Here’s what makes politics so interesting, and so hard to control: the constant possibility of change, especially in the minds of voters.
Every election year people change their minds, switching from Candidate A to Candidate B, from Party Red to Party Blue, or Green or Other. Most crucially, people flip and flop on whether taking the trouble to vote is worth the effort.
The answer to that last question, “should I vote?” that almost certainly determined the last 4 Presidential elections. In 2004 and 2016 Republicans found ways to bring lots of conservative voters to the polls – people who had sat out many previous elections – to re-elect George W. Bush and elect Donald J. Trump
In the Presidential elections in between, in 2008 and ‘12, the presence of Barack Obama on the ballot brought out hundreds of thousands of new African-American voters who gave him the Presidency. In 3 of the 4 national elections since 2008, the ones in which Obama was not running, lots of those Obama voters stayed home, and the Democrats lost the House, the Senate and in 2016, the White House.
The answer to the question – what happened to the Democrats in 2010, 2014, and 2016 – may be as simple as that… African-American voters, other minorities and progressive Whites, stayed home.
Much more complex question is why? Why did Conservative, mostly White voters surge to the polls to vote Republican in 2004 and 2016, and why did progressive voters, both people of color and progressive Whites, betray their own interests by staying home, and not voting Democratic, in 2010, 2014 and 2016?
In 2004, Bush strategist Karl Rove worked to get anti-gay issues on 11 targeted state ballots, bringing to the polls many voters who also voted to re-elect President Bush. In 2016, Trump’s politically incorrect, hyper-nationalist, racist themes energized hundreds of thousands of voters in crucial states like Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, who’d ignored Mitt Romney and John McCain.
In contrast to those pluses, it was the minusing out of minority and progressive voters by a centrist, corporatist Democratic Party in 2010, 2014 and 2016 that has left the Party so powerless.
Watching all of this, with a palpably growing sense of frustration and fury is our guest today, progressive activist and political analyst Steve Phillips. In 2015, he ‘splained the damage done by the passive regression of Democratic Party outreach to its left, and proposed some new approaches in a book called Brown Is the New White: How the Demographic Revolution Has Created a New American Majority.
The numbers tell the story, Phillips writes, a lack of candidates of color in the Congressional and Gubernatorial elections of 2010 and 2014, and a failure to address issues of interest to minorities and progressives brought on a fatal drop in Democratic turnout.
In the Presidential election of 2016, Hillary Clinton’s campaign stuck to the losing formula of aiming at the political dead center, wooing so-called swing voters and ignoring the message of the Bernie Sanders campaign, progressive issues are a powerful force.
What will this mean for Democrats in 2018 and 2020? Steve Phillips predicts more defeat and more heartbreak, as long as the Democratic Party leadership,– and even its Progressive wing — is dominated by “White leadership, fixated on White voters and focused on issues preferred by White people.”
Steve Phillips is the Founder of Democracy in Color, an organization focused on race, politics and the New American Majority, and author of the New York Times and Washington Post bestselling Brown Is the New White: How the Demographic Revolution Has Created a New American Majority.
Phillips is national political leader, civil rights lawyer, and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. In 1992 he became the youngest person ever elected to public office in San Francisco and went on to serve as president of the Board of Education. He is co-founder of PowerPAC+, a social justice organization dedicated to building a multiracial political coalition. Phillips has appeared on multiple national radio and television networks including NBC, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and TV One. He is a columnist for The Nation and a regular opinion contributor to The New York Times. He is a graduate of Stanford University and Hastings College of the Law.