It looks like the end of Jim Webb’s quest for the presidency, at least as a Democrat. I thought he would hang around a little longer but, having given reporters a chance to dust off the word “quixotic,” Webb’s campaign appears to be an end.
As we discussed last week, Webb was bound to fail because the constituency he represented most strongly, Appalachian Democrats, no longer exists in any strength. The shift has been dramatic, much more so than the lowland South’s fifty-year mosey over to the party of Lincoln or New England’s gradual drift to the party of Jeff Davis. Parts of Appalachia, like eastern Tennessee, have always had Republicans (V.O. Key made that point in Southern Politics in 1949!) but much of the region stayed strong until much more recently. Look at the George Bush’s 1988 landslide: even as every state around it voted Republican, West Virginia was Dukakis’s sixth-best state. Clinton carried it twice, and it wasn’t even close! But since George W. Bush narrowly won it (and the surrounding regions of nearby states) in 2000, the Democrats have given up on West Virginia and the rest of Appalachia. Webb’s fate just proves the point to anyone who had any doubt.
Being abandoned by one party, though, doesn’t make you love the other. Plenty of Webb Democrats are now Republicans, but I suspect many others simply view the G.O.P. as the next best thing, rather than a true political home as FDR’s Democratic Party was to them. Without an effort from the Republicans, Webb Democrats have as much chance of becoming Trumpites as anything. Republicans have been getting better at envisioning solutions to urban poverty, they should not neglect the plight of the rural poor. The national Democrats have abandoned a whole section of America. The GOP should not do the same.
There was a lot of talk during the Democratic debate this week about Jim Webb, and his place in the Democratic party. Was he too conservative? Too martial? Too old-fashioned?
The real problem with Webb for Democrats is not what ideas he represents, but what geographic region he represents: Appalachia. Once the stronghold of FDR’s Democratic coalition, this region has been abandoned by Roosevelt’s successors. And the change is happening quickly. Look at this chart of the decrease in Democratic vote in Kentucky, and note that the mountainous counties have been in much steeper decline:
If we take the date back to 2004, the shift is even more pronounced:
Democrats in Appalachia are abandoning their party in droves, and they’re not coming back. Democrats at the national level claim to be the party that supports the poor, but when it comes to America’s poorest region, they seem to be going out of their way to alienate their erstwhile supporters. (For more on that, check out Kevin Williamson’s 2014 article on Appalachia here.) On guns, on religion, and on individualism, the party promotes everything Appalachians are against, and tries to make up for it with more welfare spending.
The people Jim Webb represents don’t want handouts, they want jobs. The Democratic establishment responds by fighting the coal industry, historically the biggest employer in Appalachia. Every step the Democrats take pushes them farther away from these historic stalwarts of the party. Webb is the last Democratic leader to care about them. With his inevitable defeat, Democrats will close the book on the region as they’ve closed their hearts to its people long ago.
The story of the night at the Democrats’ Las Vegas Debate was that Hillary 6.0 was ClintonCo’s most bug-free release since 2009. She made no obvious errors, and her anger subroutine was almost as good as real live angry man Bernie Sanders. Her logic programming was still flawed, as shown in the discussion of whether she was progressive or moderate, but flawed logic may be a feature, not a bug, with the Democratic electorate. All in all, though, I think she calmed the Democratic Establishment’s nerves, and may have helped to stave off the Draft Biden movement. There will be more stumbles–Hillary is still a deeply flawed candidate–but this competent performance may stop the slide, for now.
Sanders’s performance was also strong. He came off at times as a crazy, partially deaf old man, and at one point he definitely wasn’t paying attention, but he, too, made no obvious errors. Sanders projected his weird vision of bourgeois socialism as effectively as his followers could have hoped, and recovered from his earlier struggles with black Democrats by showing that he had been adequately reeducated in the new dogma (which he likely believed all along, but lacked the adequate buzz words to convey).
As to the rest: O’Malley sleepwalked through most of the debate, but showed some flashes of fire at the end when discussing green energy, an issue no one cares about. Webb spent half his time complaining that he wasn’t given enough time, and the other half demonstrating that there’s no place for men like him in the Democratic party. I’d love to see him on stage at the next Republican debate. And Chafee. Even though he’s had months to prepare, his answers sounded like what you’d hear if you broke into his house in the middle of the night, woke him up, shined a flashlight in his eyes, and demanded he explain his PATRIOT Act vote. I don’t think he or Lessig have much of a shot, but I know who would’ve added more serious content to the debate.
On a lighter note, here are some of the best debate tweets of the night:
Dodging the question:
The PATRIOT Act:
And my favorite, on legalizing marijuana:
There’s not much that can be said about tonight’s Democratic debate that hasn’t been said elsewhere. My thoughts, briefly, are that for the lesser-known candidates (Webb, O’Malley, and Chaffee) the debate represents their first chance to talk to the nationwide Democratic primary electorate. If they don’t make a splash, they will never get more than a few hardcore supporters to vote for them.
For Clinton, expectations are set pretty low. All she has to do is show she’s not robotic or unpleasant and avoid making any obvious mistakes. I don’t think she has it in her to be exciting, but she might manage to look interesting and competent. If she fails at that, we will hear a lot more about Biden in the coming days.
The biggest test, I think, is for Sanders. He’s amassed legions of hardcore fans, but he has to look like a serious alternative to Clinton if he’s ever to attract anyone besides the white socialists who currently support him. He’s unlikely to do anything to lose the support of those people, but coming off as a wild-eyed lunatic could foreclose his chance of winning over any of the party’s remaining moderates.
Here’s a few articles that might interest you: