Not-So-Subtle Racism In The Primary Calendar Fight
If Progressives Ever Want To Win Nationally, They Have To Win Minority Voters.
Ever since the Democratic National Committee changed the early presidential primary states late last year, progressives in the party have been complaining that the new calendar intended on protecting President Joe Biden from a potential challenge from the left. Progressives have loudly declared that the primary process was being “rigged” against a potential leftist challenger. That argument is not only wrong but also racist and insulting to core Democratic voters.
Under the new calendar proposed by the DNC, South Carolina is to hold its race first on February 3, 2024, followed by Nevada and New Hampshire on February 6, Georgia on February 13, and Michigan on February 27. This is likely going to be how the calendar goes permanently in the future when Democrats have an open race in 2028 and beyond. Democrats shifted the early calendar to replace the Iowa Caucus, usually the first contest and the one that sets the tone, and the New Hampshire primary, the first primary. New Hampshire would now go second alongside Nevada, which replaced its caucus with a primary.
The move triggered the ire of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, who felt the move was to punish Iowa and New Hampshire for not voting for Biden in 2020. Progressive favorite Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) won New Hampshire both in 2016 and 2020.
Author Marianne Williamson, right now the only declared challenger to Biden in the Democratic Primary, appeared on a podcast earlier this month hosted by Andrew Yang, the former Democratic candidate who left the party last year to form his own third party, to join Yang in blasting the calendar change. Yang said the move essentially told white working-class voters in the Rust Belt that they “weren’t a priority.” In a gasp-inducing response, Williamson agreed and compared it to Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and declaring the South “lost” for a generation. The comment shocked me. A generous reading of her comments, where we assume she isn’t saying the Civil Rights Act was bad, says that she believes Democrats “gave up” on the South because they believed they couldn’t win there. and they are doing the same to the Rust Belt now. That’s an ironic reading of the situation since she said it in response to Democrats moving the first primary to a *SOUTHERN* state. If her problem is the Democrats “gave up” on the South, then wouldn’t letting South Carolina go first to be a solution to that problem?
It’s also historically wrong. Twelve years after Johnson made those comments, Democrats nominated Jimmy Carter, the former Governor of Georgia, for president and he carried all but one Southern state. After Carter, the next Democratic president was another Southern governor, Bill Clinton. Democrats had a Southerner on every ticket from 1976 until 2004 except for 1984. Even in the Obama era, Democrats invested in the South, flipping Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina in 2008 – turning the former into a blue-leaning state – and Georgia in 2020. They won gubernatorial elections in Louisiana, Kentucky, and North Carolina in the 2010s, made strong plays for governors seas in Texas, Mississippi, and Florida, and won Senate seats in Alabama and Georgia. The party invested heavily in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to defeat Lindsey Graham in South Carolina and Ted Cruz in Texas in 2018.
The idea that the Democrats “gave up” on the South is ludicrous. The Civil Rights Act did destroy the Democrats’ Southern coalition, but they lost voters there on policy, not for lack of trying.
Back to the calendar fight, Yang’s and Williamson’s argument that changing the calendar tells white working-class voters they aren’t a priority is just as laughable. Previously, only the exclusive Iowa Caucus was in the Midwest, and the Michigan primary, one where a significant part of the voting bloc is white working-class voters, and where Sanders won a surprise victory in 2016, was moved up to fifth in the calendar. There are far more white working-class voters in Michigan than in Iowa, and Michigan’s primary rules make it more accessible to voters than Iowa’s caucus. The other early state is New Hampshire, a mainly white, wealthy, highly-educated state that has more in common with Canada than the rest of the United States. Also, the new calendar solidifies Nevada’s place in the early lineup, a state with a largely working-class Latino electorate that was friendly to progressives in the past (though they burned a lot of goodwill there in recent years). Nevada is also one of the Democratic-leaning states with the highest number of non-college-educated voters, a voting bloc Democrats are struggling with across as races and ethnicities.
The reasons for the changes are pretty obvious to anyone who wants to look more deeply into it. Not since John Kerry in 2004 has a nominee won both Iowa and New Hampshire. They are largely homogenous states that are not representative of the Democratic Party’s multiethnic coalition, a shift in the party stemming from the Obama Revolution. The Iowa Caucus’ rather bizarre rules favor only registered Democrats who are able to make it to the caucus sites on the day of the election and thus disenfranchise many working-class voters.
South Carolina, meanwhile, has catapulted the winner to the nomination is every Democratic contest since the end of the Cold War except for 2004, when it voted for native son John Edwards, who ended up on the ticket as Kerry’s running mate. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden became unquestioned frontrunners and then sailed to the nominations after winning the Palmetto State. The Democratic coalition nationally looks more like South Carolina than either Iowa or New Hampshire.
The “rigged” narrative around the shift in the primary calendar is a red herring. Progressives just don’t believe they can win black voters. They don’t even want to try. They see black voters the same as Republicans; mindless drones who vote the way their leaders tell them to. Yang hinted at such in several provide conversations with Democratic consultants during his unsuccessfully 2021 race for Mayor of New York City, telling one prominent Democrat that he didn’t expect to do well in Southeast Queens, a middle-class black community because his ideas “wouldn’t be understood” there. It is insulting and patronizing to assume that just because you now have to campaign for black voters, the contest is “rigged” against you.
Progressives just don’t believe they can win black voters. They don’t even want to try.
The truth is marginalized communities don’t vote for progressives because they don’t trust them. The type of revolutionarily politics progressive want to engage in are high risk, and that risk disproportionally falls on marginalized communities, most obviously black voters. Conservatives leveraged fear of black people to gain power for almost as long as the United States has existed. It was the cornerstone of Lee Atwater’s post-Cold War “Southern Strategy” that brought Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump to power. Many black voters just do not want to take the risk of upending our system because it fails, they, not the middle- and upper-class white youths who make up the lion share of the progressive movement, will bear the brunt of the backlash. Even if progressives are successful, there is no telling whether or not they will throw marginalized communities under the bus to secure economic policy gains, as they did during the New Deal. The Sanders campaign’s comments about “class politics over identity politics” left many marginalized groups skittish about their strategies.
Progressives aren’t ignorant to this. I believe they know that. They’ve heard this as much as I have. They know the only way to elect a president they want is to basically force black voters and other marginalized groups into supporting them. You do that by building enough momentum in the early states that preferred candidates of black voters can’t catch up. Without Iowa and New Hampshire, any progressive candidate can’t rely on “momentum.” They actually have to campaign, listen and perhaps even do what they hate the most – compromising.
Ironically, this strategy is counterintuitive and self-destructive. It speaks to a level of insecurity about the progressive agenda from its strongest advocates that only creates more skepticism and ultimately opposition to it. If progressives are serious about ever achieving the type of fundamental change they want, they have to start winning voters like those in South Carolina. That they don’t even want to try is telling: they don’t believe their agenda is truly achievable and aren’t serious about it.
Thanks for reading Nick Rafter Writes ! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.