It’s easy to forget about rural America, but it’s equally dangerous to ignore the idyllic countryside inhabitants when running for the highest office in the land, as candidates discovered last year.
Among the myriad of reasons for her defeat last year was Hillary Clinton’s serious disconnect and lack of appeal to the rural American voter, whose voting power is not something to be scoffed at in the slightest. We’ve already beaten the proverbial dead horse into oblivion by analyzing in painstaking detail why Mrs. Clinton lost the election. Most people have moved on and forgotten, outside of Mrs. Clinton, that is, whose excuses as to why she lost quite literally fill an entire book. In my view, there’s a serious problem with the typical liberal mindset. Chief among these are a serious elitist complex, as well as an insufferable sense of moral superiority used to beat anyone with differing viewpoints into pseudo-moral submission. This sense of elitism and moral superiority quite plausibly killed the Democrats’ chances in rural America.
Sure, there is a marked difference between going downtown to partake in terrible dancing compared to sitting out in the open field around a bonfire, carrying on in the company of friends under a stunning canvas of stars and mountains – perhaps I am indeed a little biased in my Jeffersonian perception of the good life. However, idealist views of life are not the point here. Instead, consider a more politically-nuanced view of the rural way of living.
In the political sphere, the rural vote is not a portion of the electorate that one aspiring for a higher office can neglect. They are a voting base that, when banded together, is a fearsome political force. Simply put, don’t ignore them. And, though it seems an obvious caveat, don’t disparage them. According to elections data from the New York Times, rural voters turned out in numbers big enough to flip Pennsylvania, arguably the flip that won the election for Donald Trump. In fact, in the 2,332 counties that make up rural/small-town America, Donald Trump won 60 percent of the vote. Clinton, on the other hand, took a mere 34 percent. 74 percent of America is classified as small town/rural counties, but is home to only about a quarter of the population. To ignore and disparage the voters is an extremely dangerous game to play. Statistics from the New York Times show that rural voters turned out in numbers large enough to flip traditionally Democratic states such as Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, arguably enough to crest the 270 threshold. Where, then, did Hillary make one of her biggest mistakes?
It all starts with the “basket of deplorables” speech that Mrs. Clinton delivered, stating that “half of Trump’s supporters belong in a basket of deplorables”- to raucous applause from her fundraising crowd. Regardless of which way you paint it, this was perhaps the most ill-advised move that Mrs. Clinton made in the course of her not-so-perfect campaign. Indeed, pollsters agree that this was the single greatest break in undecided voters to the Trump camp. The context of the speech may have been different, but Clinton should know that a campaign for the presidency in the 21st century is one of soundbites. Considering this truth, rural voters heard repeatedly a soundbite that portrayed a presidential candidate willing to insult them to score political points. This is one of the biggest reasons why rural voters flocked to the Trump camp. The second thing that might have killed the Democrats’ chance at the presidency, especially trying to appeal to a majority-white rural population, was their constant obsession with identity politics. Keen to paint Trump supporters as racists, xenophobes, sexists, and/or white supremacists, the Democratic Party did more to antagonize than to unite. By the end of the campaign, the average American was likely to have been enveloped in the Democrats’ wrath of identity politics, leaving little reason even for those typically left-leaning voters to hit the polls.
I will not claim to be an expert on perceptions and how demeaning terms like that are received in a person’s mind. One can reasonably assert that they are not received entirely well when going through a person’s mental lexicon. Generalizing an entire group of people – something the moral warriors of the Left constantly berate us on – is not bound to win you votes or political points, and especially not the votes of rural whites. The astonishing thing is, is that even left-leaning news outlets such as Slate, Salon, and even prominent liberals are decrying identity politics as dragging the “progressive agenda” down. Until the Left acknowledges that their insulting actions disparaged hardworking rural Americans and undoubtedly helped elect President Trump, we can prepare to see a 2020 repeat.
The rural-urban dynamic is undoubtedly changing, but simply forgetting about them, and even going so far as to flat-out insult a clear majority of possible supporters is a dangerous game. Apparently, it is a game the Left seems content to play.