Opinion: Democrats vs. 'deplorables' in Montana, Georgia's 6th District

Three weeks remain before the runoff election in the 6th Congressional District, and Democrats are increasingly desperate to notch a victory after a couple of close-but-no-cigar finishes elsewhere. The most galling has to be in Montana , where GOP operatives feared a loss -- and that was before the thuggish Republican candidate body-slammed a reporter the week of the election.

(Aside: The result in Montana would seem to be another argument against long periods of early voting. The benefits of early voting, either at polling places or by absentee ballot, mainly accrue to the two main political parties rather than voters, who too often end up voting along their usual partisan lines without all the information that would have been available to them had they waited until Election Day. Now, back to the main story ...)

The 6th District race is still too close to call, but already we are seeing a good bit of hand-wringing on the left about what else Democrats have to do to win an election when -- in their view -- the GOP led by President Trump is in mid-self-immolation. Most of what I've seen is a lot less thoughtful than something Matt Taibbi wrote for Rolling Stone . Here's the relevant excerpt:

"The unspoken subtext of a lot of the Democrats' excuse-making is their growing belief that the situation is hopeless -- and not just because of fixable institutional factors like gerrymandering, but because we simply have a bad/irredeemable electorate that can never be reached.

"This is why the 'basket of deplorables' comment last summer was so devastating. That the line would become a sarcastic rallying cry for Trumpites was inevitable. (Of course it birthed a political merchandising supernova.) To many Democrats, the reaction proved the truth of (Hillary) Clinton's statement. As in: we're not going to get the overwhelming majority of these yeehaw-ing 'deplorable' votes anyway, so why not call them by their names?

"But the 'deplorables' comment didn't just further alienate already lost Republican votes. It spoke to an internal sickness within the Democratic Party, which had surrendered to a negativistic vision of a hopelessly divided country.

"Things are so polarized now that, as Georgia State professor Jennifer McCoy put it on NPR this spring, each side views the other not as fellow citizens with whom they happen to disagree, but as a 'threatening enemy to be vanquished.'

"The 'deplorables' comment formalized this idea that Democrats had given up on a huge chunk of the population, and now sought only to defeat and subdue their enemies."

There's more at the link, some of which I agree with and some of which I don't (the claim that "Barack Obama, for all his faults, never gave in to that mindset" is particularly egregious, given that Obama's rhetoric about Republicans as president amounted to one long battle with a strawman of his own creation). But this point about Democrats writing off a large chunk of America as not just unwinnable but unworthy of their attention, except to the degree they must subjugate the "deplorables," is essential.

The anti-elitism within the Republican Party is not, contrary to conventional Democratic wisdom, the same thing as anti-intellectualism. It is much more a reaction to the academic and cultural elites' disdain for them: their ways, their beliefs, their values, and so on. That reaction may have evolved, in some quarters, into a kind of anti-intellectualism, but that's not how it started out.

The "deplorables" mindset is also evident in something as cliche, at this point, as Democrats' belief in demographics as their destiny. Pay attention to the talk among Democrats about when they will be able to win a statewide election in a state like Georgia. There is virtually no discussion of whether their message or their ideas might reach and resonate with a majority of the electorate, whatever it looks like. Instead, it's a numbers game, as in: Will the 2018 electorate still be too white for them to win? In other words: When will our tribe be larger than their tribe?

There seems to be limited recognition that, if Democrats continue to lose market share among white voters, the increase in minority voting strength will take longer to take hold. Or, to go a step further, that if Republicans can simply make in-roads with minority voters to the tune of 1-2 percentage points per election cycle, it's unclear that demographics alone will topple them. If that scenario seems unlikely, consider that Republicans have at least been talking about (if not quite acting on) Minority Outreach much longer than Democrats have been talking about Deplorable Outreach.

The consequences of this kind of thinking -- by both sides -- are too large to ignore, and the politics of it all is actually the least of our worries. At some point, the "enemy to be vanquished" may not be only a metaphorical enemy, and the vanquishing may not be limited to elections.

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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield
Kyle Wingfield
Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.