There’s a reason why Democrats appear stranded on this issue: For years, the liberal-leaning economists that the party relies on to fuel its domestic agenda failed to reckon with the stark economic disparities between parts of the country. Many of them dismissed proposals to create economic opportunity outside the handful of “knowledge economy” hubs in the nation’s largest metropolitan areas as inefficient transfers to lagging places.

At the same time, Democrats’ long-standing hold on urban America meant the party came to represent the winners of the “knowledge economy” — the largest, richest metropolitan areas — and the party’s leadership hailed from states home to the nation’s most successful “superstar” cities. Many of the party’s political strategists encouraged a blindness to the economic and social problems confronting much of the country by urging candidates to spend their time and energy mobilizing their urban base rather than courting hard-to-reach and hard-to-get rural voters. Campaigning outside the country’s cities has not been a priority for Democratic candidates and their strategists, let alone having something to say to these communities.

But while few prominent Democrats demanded solutions to address regional inequality, the party’s intellectual infrastructure also didn’t provide them for a long time.