Skip to main content
Sutures Are Strained

Biden and the Democrats, Six Weeks In

Much has been made lately of the “crisis” of the Republican Party, but it is really remarkably unified because it’s become a party of aggrieved Whites who come together at the feet of their idol, Donald Trump. Republicans who don’t fit this description will have a decision to make, but their party is inherently a minority nationally.

The Democrats are an unwieldy coalition of constituencies, led by a president who’s nobody’s idol, just a decent and competent politician.

The Democrats are an unwieldy coalition of constituencies, led by a president who’s nobody’s idol, just a decent and competent politician.

African Americans are part of the core of the Democratic coalition. Ninety percent of Black voters went for the Democrats. They know the post-Nixon Republicans are no longer the party of Lincoln; the post Johnson Democrats are their party now. They are pro-civil and voting rights, they are for programs to lift up the poor. They are more religious than other Democrats: indeed, the church is the core institution of the Black community. These folks are not necessarily comfortable with a liberal stance on such social issues as abortion rights or LGBTQ rights.

The liberals are the other part of the core. Largely urban, predominantly White, more educated and affluent than African Americans, the liberals (and a frustrated fringe of actual socialists) are the left wing of the party. They provide a disproportionate number of activists; they also donate more money. They are for the full range of Democratic causes, but get more excited precisely on social issues like abortion rights and LGBTQ rights, that may divide them from many African Americans. Though some leaders like African American Representative Ayana Pressley are non-White, the liberal left wing of the party is predominantly White.

Voters rooted in Latin America form another sector. They are far more diverse than African Americans. National origins far outweigh identification as Latino, Latinx, or Hispanic. The three most numerous communities (Mexican, Puerto Rican and Cuban) are quite distinct culturally and politically, with different regional bases within the United States. Moreover, each Latin American community is deeply divided by race and class. The minority of the minority that is relatively affluent also tends to identify as White in the North American context. They are more likely to assimilate to White society (and more likely to be Republicans) than their poorer neighbors. So the majority of Mexicans and Puerto Ricans will identify as minorities and vote Democratic, but a substantial minority won’t buy into that.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

The Cubans (dominant in South Florida) are completely distinct. Refugees or descendants of refugees from the Communist regime in Cuba, they have been predominantly Republican and conservative since the 1960s. Some of the younger generation have moved away from that stance, but they remain a minority among Cubans. It was the Cuban vote in Miami-Dade County that delivered Florida to Trump in 2020. Venezuelan and Nicaraguan immigrants have a similar background and political stance.

Organized labor was the core constituency of Franklin Roosevelt’s coalition, but seven decades of federal policies discouraging unionization have rendered labor a shadow of its old self. The most extreme example is West Virginia, where for decades a strong United Mineworkers made the state the most reliably Democratic in the country. Now, with the UMW crippled, West Virginia is the most reliably Republican. Still, labor can be a significant voice in Rust Belt states like Pennsylvania or Michigan. The White working class tends to be antagonistic toward both White liberals and Blacks, so absent strong union leadership, they have largely shifted to Trump and the Republicans. But to the extent that some still vote Democratic, they pose a challenge to both Blacks and White liberals.

The constituency that put Biden over the top in 2020 is not even Democratic: suburban Whites. Suburban women were so turned off by Trump that they voted heavily for Biden, delivering states from Pennsylvania to Arizona to Georgia into the Democratic column. But enough of these people turned around and voted Republican down-ballot to reduce the Democratic majority in the House and make them dependent on Vice President Harris’ tie-breaking vote to control the Senate. These people are mostly not liberals, and they are mostly White. If the GOP ever breaks Trump’s grip (or if a new, anti-Trump conservative party emerges), these White suburban voters will go away.

This Democratic coalition is held together by fear of the return of Trump. Benjamin Franklin said, "We must all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

This is what Biden and the Congressional leadership have to work with. His appointments and executive orders deliver symbolic bones to his backers. His legislative proposals represent the least common denominator of the coalition: even the $15 minimum wage could not get to 50 votes, so it has been taken out of the pandemic relief bill that Biden insists must pass next week. Any substantive legislation that can’t be passed under reconciliation will require negotiating with enough Republicans to get to 60 votes. That negotiation will inevitably fracture his coalition. The only alternative would be to bite the bullet and abolish the filibuster entirely. Biden doesn’t want to do this, but if he can’t draw enough GOP support, he will have to agree to that “nuclear option.” Paradoxically, going that route could itself fracture his coalition, as Senators Manchin and Synema might refuse to go along.

impeachment unavoidable

If the Republican Party is a solid block that won’t float, the Democratic Party is a raft held together by anger and fear. Neither one thought about life preservers.

John Peeler