Voters of color in the Democratic presidential primary have few illusions about the electorate to which they’re submitting a candidate. It is majority white. It elected President Trump with majorities of white voters across age, gender, and income in 2016. It generates outcomes, more often than not, based on the whims of a minority of fickle white voters living in a handful of mostly midwestern swing states, like Wisconsin and Ohio. As with most other Democrats, the majority of these voters of color claim electability is the key feature of their preferred candidate — and even when they design a prototypical candidate that doesn’t align with their polling preferences, generally concur that the 2020 primary’s white options are more electable than their nonwhite counterparts. Whether this calculus proves to be correct in the general election is yet to be seen. But so far, these considerations have produced a consensus that Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren are the party’s top three best bets to defeat Donald Trump next November.
With this in mind, Thursday’s lamentations about the lack of black or brown candidates on the Democratic primary debate stage seemed incongruous. After Cory Booker, Tulsi Gabbard, Julián Castro, and Deval Patrick failed to qualify for the Los Angeles event and Kamala Harris dropped out, moderators put it to Andrew Yang — the only nonwhite candidate who both qualified and showed up — to articulate what “message” he felt their absence sent to voters of color.