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4 Hard Truths the Democrats Have to Face About the Election

Signs outside the W. Gray early voting location.EXPAND
Signs outside the W. Gray early voting location.
Photo by Jef Rouner

While the election of Joe Biden to the presidency is a call for celebration after four years of corruption, lies, and incompetency, the Democratic Party got some rude awakenings this cycle. The left just wouldn’t be the left if we didn’t immediately pick our scabs and drop them into our victory champagne, so here are some of the uncomfortable truths that will have to be faced in 2022 and beyond.

4. Texas Will Not Flip JUST On Voter Turnout

The long-standing belief is that the only reason Texas has not flipped blue is because we have a terrible voter turnout. Sometimes we have the worst turnout of the whole nation.  If only more people voted, then the Democrats would easily take control.

This election has shattered that myth. The voter turnout this year was 66 percent, which is a damn good score for America in general. Despite hopes and several polls that showed the state might be in play, Biden still definitively lost. The Texas House did not flip, John Cornyn sailed to an easy victory, and there was no Blue Wave to match what happened in 2018. While Biden did better than Hillary Clinton in 2016 (who herself did better than Barack Obama in 2012 and 2008), he fared worse than Beto O’Rourke did statewide in 2018.

If Democrats want to flip Texas, they will need two things. One, they will need to have targeted enfranchisement such as the initiative Stacey Abrams launched in Georgia after she lost the governorship. Let’s not forget that Texas Republicans still file voter registration challenges against marginalized people, including the homeless. It’s not just about getting people to the polls; Democrats must get the right people to vote. That’s not a moral position the left wants to be in, but it will be necessary.

Two, future presidential tickets must include a Texan. The last time voter turnout was higher, it was when Texas’ George H.W. Bush fought for re-election in 1992. In two-thirds of cases, hometown advantage swings states by 12 percent, and Biden only lost Texas by six. Texas has always gone for a ticket that contained a Texan with the exception of Lloyd Bentsen in 1988 against Ronald Reagan and Bush. If Democrats truly want the state, they need a Texas candidate. If the Republicans return to form by using Texans to secure Texas, it will remain forever out of reach.

3. Identity Politics is About to Get VERY Messy

It’s fun to call Trump and Republicans bigots because the evidence is so overwhelming it’s an easy moral victory. The fact that Democrats broke three glass ceilings with Kamala Harris and also elected the first openly trans state senator this year should be all the proof needed that diversity is mostly a left-wing quality.

That said, it just is not that simple. Some of the reason that Trump held onto Texas is that Latinx voters in the Rio Grande Valley went sharply for him more than they did in 2016. Places like Harris and Dallas County evened that out some, but it’s also part of a larger trend where Trump made double-digit inroads with people of color (especially men). Latinx support for Republicans was key to Florida remaining red, though it was also key to Arizona going blue. How will Democrats reach an increasingly conservative and rapidly growing voter block of non-whites? That is going to be very important.

Especially since Biden’s victory might have partially hinged on suburban white women dumping Trump. Just how important this shift was will be something that comes out months, maybe even years from now, but there’s little doubt that Trump lost his appeal to white women in the suburbs overall. Prioritizing the politics of white suburban women over the needs of Latinx voters is definitely not the kind of decision the Democrats want to have to make going forward. It’s problematic, to put it very mildly.

Even if they do, there’s no indication it’s a long-term winning strategy. Republicans have wised up when it comes to women and are running more of them than ever before. On top of that, when Republican women run against Democratic women, they have a really good track record of winning. As Republicans become more adept at recruiting social minorities to their cause, even against those group’s best interests, the automatic diversity win is becoming harder and harder. Outreach is going to have to become far more empathic and nuanced, and that’s hard in national politics.

2. Maybe It’s Time to Get Culty

It’s a source of pride to many on the left that we don’t have magic branded hats and drive around with Biden flags hanging off our trucks. But you know what? Maybe we should.

Democrats have the advantage of the coolest celebrities and most of the scientists on our side, but the Republicans have faith and a much stronger sense of community. It’s what’s enabled the right to build a die-hard populist movement despite being headed by a New York real estate mogul who does not share their stated religious principles and would not be caught dead with most of them. You never hear Republicans worry about things being cringe, and they will defend to the death anyone in their sphere. It’s not the best approach to things, but it’s also not the worst.

Democrats need a brand renewal. There was a time when we were quite good at it. There are people who still have Obama HOPE posters up in their homes and who remember when Bill Clinton was cool enough to be positively portrayed in popular cartoons. Biden has a little of that, with his aviator sunglasses and long history of hilarious memes. I think it played more of a role in him winning than we realize.

It’s time to stop being above the marketing. We don’t have to lie. There’s nothing duplicitous about a phrase like “Yes We Can.” It’s just as much fun to chant as “Lock Her Up.” Policy does not win elections. If it did, Hillary Clinton would be celebrating her second term election.

1. There Was No Widespread Repudiation of Trump

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One of the reasons we need to give people a better cult to belong to is because it’s clear from this election that Trumpism is not going to go away on its own. Biden did quite well in the election by a variety of factors, but Trump did not do that badly either. It certainly wasn’t as embarrassing a loss as someone with his record deserves.

Instead, tens of millions were ride or die for him. They had people trying to drive Biden/Harris buses off the road, storming election centers, and attending rallies that were proven to be super-spreader events for a virus that has killed 240,000 Americans. Trump may have lost enough support to cost him the election, but his legacy as the King of Liberal Tears will live on for years in the hearts of his followers.

The Democrats can’t wait for all those people to come to their senses and escape the mania, nor can they simply pretend that they don’t exist and have the right to representation. Conservatives have brand loyalty, and the only thing that will stop that is giving them a better brand. That will not be accomplished simply by being the better choice for government no matter how much it should. Democrats are going to have to offer what Trump did, but hopefully in a healthier and less deranged way that doesn’t rely on misinformation and corruption.

If they don’t… good luck.

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