There is a major difference in how our two national parties view each other’s voters. For Democrats, Republicans live in flyover country, which is inhabited by deplorables—racists, homophobes, and misogynists who would like to have women deal with their “reproductive health” in some back alley.
But the GOP view of their electoral opposition may be even weirder. Talk to any Republican and they’ll tell you that Democratic voters are mostly victims—children, really—abused and led around by the demagogic, bigoted, pied piper leadership of the Democratic Party. It is thus incumbent on Republican journalists and politicians to come to the rescue of Jews, blacks, and other minorities who have been deceived by the Democrats for too long.
Among their many supposed sins, the Democrats are accused of hiding their 19th-century racist past, not doing enough to back Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud coalition in Israel, refusing to spend money on charter schools that help racial minorities in cities that are run by Democrats, and, most recently, ignoring the racial insensitivity of Democratic officials in Virginia who once wore blackface.
Republicans also never tire of telling us how Democrats hurt women by misconstruing the feminist movement, which they understand better than the Left. Moreover, Democratic mayors in New York, Chicago, Baltimore, and so on have been guilty of “using” black voters but then doing nothing for them. On Fox News and in Republican newspapers, we see garbage and drug needles piling up in Democratic-run cities. The residents of these places are never seen as complicit in these problems but are depicted as the pitiful victims of the Democrats they vote for.
Perhaps it’s time to see the relationship of Democratic voters to their party in an entirely different light. We should take into account friend-enemy relations, a reality that the Democratic leadership understands all too well. Millions of people vote on the basis of what they dislike and fear, and most of them are found on the Democratic side. No matter how many movies Dinesh D’Souza produces depicting Democrats as the party of slaveowners, most black voters are not about to change their voting habits on this basis. Instead black leaders denounce Republicans as tightwads who are insensitive to the financial demands they make on behalf of their communities. Republicans are also the party of white evangelicals, whom blacks may associate with past discrimination. No one is saying these stereotypes are fair. But they exist as a critical variable, which is not likely to go away, even if black neighborhoods are piled high with trash and full of crime under Democratic leadership.
Most Jews dislike the Republican Party because they associate it with the idea of a Christian America. And since the 1960s, as Peter Novick exhaustively shows in The Holocaust in American Life, blame for the Nazis’ attempted extermination of the Jews has shifted in both Jewish and non-Jewish accounts from Nazi pagans to white Christians. The Holocaust is now routinely—perhaps most starkly in a book by Daniel Goldhagen—placed at the doorstep of Christian civilization. In my view, this shift is based on reckless generalization and feeds into an unjustified Jewish hostility toward religious Christians. But it’s nonetheless convinced many Jews that even Christians who appear to be effusively philosemitic are really anti-Jewish. Democrats, meanwhile, are supposedly friendlier to Jews because they are cleansing public life of traditional biblical morality, most of which ironically comes from Hebrew Scripture. From 2016 to 2018, while the Trump administration was trying to hammer home that Democrats were unfriendly to Israel and, by implication, to American Jews, Jewish identification with the Democratic Party went from 71 percent to 79 percent.
Democratic voters are not victims of a national party. They are choosing exactly the leaders they want. Recently the Republican media went viral attacking New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for, among other iniquities, treating minorities with contempt. But de Blasio has been enormously popular among blacks and the gulf between his white and black support in the city has usually been 40 percent or more. As late as December 2018, de Blasio’s approval rating among blacks was 55 percent and among Hispanics 53 percent. Minority voters, who have noted his attacks on white privilege and his biracial family, stand by the embattled mayor. They probably don’t care that he has been unwilling to pour money into charter schools or doesn’t run a fiscally responsible government. The fact that de Blasio and the NYPD have been at war may have strengthened his ties to black voters, too. No one is saying that these voters are making perfect electoral choices. But that’s different from saying they’re victims of the Democratic Party.
Until Republicans decide to act strategically and stop relying on the same old tropes that get them nowhere, in election after election, they will continue to lose.
Paul Gottfried is Raffensperger Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Elizabethtown College, where he taught for 25 years. He is a Guggenheim recipient and a Yale Ph.D. He is the author of 13 books, most recently Fascism: Career of a Concept and Revisions and Dissents.