Democrats play identity politics but forget to appeal to nation as a whole

An appeal to unity followed by a bald pitch to the nation’s Spanish speakers is a delicious irony — and exactly what is going to re-elect Trump.

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Democratic presidential candidates at a debate in Miami.

The first Democratic presidential primary debate of the 2020 campaign season, hosted by NBC News, took place at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, Florida, on Wednesday.


Beto O’Rourke was asked a question early at the first Democratic Presidential Debate Wednesday, about whether he supports a 70% tax on those earning more than $10 million a year. 

He replied that “it’s going to take all of us coming together,” then started speaking in Spanish. I don’t speak Spanish. So while he talked, I idly mused whether I could get the $50 back that I gave him when he was running for Senate against Ted Cruz in Texas.

Because while I have no trouble at all with Spanish being spoken under almost any circumstance, and fully support immigration reform, creating a path to citizenship for our nation’s 11 million undocumented residents now living in limbo, and an end to the various indignities committed against Hispanic American citizens and immigrants, what I do not support is four more years of Donald Trump.

Opinion bug


O’Rourke’s unprovoked, out-of-the-blocks flaunting of his language skills is the most wincing bit of Democratic tone deafness since John Kerry snapped a salute at the 2004 Democrat National Convention and said, “I’m John Kerry and I’m reporting for duty.”

An appeal to unity immediately followed by a bald pitch to the nation’s 30 million Spanish speakers is not only a delicious if easy-to-miss irony, but also exactly what is going to re-elect Trump.

The Republicans won in 2016 by building a coalition. They locked down their largest group of supporters, Whites Who Didn’t Go to College (and so missed classes like “Why Treason is Bad A01,” and “How to Grasp When You’re Being Lied To”). Then the GOP added Evangelicals Who Don’t Follow Their Faith, Jews Who Care More About Israel Than Judaism, and Various Minorities Trying to Pass By Ignoring their Own Interests — some 29% of Hispanics voted for Trump, despite his platform of open hostility toward them.

That coalition, combined with voter suppression and a boost over the wall by the Russians, worked. What’s going to work for the Democrats in 2020? Not fracturing the electorate into tiny pieces and then trying to gather up the shards. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, whose gaze at O’Rourke while he hablaba español was of open shock, tried to find ever smaller sub-divisions to spotlight.

“We do not talk enough about trans Americans, especially African-American trans Americans,” Booker said. 

Ahem. I’m going out on a limb here. But the trans situation is being discussed plenty, thank you very much, and while significant, is neither among the 25 most pressing national problems, nor a core issue that will carry Dems to the White House.

Rather, it is just one of the many situations that will only get worse during a second Trump administration. Focus, people.

The canyon floor looms, and there is the question of what O’Rourke said in fractured Spanish while telling 90% of his audience to go sit in the corner. That took digging. Google first serves up a “full transcript” from NBC that omits the Spanish entirely, with no reference to it at all. For a terrible moment I thought I had imagined the whole thing.

Time Magazine and Washington Post inserted a note, “(SPEAKING IN SPANISH)” as if it were a stage direction (EXIT, STAGE LEFT).

CNN somehow managed, translating O’Rourke’s remarks as: “We need to include each person in the success of this economy. But if we want to do that, we need to include each person in our democracy. Each voter, we need the representation, and each voice, we must listen to.”

Which doesn’t address the advisability of a 70% income tax for rich people —and that, remember, is what O’Rourke actually was asked about. I know the candidates all want attention. But the ability to answer a simple question seems a key presidential trait. Particularly since our current president, asked this week if he would talk to Putin about Russian meddling in the 2020 election, replied: “None of your business.”

Maybe O’Rourke’s remarks sound less cliche in the original Spanish. Trying to “include each person” is exactly the problem. By appealing to 327 million individual Americans you end up alienating half, and don’t build a big enough voter bloc to counterbalance Donald Trump’s solid granite cube of panting faithful.

Barack Obama won because he offered a vision — an illusion, perhaps — of the nation drawing together despite our differences. We need that vision now, more than ever.

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