Ross Douthat has tried his hand at an evaluation of the lengthy debate ensuing from Sean Trende’s “missing white voter” hypothesis about 2012, and after dismissing misunderstandings about Trende’s prescriptions from both left and right, he spends some serious time accusing Democrats of willfully repelling non-college educated white voters–in a departure from Bill Clinton’s strategy–via extremism on guns, abortion and environmental issues.
Jonathan Chait rebuts some of this charge, but I’d go further. Has Obama, whose main thrust on guns has been a background check bill cosponsored by Pat Toomey, really been more “liberal” on gun issues than Clinton, who championed the Brady Bill and an assault weapon ban? I don’t think so. Douthat suggests that today’s Democrats have just made life intolerable for coal-state Democrats. Really? I seem to recall gnashing my teeth over and over during the 2012 general election at Obama’s relentless pandering to coal-state sensibilities (motivated, I’m sure, less by the vain hope of carrying West Virginia than of avoiding a disaster in Ohio and Virginia). And on abortion, Douthat’s focus on Clinton’s famous “safe, legal and rare” formulation allows him to forget that Clinton’s actual policies on abortion were more or less identical to Obama’s. It’s Clinton, not Obama, who vetoed (unsuccessfully) a late-term abortion bill.
Now you can certainly argue that Clinton had other, more subtle affinities with certain red-state Democrats than does Obama. But the fact remains that on the brink of election day in 2012, Gallup showed Obama’s approval ratings among different types of Democrats as follows: 95% among liberal Democrats, 90% among moderate Democrats, 85% among conservative Democrats. If Obama has made life impossible for everybody other than liberal Democrats, they don’t seem to know it.
Yes, of course, there is a long-term drift away from the Donkey Party among downscale white voters. It pre-dated Clinton, who arrested it only modestly, and it does matter how far it goes. But the idea that Obama-era Democrats, over-excited about their “coalition of the ascendent,” are willfully pushing away less liberal white voters Clinton used to attract is an assertion largely in search of evidence.