October 23, 2017

The Democratic Party has always branded itself as the party of diversity, including, women’s issues, LGBTQ, and progressive economic policies. That will never change.

But the alt-left wing of the party (if there’s an “alt-right” wing in the GOP there has to be an “alt-left” for the Democrats) complains that the Party is too “establishment” and not progressive enough. That seems the existential internal debate for Democrats in 2018 and 2020.

Now along come the national leaders of the party to shake up the national party structure. Who are the Democratic national leaders? A Latino former Labor secretary under Obama, Tom Perez (chairman of the DNC), and a black, Muslim congressman, Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota (the vice chairman).

As my friend, whom I’ll call Elenora DuPree (she wants to remain anonymous), told me at a cocktail party recently, “Didn’t Democrats win black, Latino and Muslim voters by overwhelming percent in 2016?”

Here are the numbers:

— Black vote: 88 percent, Hillary Clinton; 8 percent Donald Trump

— White vote: 58 percent Donald Trump; 37 percent Hillary Clinton

— Hispanic vote: 65 percent Hillary Clinton; 29 percent Donald Trump

Moreover Elenora asked, “Didn’t Hillary also lose the vote of white women?” Yes indeed. While overall, 54 percent of women voted for Clinton, Trump won white women 53 percent to 43 percent.

More alarming, Trump won white women with no college degree 62 percent to 34 percent for Clinton. Trump also won 54 percent of men with a college education and an astonishing 72 percent of men with no college degree. Talk about a male “gender gap!”

Hillary Clinton also lost the vote of older Catholics 44 percent to Trump’s 57 percent while younger Catholics voted for the Democrat 59 percent to 28 percent.

The Party is now trying to recover from six years of terrible losses at the local, state and national level (over 1,000 seats conceded to the Republicans in the eight years of the Obama presidency.)

As the Democratic Party tries to claw back from this terrible decline it still doesn’t seem to grasp why it crashed.

Chairman Perez is purging the party by firing people. NBC reports, “… several key longtime officials have lost their posts, exposing a still-raw rift in the party and igniting anger among those in its progressive wing who see retaliation for their opposition to DNC Chairman Tom Perez.”

The “refreshing” of the Democratic Party seems odd. It replaces experienced Democrats with new inexperienced diverse “at-large” delegates such as Marisa Richmond, a millennial black transgender activist. A party spokesperson pointed out that, “This slate doubles millennial and Native American at-large representation, provides unprecedented representation for our allies in the labor community, and increases the presence of Puerto Rican at-large members ...”

Oddly there was no mention of small-town, underemployed, less-educated men and women nor persons of faith (i.e. religious voters) — all of which were the voters who abandoned the party in 2016 and opted for Donald Trump.

I also found it humorous and also disturbing to read that Barbra (“Babs”) Casbar Siperstein, the DNC’s first transgender member, said, “... you talk about diversity — I’m extremely diverse: Jewish, veteran, transgender, lesbian, grandparent, small-business owner.”

Why disturbing? Because in 1983 Reagan administration Interior Secretary James Watt responded to criticism by saying that his coal advisory group was very diverse and “... loaded with minorities—– “a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple.” Watt had to resign Oct. 9 of that year under blistering criticism from Democrats. If it’s offensive to mock diversity when a Republican does it, why is it OK for Saperstein?

Following the serious conflict between Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders the Democrats need to assess their losses to large and important constituencies — small-town folks, pro-life, gun owners, older Catholics, and men.

The tension clearly is still between those in the Democratic Party who want to stress economic concerns of voters and those who continue to emphasize hot-button issues such as abortion, gay rights and identity politics. The 2018 elections will be a test of whether Democrats learned anything from 2016.

Steffen Schmidt is the Lucken Endowed Professor of Political Science at Iowa State University.