The Democrats’ Political Whiteface

Well over 40 percent of Democratic votes in 2020 is expected to come from ethnic minorities. Yet their leading candidates for president hail exclusively from a Whiter Shade of Pale. In Iowa, 98 percent of the final votes and all of the delegates went to white candidates, as potentially promising minority candidates such as Senators Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Corey Booker (D-N.J.), and former Obama Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro had already flamed out. In New Hampshire, the figure was 93 percent of the vote and all of the delegates.

Indeed, of the six viable Democratic candidates, three are septuagenarian white men of more than 75 years of age—far older than any other president in history elected to a first term (Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Michael Bloomberg) one is a septuagenarian white woman (Elizabeth Warren). Another, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), would be 60 when she assumed office. The final leading Democratic candidate, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, is widely touted for being gay. But at 37, he arguably stands out most starkly from the rest of the Democratic primary crowd for his inability to qualify for the senior discount at Applebee’s.

The 2020 reality for the Democrats is that a party increasingly dominated by minorities and the politics of the young is putting on whiteface, for two countervailing reasons: First, they feel a need to pander to the (perceived) prejudices of some of their swing voters. Second, in reality, the Democratic Party has always been a party run by whites who claim to speak for the needs of minorities in order to garner their votes. They still aren’t quite willing to hand over the keys to the car.

We don’t just see that in the race for the White House. All of the top Democratic leaders in the U.S. Senate are white as are the top two leaders in the House. Meanwhile, the grassroots activists and party leaders who make up the convention delegates increasingly are nonwhite and certainly don’t resemble the 2020 candidates or the Democratic Party leadership of yesteryear.

Is This Demographic Destiny?

According to my analysis based on publicly available data, just 8 percent of delegates to the 2016 Democratic National Convention delegates were straight, Christian, white men. (A group that numbered approximately two-thirds of the Democratic delegates as recently as the 1968 convention represented virtually the entire Democratic Party leadership before that.)

Indeed, comparing the demographics of the Democratic presidential candidates to Democratic activists and party insiders (as represented by convention delegates), one is reminded of Pat Buchanan’s famous “culture war” speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention, in which he assailed that year’s Democratic convention as a place “where 20,000 radicals and liberals came dressed up as moderates and centrists—in the greatest single exhibition of cross-dressing in American political history.” (This was uttered at a time when normal people understood that cross-dressing was not behavior to be celebrated.)

The Democrats’ primary of pallor has caused much angst among politically correct, left-leaning pundits—but this merely confirms what I have observed in my forthcoming study of trends within the composition of Democratic Party elites as measured by demographic changes in party convention delegates over a 50 year period: The Democratic presidential candidates are dramatically out of line with the demographics of party elites and the demographics of the electorate as a whole.

Some of that, to be fair, has something to do with New Hampshire and Iowa—the first two states to hold primary elections—whose demographics are very unlike those of the wider country and particularly unlike those of the Democratic party. But while this does give some level of advantage to white Democrats, it should not be overstated. After all, it was Obama’s upset win over Clinton in the 2008 Iowa Caucus that helped propel him to the Democratic nomination.

While much has been made, and not without reason, of the supposed “whiteness” of congressional Republicans and other GOP elites while white voters are a demographically declining group, the 2020 campaign shows that Democratic elites are perhaps even more demographically out of step with their base—and the candidates the Democrats are putting forward in 2020 represent a last-ditch effort by party elites to convince white voters that they are not being eclipsed in the Democratic coalition.

Further Studies in Contrast

The Democratic candidates are unrepresentative in other ways, as well. In a party that is increasingly non-theistic four of the six leading candidates are committed Christians. None claim to be irreligious, despite the fact that one-third of Democratic voters are. Two candidates, Bloomberg and Sanders, are Jewish.

Bloomberg, along with his fellow billionaire candidate, Tom Steyer (who is ethnically half-Jewish but religiously Christian), have been among the leading billionaire donors to the party. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders is the party’s sharpest long-time critic of the wealthy and the apotheosis of the Jewish community’s long-term influence on the party’s left-wing.  That these candidates, representing a group that makes up less than 2 percent of Americans, are more visible and influential in the 2020 Democratic primary than ethnic minorities who make up almost half of the Democratic vote, is ultimately not sustainable for a party that incessantly claims to “look like America.”

It is hard to know whether the Democrats’ tired “electability” arguments or the need of white Democrats to continue to dominate the party is more significant in contributing to the Democrats’ primary of pallor. But it is undeniable that white Democrats and particularly white male Democrats have not ceded power and authority to the demographically ascendant parts of the Democratic coalition.

Meanwhile, Hispanics Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio were two of the three leading Republican presidential candidates in 2016, while African-American Ben Carson was also an early leader in polling. Perhaps, in their fanatical march to the left in the “Great Awokening,” white Democrats are compensating for something. In the meantime, these same “woke” Democrats want minority votes but ultimately won’t elevate minority voices.

This fundamental contradiction drives the Democrats’ field of 2020 candidates—and until the Democrats embrace who they are, rather than pretending they are who they used to be, they will be at a fundamental disadvantage versus Donald Trump, a man who is many things to many people, but, most of all, is unapologetically himself.

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About Jeremy Carl

Jeremy Carl is a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute. He served as deputy assistant secretary of the interior under President Trump and lives with his family in Montana. You can follow him on Twitter at @jeremycarl4.

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