Democrats and Republicans alike have had every reason to prioritize the actual economic and social problems of the Midwest for quite some time, as no other region demonstrates more elasticity, more willingness to swing toward whichever party or candidate butters their bread more consistently. For both parties, the Midwest is an inviting target, but for neither is it a center of gravity. It’s not where they develop their ideas, nor is it where they raise their money. It is not where their base lives, and in an era of base-mobilization politics that means appeals all too often take the form of trying to sort its population into those who are more like typical voters from the South, or from the coastal cities. Importing the country’s deep national divisions hasn’t notably helped the region, and it hasn’t proved a recipe for lasting victory either.
The Midwest is not the economic dynamo that it was from the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries. But the slowest-growing region of the country still accounts for over 20 percent of America’s population and over 20 percent of its economic output. And if it has struggled the most to keep pace with the changes that have swept much of the rest of the nation, that is all the more reason for it to be a particular focus of politics. The fact that Democrats have too often preferred to run on “be more like California” while Republicans have preferred to run on “be more like Texas” bespeaks both a profound lack of imagination, even a lack of … diversity.