The Democrats’ Problem Isn’t Joe Manchin

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Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) on Capitol Hill, June 8.



Photo:

michael reynolds/Shutterstock

Political progressives are infuriated with Democratic Sen.

Joe Manchin

of West Virginia for insisting on bipartisanship at a time when the country is sharply divided, Democrats control the House by a whisker, and the Senate is split 50-50. The nerve of this guy!

Yes, Mr. Manchin is likely more interested in self-preservation than principle. He is a red-state Democrat with constituents who have little patience, if not disdain, for left-wing attacks on fossil fuels, law enforcement, private health insurance and the like. Backing a federal takeover of state election law, or supporting the elimination of a filibuster rule that is the only thing preventing left-wing domination on Capitol Hill, could mean the end of his political career.

Mr. Manchin isn’t being obstructionist so much as practical, and he’s forcing Democrats to confront tensions within their ranks that they can’t ignore forever. As more college-educated whites have joined the Democratic Party, it has lurched further left, causing discomfort among the more moderate black, Hispanic, Asian and working-class white Democrats who outnumber them. Unlike these progressive white elites, polling shows that minorities in the main tend to support things like voter-ID laws, school choice, race-blind college admissions and the presence of more police officers in high-crime neighborhoods.

David Shor,

a data scientist and Democratic strategist, first voiced these concerns in an interview earlier this year with New York magazine. Democrats have tended to treat racial and ethnic minorities as more progressive by nature, but Mr. Shor said that view was a mistake. “Roughly the same proportion of African-American, Hispanic, and white voters identify as conservative,” he said. “What happened in 2020 is that nonwhite conservatives voted for conservatives at higher rates; they started voting more like white conservatives.” Mr. Shor cited the left’s attacks on law enforcement after the death of

George Floyd

as an example. “In the summer, following the emergence of ‘defund the police,’ as a nationally salient issue, support for [Joe] Biden among Hispanic voters declined,” he said. “We raised the salience of an ideologically charged issue that millions of nonwhite voters disagreed with us on.”

A new analysis of the 2020 election published by a trio of Democratic advocacy groups largely confirms Mr. Shor’s observations. “Our assumptions about Dem support among voters of color—and the lack of differentiation in our messaging and outreach within demographic groups—cost us support in key races,” write Democratic operatives

Marlon Marshall

and

Lynda Tran

in the report. “Despite historic turnout, even where Black voters were key to Democratic successes this past cycle—including in GA, AZ, and MI—the data show drop off in support in 2020 compared to 2016 and 2018.”

Read More Upward Mobility

The media’s partisan inclination is to focus on divisions among Republicans. So long as

Donald Trump

continues to claim the election was stolen and the GOP leadership continues to indulge him, don’t expect that focus to change. Back in the real world, however, Republicans have an opportunity to take advantage of the Democrats’ own internal disarray. In 2020, Mr. Trump’s support rose by 4 points among Hispanics and by 6 points among black men. He won a higher percentage of the Asian vote than any Republican presidential candidate since

George W. Bush

in 2000. None of this means that the GOP is on the cusp of winning a majority of racial and ethnic minorities, but the trend lines are real, and Democrats have taken notice.

Liberals are quick to equate being a racial or ethnic minority with being inherently “woke.” But the wokest people tend to be wealthier white progressives, whom many racial and ethnic minorities find off-putting. Even Democrats are acknowledging that their share of the minority vote dipped last year because the party allowed these progressives to play an outsize role in messaging. It turns out that Republican criticism of critical race theory, police-defunding efforts, and left-wing indifference to illegal immigration isn’t only justified but also appeals to a significant chunk of minority voters.

The other takeaway for the GOP is that a free-market conservative message can appeal to nonwhites, even when it’s delivered via a candidate as impolitic as Mr. Trump. Despite references over the years to Mexican immigrant “rapists,” “s—hole countries” in Africa and “the China virus,” his support among minority voters grew. His policies mattered more than his crude language. The question is whether Republican candidates going forward will try to build on these gains by taking the time to court these voters in a manner they deserve. Rare is the Republican politician who knocks on doors in black neighborhoods or airs ads on black radio and social media. Perhaps that will change.

Mr. Manchin is taking it on the chin from his party’s left flank right now, which is too bad because he’s not the Democrats’ problem. He’s more like their scapegoat.

Main Street: The long-expected migration of Latino voters to the GOP may finally be starting and it’s in part thanks to the Democrats’ leftward lurch. Images: Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Appeared in the June 9, 2021, print edition.

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