“No Democrat is going to win the nomination for president of the United States without African-American support. Nor should they,” Kate Bedingfield, Joe Biden’s deputy campaign manager, told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell.
Bedingfield was pushing back on a single bad poll for Biden (from Monmouth University) that had the media and the other Democratic campaigns smelling blood in the water. The poll now seems to be the outlier that the Biden people say it is. But Bedingfield’s argument has a longer shelf life both for the Democratic primary and the country.
Let’s start with the big picture. For decades, African-Americans have been an outsize segment of the Democratic base, all but defining the leftmost ideology of the party. Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, the Congressional Black Caucus, et al, may have been to the left of the average black voter (depending on the state), but at the national level they were the anchor of what constituted the most liberal major constituency of the Democratic coalition.
Now, that has changed. The most liberal flank of the Democratic Party is far whiter than it used to be, and decidedly to the left of many of the party’s blacks and other racial minorities on a wide range of issues.
More broadly, white liberals have become deeply ideological, shedding the coalitional and transactional orientation that long defined Democratic Party politics. One can see it as a left-wing version of the right-wing emphasis on ideological purity that consumed and ultimately bedeviled the Republican Party before Donald Trump smashed all that.
Meanwhile, many black and Latino Democrats — and voters — have held onto the political pragmatism that has defined a lot of the party’s politics for the last half-century.
While white liberals were quick to demand the resignation of Virginia Gov. Gary Northam in the wake of revelations he wore blackface during his time as a medical student in the 1980s, a majority of blacks in Virginia said he should finish his term.
This is the context that is vexing many of the Democratic contenders for the presidential nomination. To many conservative ears, all of the talk about race on the debate stage sounds like pandering to the black vote. But they’re actually pandering just as much to the white liberal vote and its echo chamber on Twitter.
Meanwhile, as the L.A. Times reported earlier this summer, black voters, particularly black women — the king- or queen-makers of the Democratic primaries — are pragmatically focused on defeating Trump rather than on making the perfect the enemy of the good. And that’s a big reason why Biden commands such a large share of the black vote, particularly among older voters.
This is the great irony of the Democratic primaries. All of the major candidates, save for Biden, are desperate to prove they care the most about minorities. But they’re operating on an ideological theory that assumes they understand the interests of those minorities better than minority voters themselves.
This is what’s so devastating about the Biden campaign’s defense against Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg and even non-white candidates such as Kamala Harris and Corey Booker, all of whom are struggling to garner support from non-white primary voters. In a party defined by what used to be called white guilt, the last thing you can say is that black voters are wrong.