Why Voters Vote

John C. Goodman
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Posted: Jun 20, 2015 12:01 AM
Why Voters Vote

Hillary Clinton is still refusing to say whether she thinks President Obama should have the same fast track authority her husband and other presidents have had to negotiate trade agreements. She is refusing to say how she would have voted the other day when Democrats in the House of Representatives abandoned their own president en masse after he pleaded with them to give him authority to negotiate with Pacific nations. Her latest comments on the subject are at best described as waffling.

This is after she earlier described the Trans-Pacific Partnership as setting a “gold standard in trade agreements” and after chiding her fellow Democrats to “get off the fence on trade.” It is after she endorsed the trade agreement President Obama is proposing on 45 public occasions. (All 45 are listed by John Tapper at CNN Politics.) It is despite David Brooks’ observation that almost all serious economists are convinced of the economic benefits of free trade for the country as a whole.

Will any of this affect her chances of being the Democratic presidential nominee? Probably not at all.

If that doesn’t surprise you, try to imagine a Republican candidate refusing to say how he or she would have voted on the issue. Or any other serious national issue. I think it is safe to say that such a person would be immediately dismissed as a serious contender for the Republican nomination. I checked with several seasoned pols and they all agreed.

The two parties are obviously different. What accounts for that difference?

The Republican Party has four factions, Matthew Dowd announced on This Week with George Stephanopoulos a few weeks ago. They are: the libertarians, the evangelicals, the Tea Party and the establishment. Notice that all four factions are defined by ideas. They are defined by how they think the world should be organized.

Can you name the four idea factions that make up the Democratic Party? The problem is that the Democratic Party is not a party of ideas. It is a party of special interests and groups who respond to identity politics. When Clinton announced her candidacy, she carefully went down the list of groups she intended to target: women, minorities (read blacks), Hispanics, immigrants, the LGBT community (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender), etc.

Noticeably absent from the identity groups she listed are “whites,” especially “white males.” Democrats have been getting fewer and fewer votes from these last two groups these days. That may be understandable. By means of omission, she is certainly signaling that she is not looking out for them.

Then of course there are the economic interests, including working women, minimum wage workers, teachers and members of just about every labor union in the country.

In all cases the strategy is the same. Attached to every group there is a single issue or a set of issues that is vote-determining. Members of the group may disagree with the candidate on every other issue. But those disagreements don’t matter.

Republicans never campaign this way. If they did, Republican voters wouldn’t vote for them.

Here is something else interesting. A CNN-ORC poll finds that 57 percent of the public say Hillary Clinton is not “honest and trustworthy,” up 10 points from a year ago.

Will that matter?

It may matter to independents. But it is unlikely to cost her the Democratic nomination.