Neal Gabler, Moyers & Company
Now that Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, we are likely to get all sorts of mainstream media analysis about how his narrow pathway to Election Day victory runs through white working-class America, the way Ronald Reagan’s did, while the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, must corral young people, minorities and the well-educated.
In case you haven’t noticed, there is an unmistakable media bias in this – one that was framed perfectly in a Newsweek cover story by Evan Thomas eight years ago. It was about Barack Obama’s alleged “Bubba Gap,” and illustrated with a picture of arugula — and beer. Democrats, naturally, were the arugula eaters.
This idea that Republicans are “real” Americans and Democrats aren’t is now a generation-long meme in the media, and it has had tremendous repercussions for our politics. It used to be that Republicans were the effete ones and Democrats the salt-of-the-earth. Then Ronald Reagan came along and pried working-class voters away from the Democrats – the so-called “Reagan Democrats” – and suddenly the media reversed party roles, deciding that America tilted right, and that Democrats were elitists. This idea that Republicans are ‘real’ Americans and Democrats aren’t is now a generation-long meme in the media, and it has had tremendous repercussions for our politics.
I have no idea who will win the election this November, but I can pretty much assure you of this: we will be hearing an awful lot about Trump Democrats who, like those Reagan Democrats, may abandon the Democratic Party because they allegedly find it too high-blown.
But this is what you probably won’t hear: those Reagan Democrats, at least not as we usually think of them — urban, Rust Belt laborers — didn’t last much beyond Reagan. They were a temporary blip who didn’t realign American politics the way the media tell us they did. Trump Democrats might be something of a myth, too – a collaboration of the MSM and the candidate to portray him and his party as the agents of blue-collar, middle America because it fits the media’s stereotype of angry workers blowing gaskets.
Yes, Republicans control both houses of Congress, and, yes, they are dominant at the governor and state legislature levels. This, however, is largely the product of certain peculiarities in the American political system rather than any great Democratic defection or love of Republicanism: things like low turnout in local and midterm elections among minorities and the poor, who are likely to vote Democratic; subsequent gerrymandering of districts to benefit Republicans; absurd disproportions in which Wyoming, with its population of 584,000, gets the same number of senators as California with its 39 million; and the role of money in elections, as money generally flows more freely to Republicans than to Democrats for the obvious reason that the GOP’s benefactors have more to gain from the system.
If you just read newspapers and watch TV news, you would probably never guess that actually there are fewer self-identified conservatives in America than there are self-identified liberals, or that Democrats outnumber Republicans 29 percent to 26 percent in the latest Gallup Poll.