The Democratic National Committee (DNC) met in Las Vegas Friday to discuss their strategy for the 2018 elections but reportedly spent no time debating the merits of the “identity politics” messaging they employed on their way to a resounding electoral defeat in 2016.
The first two days of the four day meeting featured lengthy strategy discussions related to increasing grassroots participation but excluded any debate over the party’s broader emphasis on race and gender based identity politics, according to The Washington Post.
The Democratic politicos gathered in Las Vegas acknowledged the cost they paid in 2016 for completely eschewing positive messaging in favor of a consuming focus on anti-Trump talking points but stopped short of a more general examination of first principles.
“From a branding perspective, we have a huge problem,” Ken Martin, the chairman of Minnesota’s Democratic Farmer-Labor Party, told WaPo. “It was the biggest challenge for us in the last year — and our biggest mistake was uniting around ‘Stop Trump.'”
This self examination reportedly did not include a meaningful review of the factors that allowed the Trump campaign to assume the populist mantle traditionally held by Democrats.
For evidence of the DNC’s continued reliance on appealing to certain demographics based on a common race, gender or sexual orientation, one need only check the organization’s website, which includes specific sections dedicated to various races, the “LGBTQ community” and “women.”
The lack of debate over the merits of emphasizing racial, sexual and gender based identity is curious considering that political insiders on both sides of the aisle have cited that strategy as a primary explanation for President Donald Trump’s successful self promotion as the champion of beleaguered working class Americans.
Progressive leader Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont expressed doubts about the political utility of catering explicitly to specific identity groups in a statement made days after Trump’s election.
Sanders said the party must move beyond “identity politics” in an effort to appeal to a broader base of working class voters.
“It is not good enough for somebody to say, ‘I’m a woman, vote for me.’ That is not good enough,” Sanders told a crowd at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston, according to WBUR. “What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industries.”
“The working class of this country is being decimated — that’s why Donald Trump won,” the senator said. “And what we need now are candidates who stand with those working people, who understand that real median family income has gone down.”
Sanders later moderated his position in a statement released in response to progressive critics who accused him of devaluing diversity.
Veteran Democratic political consultant Mark Penn, who served as chief strategist for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential run, echoed Sanders concern for the future of the Democratic party in a New York Times column he co-authored with Columbia professor Mark Lilla shortly after Trump’s victory.
Lilla and Penn present a compelling argument for the abandonment of identity politics and a return to the political center, suggesting working class voters defected because they “saw the party being mired too often in political correctness, transgender bathroom issues and policies offering more help to undocumented immigrants than to the heartland.”
“This is the fallacy of the left, believing that voters just need to be shown how much they are getting in government benefits. In reality, these voters see themselves as being penalized for maintaining the basic values of hard work, religion and family,” the pair wrote. “Today, identity politics and disdain for religion are creating a new social divide that the Democrats need to bridge by embracing free speech on college campuses and respect for Catholics and people of other faiths who feel marginalized within the party.”
Trump campaign insiders and others on the political right have identified the role identity politics played in Trump’s victory in much the same way as their political opponents.
Former White House chief strategist and Trump campaign architect Steve Bannon gleefully pled with the Democrats to continue their identity based messaging, crediting the approach with spurring his national populist movement to the highest ranks of government.
“The Democrats,” Bannon said in an interview with Robert Kuttner, of the liberal political magazine American Prospect, “the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”
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