After nearly seven years in power under the leadership of President Barack Obama, legatee of both the old and new Left, the Democratic Party has managed to hold on to its base. Despite Democrats’ loss of both houses of Congress, Obama has been successful in using executive, judicial, and regulatory power to deliver subsidies and administrative rewards to liberal interest groups including trial lawyers, feminists, and the Hispanic lobby. Unlike George W. Bush, under whom the first inklings of a Tea Party rebellion first formed, Obama has kept core Democratic voters inside the tent—if not always happily so.
The Democrats have ongoing strengths. The party has shown considerable unity even in the face of landslide losses in the 2014 midterms. On a wide variety of issues, however, the Democratic base finds itself at odds with the country’s so-called “swing” voters. This poses a problem for Democrats in 2016. On issues as varied as crime, environmentalism, late-term abortion, illegal immigration, free trade, and the Iran nuclear deal, serious splits exist among self-identified Democrats. The base’s leftward shift on these issues has party moderates shaking their heads.
The Democrats are deeply dependent on black votes. “African-American voters,” explains The Cook Political Report, “accounted for Obama’s entire margin of victory in seven states: Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Without these states’ 112 electoral votes, Obama would have lost decisively.” With Obama on the ballot, black voter participation exceeded white voter participation in 2012. The great fear among Democratic Party operatives in 2016 is that African-Americans will stay home. The Democratic National Committee, looking to pump up black turnout, issued a resolution in August joining “with Americans across the country in affirming [that] ‘Black lives matter’ and . . . condemn[ing] extrajudicial killings of unarmed African American men, women and children.”
The Black Lives Matter movement, financed, in part, by billionaire George Soros, rebuffed the Democratic Party’s attempts to win its formal favor—even though the resolution put the Democrats on record as supporting “the hands up, don’t shoot” mythology that emerged from the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. On the anniversary of Brown’s death, the Washington Post published a long article finding that the “vast majority” of the 585 people killed by the police during the first seven months of 2015 were armed with deadly weapons. Moreover, most were white or Hispanic. Just 24 were unarmed black men. Nonetheless, a virulent anti-police campaign ensued after Ferguson, leading police in cities such as Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Cincinnati to back off from enforcement. St. Louis police chief Sam Dotson calls this “The Ferguson Effect.”
The anti-cop rhetoric of the Black Lives Matter movement can be overlooked by the DNC and its upper-middle class, liberal supporters—for now. Their neighborhoods remain largely secure and will be the last to feel the consequences of a dogma that vilifies police. But for the vast majority of Americans, including blacks who value the extraordinary drop in crime over the past 20 years, safety isn’t something to be blithely trashed. As crime rises in big cities, the Democrats will find that they have painted themselves into a corner on law and order—and this isn’t the only issue on which they are doing so.
Environmentalism was once a bipartisan cause, but that changed once hard-charging green crusaders and big-money beneficiaries of renewable-energy subsidies—they’re often the same people—started using questionable computer-generated models of climate change to sell civilizational apocalypse. Obama’s kibosh on the Keystone XL pipeline has angered not only a strong ally—Canada—but also organized labor. Hillary Clinton spent the better part of Obama’s presidency temporizing on the issue, but once she started running for president, she came out four-square against Keystone—despite the State Department’s assurance, on her watch, that Keystone would replace the dangerous and dirty transportation of oil by rail car.
The anti-Keystone campaign was led by billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, who made his money in coal and hopes one day to be the Democratic governor of California. Steyer’s efforts have alienated blue-collar voters who’ve watched the environmental movement kill jobs with man-made water shortages in California and attacks against the coal industry in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, and Michigan. The result? A top-down version of class warfare, in which bicoastal elites attempt to quash the incomes of middle-American workers. In the California state assembly, the water woes produced a revolt among legislators from heavily Hispanic agricultural districts. Nationally, Democrats have the support of barely one-third of white-male workers.
Obama’s extra-constitutional efforts to bestow amnesty on illegal immigrants also threaten the wages of working-class Americans, black and white. As Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama explained:
Everyone understands that a large increase in the number of immigrants increases the GDP: more people means more overall consumption. But the question is: who benefits from such a large surge in the available supply of labor into a country? If you suddenly provide legal status to 30 million immigrants, most of whom will be lower skilled, it will simultaneously increase the GDP while reducing per-capita GDP—and reducing the wages of the current workforce. It will hit the lower-income worker particularly hard. . . . recent immigration has reduced the wages of native workers by 5.3 percent.
What remains of the Democrats’ working-class vote is imperiled by the stagnant economy. Unlike working-class voters, the heavily upper-middle-class Jewish vote remained loyally Democratic in the 2012 and 2014 elections. But that loyalty has been shaken by Obama’s problematic accord with Iran, which allows the terrorist state to fund Hezbollah and prop up—with Russian help—the mass-murdering Assad regime in what remains of Syria. Jewish opinion has split evenly over the Iran deal. But even Democratic senators who supported it, under threat of an Obama-backed primary challenge, prefaced their support with long accounts of what was wrong with the deal. They and Jewish voters will only get more anxious if it’s demonstrated that the current Russian/Iranian buildup in Syria was well under way before the Senate voted on the agreement. Some say that the Obama administration equivocated about what it knew of those dangerous developments in order to secure passage of the deeply flawed accord.
Finally, Democrats are divided on their presidential candidates’ support for late-term abortion and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The party’s presidential nominee will carry the burden of Obama’s policies into Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, and the states of the upper Midwest—all of which have been closely contested in the last two elections. Democratic divisions present an enormous opportunity for Republicans, provided the GOP nominates a candidate who can take advantage.