One thing we’re learning from this election: These really are different parties.
First, look at the Democrats. Listen to the discussion about their strategies. Hillary needs to win more blacks and men. Obama must capture more Hispanics and peel away more white women. Both need to fight for “the youth.”
Now look at the Republicans and how we talk about them. Can McCain win over conservatives? Should he apologize for his support of amnesty or his opposition to tax cuts? Can Romney convince pro-lifers? Will Huckabee ever make inroads with economic conservatives? Were Rudy’s positions on gays, guns, and abortion too liberal?
See what I’m getting at? If substance were water, the Democratic campaign would be a desert.
[T]hat debate is almost entirely theoretical, drowned out by the mad scramble to assemble an identity-politics coalition of generic “Hispanics,” “blacks,” “white women,” etc. It’s amazing how complacent the media is in carrying on with this kind of nakedly reductionist analysis. The notion that Hispanics may be voting one way or another for reasons other than their ethnicity seems never to come up.
Meanwhile, on the Republican side, women, blacks and Hispanics vote too, but that’s not how the demographics and coalitions of the right work. GOP candidates actually have to win over people who believe things. (After all, the famed, and tragically frayed, “Reagan coalition” was about different groups of principled people, not a mere hodgepodge of ethnicities and genders.) Exit pollsters ask GOP voters whether they’re committed pro-lifers, whether they think the economy is the most important issue, etc. I’m sure they ask Democratic voters similar questions, but it’s telling how little we hear about that. What Democratic voters actually believe doesn’t seem to be that relevant, in large part because Democrats aren’t voting their beliefs, they’re voting affections.
The Republican party is a mess, absolutely. Conservatives are sorting out what they believe, what heresies they can tolerate and on which principles they will not bend. At times this argument is loud, ugly and unfortunate. But you know what? At least it’s an argument about something. On the Democratic side, if you strip away the crass appeals to identity politics, the emotional pandering and the helium-infused rhetoric, you’re pretty much left with a campaign about nothing.