Democrats are in danger of losing two key demographics ahead of 2024. While some may say it is too early to make certain predictions because we haven’t reached midterm elections yet, a lack of planning ahead is partly what put Democrats in this precarious position.
Black men and many key Latino groups may stray from the Democratic Party. There are moves either party can make to hasten or slow this transition.
The pandemic has blurred the lines between conservative, liberal and progressive within Black communities. Many staunch African American supporters of the Democratic Party found themselves aligning with conservatives in opposition to vaccines and vaccine mandates. Medical mistrust in Black and Latina communities is born out of racial descrimination in healthcare, which is one form of systemic racism the left leaning media rarely focuses upon.
President Joe Biden has failed on issues important to African Americans like voting rights and police reform.
Democrats are right that in electoral politics, representation matters. Despite the racist and demonstratively false assertion that Black people only supported Barack Obama because he’s Black, there was something about the 44th president that spoke to both black men and women beyond his political positions.
Black men saw a man like themselves finally getting an opportunity at leadership that so many had been denied before. He was smart, competent and professional, but not above talking a little trash on the basketball court. He sat in the chair at a Black barbershop and in the pews of a Black church on the Southside of Chicago and like most Black men, he was married to a Black woman and had Black children. The Black men who weren’t like Barack Obama still knew someone like him. He was familiar. Republican attempts to cast him as elitist or, even more absurd, foreign, fell on deaf ears in African American communities. In fact, it led Black men to circle the wagons to protect Obama from the inanity of the Trump-led birther conspiracy.
President Biden however, doesn’t have any prominent Black men in his administration aside from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Michael Regan of the EPA. While having two Black men in the cabinet is actually very good in terms of representation, Regan is mostly unknown and rarely heard from. Austin’s profile is slightly higher, but other cabinet members like Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkis, Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Attorney General Merrick Garland, Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg arguably are discussed far more often.
The highest profile of Biden’s selections for important positions were Vice President Kamala Harris and Judge Ketanji Brown-Jackson. Both are black but, unlike Obama, they didn’t choose Black partners. While that shouldn’t and doesn’t matter to most, for a small number of Black men, the success of Vice President Harris and Judge Brown-Jackson doesn’t feel like a shared accomplishment by the whole community or a win for Black families.
How Republicans Can Capitalize
Republicans can capitalize on this phenomenon. The GOP nomination will likely come down to Donald Trump versus Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Whoever wins should be looking to add South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott as their running mate. Scott is popular but probably can’t outperform Trump, who still holds the most passionate (but shrinking) base in politics. DeSantis is the most popular big state governor in the country. However, Tim Scott against Kamala Harris illuminates the aforementioned differences. His presence also superficially absolves the GOP of claims of racism. Let’s be clear (as Obama would say), Sen. Tim Scott is no Barack Obama, and Black men will not connect with him in the same ways. I don’t believe large numbers of Black men will switch parties, but Tim Scott’s presence can convince a fair amount of Black men that no party represents their interests more than the other. The more Black men sit at home, the easier victory is for the GOP.
When it comes to Latino populations, Republicans have done an excellent, even if dishonest, job of branding the Democratic Party with the authoritarianism that is disguised as socialism in Latin America.
What Democrats Can Do
If President Biden runs for a second term, his best bet is to lean in on amplifying the prominent Republicans that have made comments that appear to be pro-Putin. Biden must shift the narrative from inflation, problems on our southern border and the failures of the exit from Afghanistan, to protecting democracy in the US and abroad. He must brand Republicans as uncaring and ambivalent to Ukrainian suffering and position himself as the leader of a global alliance to protect the sovereignty of small countries against larger ones that desire to usurp their resources.
If Biden faces Trump in a rematch, this will be perhaps his strongest argument against him for the coveted centrist voting block. If he can convince people that a vote for Republicans is a vote for despots like Putin and his allies like Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, he could possibly make a pitch to some traditionally Latino groups. While his administration’s discussion with Venezuela over oil imports was yet another unforced error, it will be a footnote several months from now.
The president must also continually call out corporate greed and lay out specific examples of how they are driving up prices and hurting American families. Black and Latino families will certainly be receptive to this message, since they are the ones hurt most by inflationary pressures.
Biden is not a strong communicator, but he must take a page out of the previous president’s book and throw carefully scripted rallies, starting now. During those rallies he needs to start intentionally and directly mentioning Black men and speaking to their political needs. I would send Kamala Harris on a college tour to drum up support and excitement with young voters (whom the Democrats are also in danger of losing).
Assuming Biden doesn’t run for reelection, Democrats should consider someone other than Vice President Harris to carry the mantle. The Biden administration made it exceedingly difficult for her by tasking her with immigration, an issue that has not been solved over the last four presidential administrations. They set her up for failure and basically scripted the attack ads against her. It’s unfortunate for her, but Harris may have to wait and rebuild before she runs — like Biden did.
Analysts have mentioned many of the names who failed to get the nomination in 2020, such as Sec. Buttigieg, Senators Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, to replace Biden, but none of them will drum up excitement among Democrats. There are two people who Republicans should be concerned about if they were to step in for Biden.
One is Congressman Ruben Gallego from Arizona. Gallego is a border state Latino, a child of immigrants, fluent in Spanish, solidly liberal, young and apparently healthy, and a Marine Corp combat veteran. Anecdotally, military veterans I know from all over the political spectrum respect his service, unlike Buttigieg, who seems to get a mixed response. He’s a fresh face that doesn’t appear to be afraid and has convictions. He can be a step in preventing the exodus of Latinos from the Party, especially as some Republicans are presenting themselves as pro-Vladimir Putin.
The other is Congressman Ro Khanna. Rep. Khanna is progressive but comes across measured and thoughtful in a way that will appeal to centrists. He’s going to be difficult to make a gaff reel on. He has made wealth creation for Black and brown people a staple of his work.
In the meantime, Democrats need to find and promote their next crop of young stars, and among them needs to be someone out of the Obama mold. They need to develop their messaging so that it speaks to their accomplishments for — and is inclusive of — demographics that are feeling increasingly estranged from the party. Losing Black men and Latinos will be catastrophic for the Democratic Party. It’s not too late to right the ship.
Jason Nichols is a lecturer in African American Studies at the University of Maryland and the cohost of the Daily Caller’s Vince & Jason Save The Nation.