Faction #3: The multicultural populists

Concentrated in deep-blue California and Democratic strongholds in cities, wealthy suburbs, and college towns, this third Democratic faction views a range of issues — rights for women, blacks, immigrants, Muslims, the disabled, homosexuals, and transgender people; the environment; gun control — through a culture-war lens. It hopes to win the battle over these issues with heavy doses of identity politics, mobilizing various demographic factions to fight for the soul of the country, proving to themselves and the world that the deplorably racist, sexist, and ignorant Trump voters who are most vocal on the other side of these issues represent a final, dying gasp of atavistic prejudice on the part of the formerly hegemonic white American majority.

What kind of economic policy should follow from this form of populism isn’t always clear, since the faction emphasizes cultural conflict and seeks to amp up animosity on issues wrapped up with it (which are rarely straightforwardly economic). That makes it possible for different politicians and candidates to combine a multicultural stance with elements taken from one or the other of the factions. California Sen. Kamala Harris and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, for example, talk like multicultural populists, but they combine it with an economically populist message. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, by contrast, first came to office as a neoliberal who made no secret of his ties to Wall Street, but more recently he’s been embracing ideas (like a $15 minimum wage and paid family leave) that seem designed to place him among the economic populists — all the while staking out firmly multicultural positions as well.