The Mother of All Blind Spots

We all have blind spots. I can’t see mine. You can’t see yours. That’s why they’re called blind spots.

One of the things most all of us have in common is the tendency to wrongly assume that others see what we see. That’s the mother of all blind spots.

That tendency is on prominent display in politics these days. On the Democratic side, it’s incredibly common to hear voters say they plan to “vote blue no matter who.” To partisans, that sounds like practicality mixed with a fondness for party unity. To those who are not party loyalists (and who end up deciding elections), it sounds like Democrats don’t stand for anything and will back anyone, no matter how flawed. The current inhabitant of the White House knows how to exploit those feelings. He is a master at it.

Instead of concentrating on which candidate’s thinking most closely aligns with theirs, many a Democratic voter focuses almost solely on who theoretically might stand the best chance of winning. And trying to discern “electability” is a purely theoretical business. Before the summer of 2016, it was next to impossible to find a media pundit or political professional who thought Donald Trump was remotely electable. But look who ended up in the White House. Trump understands something about the current moment and political climate that neither establishment Democrats nor establishment Republicans can fathom.

Under prevailing political logic, electability is code for middle of the road. But when the electorate has polarized and the center has more or less disappeared, wanting a centrist is a risky impulse. Our current politics is like a donut. No middle. That makes the center a no-man’s land. And it makes running to the center an exercise in futility for the time being.

Republicans seem to grasp this better than Democrats. Look at what Republicans have done in recent years… or even recent decades. They’ve gone hard right, and seem to move even farther to the right with each passing election. And they’ve won most elections across the country.

At a time when there is a strong anti-establishment mood, populists have a huge advantage. Overcoming Trump’s authoritarian populism will require a strong democratic populism. Obsessing over traditional “swing voters” makes little sense. Voters with the habit of swinging—voting for a Democrat one time and a Republican the next—are a vanishing breed. Most have chosen sides.

There is a new kind of swing voter, and their ranks are much larger and growing. They are the swing voters who either will vote for their favorite party’s nominee or not vote at all if they are not sufficiently excited by their side’s candidate.

All signs I see point to Trump voters sticking with him. If that’s the case, the election hinges on whether the Democratic nominee charges up the rest of the voters as much as Trump charges up his supporters. This goes against the grain of conventional thinking about electability, but maybe the candidate with the best chance of defeating Trump will be the candidate with the most passionate following who creates the most excitement and enthusiasm among this other, much larger population of swing voters.

Here’s an idea: Stop gazing into crystal balls. Instead of attempting divination in search of that elusive electability, vote as if you want to be represented. Vote for who you like best.

Mike McCabe

February 11, 2020