated her progressive cred; but mainly it’s because she looks more like the base of her party than anyone else in the field does. Enten’s betting that that factor may well be decisive in the Democratic Party of 2018. I wouldn’t bet heavily against him. Neither would you.
I can’t find an embeddable version of the clip but Mediaite has it. It’s worth watching if you can spare five minutes.