To woo the white working class, should Democrats move to the left? This question is dividing a party still traumatized by 2016, with Sen. Bernie Sanders and its rising young presidential contenders pledging support for both single-payer health care and a guaranteed government jobs program. But there's reason to wonder whether reviving the New Deal can reclaim the hearts of former Democrats who switched to Donald Trump. A new University of Pennsylvania study of these pivotal voters found the anxiety and anger that Trump tapped was not primarily economic; it was cultural. White Christians, especially men, felt they were becoming a scorned, increasingly powerless minority in a country that was once theirs. Trump promised to take it back. In 2018 and 2020, the old James Carville battle cry — "It's the economy, stupid" — may no longer apply.
A lot has changed since 1992. For much of the electorate, politics is a ritualized display of tribal identity, not a mere choice of policies. You are who you hate. Consider the vitriol on display just in the past week. At the White House Correspondents' Dinner, comedian Michelle Wolf said she hoped a tree fell on Kellyanne Conway, likened Ivanka Trump to "an empty box of tampons," and tossed off flippant jokes about abortion. Before a cheering MAGA crowd in Michigan, Trump attacked the FBI and Justice Department, said journalists "hate your guts," and sarcastically asked, "Are there any Hispanics in the room?" In coming months, the bone-deep rancor — the belief that it's Us vs. Them in a zero-sum struggle for survival — will only grow worse, as the Russia investigation reaches a climax, talk of impeachment and a "Deep State coup" grows, and a constitutional crisis tears at the nation's seams. A guarantee of a $15-an-hour government job will not persuade many voters to switch tribes. For now and the foreseeable future, it's the culture war, stupid.