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Salena Zito


Democrats in Disarray

by Salena Zito
 

Last Tuesday, Bloomberg political reporter Sahil Kapur tweeted from a Donald Trump rally in Massachusetts that an undecided New Hampshire voter said he will likely vote for the Republican businessman.

The man's second choice was Vermont Democrat-Socialist Bernie Sanders.

Tweeted Fox News contributor Michelle Fields the next day: "My cab driver in Iowa says he's an independent. His first choice is Trump. Second choice? Hillary."

Data provided to The New York Times by Civis Analytics, a Democrat firm, shows Trump's support is strongest among self-identified Republicans, a coalition that uniquely follows the migration and settlement patterns of early Scots-Irish Jacksonian Democrats. That places their concentration across the industrial North, through the Rust Belt, down into Appalachia and the Deep South.

These are Democrats by birth, a legacy of their New Deal-Democrat parents and grandparents, who largely stopped supporting a party that began cutting them loose after winning their support in the 2006 midterm elections.

That explains the odd choices between Trump and Sanders, or Trump and Clinton: They're straddling between one party that used to include them and another that now is trying to fit them in.

Since the 2008 presidential campaign, Democrats have purposefully cut white, traditional-values, working-class, predominantly male voters from their coalition in favor of building an urban- and cosmopolitan-centered coalition of minorities, elites and women.

That move left discarded voters with nowhere to go except toward the Republican Party, for which they turned out in large numbers in the 2010 and 2014 midterms and gave the GOP historic wins in state legislatures, governors' offices and Congress.

The mainstream media's Trump storyline is that his candidacy has fractured the Republican base, according to Keystone College political scientist Jeff Brauer.

"Most of the focus has been on the apparent schism between the establishment candidates – such as Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie – and the outsiders, with frontrunner Trump being the most emblematic," Brauer said. "However, the real story could be more about the eroding support of the Democratic Party throughout large segments of the country."

For decades – and especially during the Obama presidency – traditional Democrat strongholds in the blue-collar North and in vast areas of the South have shifted, in some cases dramatically, to Republicans, he contends.

Many registered Democrats in those regions now self-identify as Republicans or Republican-leaning independents. Trump has captivated these voters, resulting in his commanding lead in the Republican field.

"In essence, Trump and the other 'outsiders' haven't as much splintered the Republican Party but, rather, have taken advantage of the splintering of the Democratic Party," Brauer said.

This could be good news for Republicans and not-so-good news for Democrats. These mostly disgruntled voters are turning away from their Democrat roots and are finding some solace with Republican outsiders, which could add noteworthy numbers to the GOP base.

We are seeing the end of the long, slow exodus of citizens with traditional (as opposed to cosmopolitan) values from Democrat ranks to the Republican Party.

What is overlooked is what it means for today's politics, particularly at the coalitional level, Baylor University political scientist Curt Nichols believes.

"The Democratic Party is predominantly composed of folks holding cosmopolitan values, which includes a moral preference for redistributive policies," Nichols said – while Republicans are the party of traditional values, including a moral preference for rugged individualism and market-oriented policies.

Brauer says widening divisions are appearing in the Democratic Party, especially with its working-class members.

Thus far, those divisions haven't been as evident because the Democrats' less competitive primary is overshadowed by the Republicans' very competitive race.

"So while Democrats still have significant demographic advantages in presidential politics," Brauer said, "one of the main stories of this election cycle may very well end up being the ongoing disarray and rifts in the Democratic base."

Salena Zito covers politics for Trib Total Media(szito@tribweb.com).


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