4 completely wrong postelection things Democrats are fighting about

Reeling from their loss, Democrats have begun infighting. Problem is, they're fighting about the wrong things, based on the wrong assumptions.

1. Progressive economics vs. Identity politics

This fault line, partially dormant since the primaries, burst open after the election. Economic progressives blamed the loss on identity politics, arguing that Hillary Clinton didn't focus enough on jobs and other working class concerns. Social progressives pushed back, arguing that abandoning people of color, women, and LGBT Americans would be a moral and strategic mistake.

The whole fight is misguided.

First, they're not mutually exclusive. You can easily care about widening economic inequality and black people getting killed by the police. It's not either/or.

Second, it rests on the incorrect assumption that Donald Trump won because of policy, rather than culture (more on this below).

And third, Hillary campaigned on jobs more than anything else.

This intra-party fight continues the primary battle, with economic progressives insisting that Bernie Sanders would have won.

There's no way to know for sure, but the evidence indicates otherwise. As Marcus H. Johnson shows, candidates and ballot measures Sanders supported did poorly in the general election.

Additionally, Senate candidates running to Clinton's left on economic issues did worse than she did. If more progressive economic policies were the key to electoral victory, those Senate candidates would have done better than Hillary, not worse.

When you believe strongly in something, it's hard to accept that most of your fellow citizens do not. Especially when you surround yourself with like-minded people, and get your information from like-minded media. But the evidence that a majority of Americans are eager to pay higher taxes, and give up their employer-provided health insurance, in exchange for a European-style welfare state is nonexistent.

Besides, Hillary did talk about economic issues. A lot.

Check out this chart from Vox's David Roberts breaking down the words she used in her speeches.

Clinton spoke about economic issues far more than anything else. She didn't lose voters by harping incessantly on race or gender.

When you look at those numbers, it makes the argument that she would have won if only she talked about jobs look pretty silly.

2. Trump was a bad candidate

"But she lost to Donald freakin' Trump. He's terrible! It never should have been this close. Anyone could have beaten him."

Democrats need to let this go. It's trapped-in-a-bubble thinking. Sure, they would never vote for Trump, but millions of Americans did so enthusiastically.

The largest component of Trump's 63 million votes came from loyal Republicans.

Partisanship is powerful. No matter what the Democrats did, those Americans were showing up and voting for whoever had an R after their name.

Partisan Republicans think Obama was a bad president. They want a conservative Supreme Court. Some prioritize upper income tax cuts above everything else (cough, Paul Ryan). And none of them would ever vote Democrat.

But millions supported Trump because he spoke to them. They saw what everyone else saw, and while Democrats and establishment Republicans were appalled, they liked it.

They like his unpolished demeanor. They like his outlandish promises. They like what he says about politicians, immigrants, Black Lives Matter activists, highly educated urban elites, and politically correct college kids.

Most of all, they like that he pisses off people they don't like.

Democrats think an establishment Republican, such as John Kasich, would have done better. But just because Democrats like him (relatively), doesn't mean Republican voters do.

Conservative columnists who write for the New York Times or Washington Post might prefer Kasich to Trump, but Republican primary voters clearly did not.

Even though Democrats really don't want to believe it, and don't like what it says about America, Donald Trump is a good politician. He motivated a large constituency and won the election. Pretending otherwise is a mistake.

3. Trump won because of economic policies

Trump cleaned up among the white working class, and edged out upset victories in Rust Belt states, leading some to conclude he won because of his economic plans.

But Trump's appeal is cultural, rather than economic. It's a mix of anti-elitism, anti-political correctness, and white identity politics, not carefully cultivated policies.

The fact that we're talking about the white working class, instead of just the working class, is a pretty big clue.

Take coal. The point is not that voters evaluated Trump's plan and determined it will bring back mining jobs.

The point is that Trump said "I love coal!" And after listening to politicians talk about how coal is dying and telling people in coal country they have to change, it was music to their ears.

Here's the thing, Democrats. You don't love coal. You love the environment and renewables, and you're cool with technological and cultural change.

That's not a bad thing. Coal is a dirty, expensive fuel. Most coal jobs have disappeared because of automation, less labor-intensive techniques like mountaintop removal, and competition from cheaper, cleaner natural gas.

But a way of life is disappearing. You can propose policies to help ease the adjustment  —  unemployment benefits, job retraining, incentives for viable industries to relocate to Appalachia, affordable health insurance, etc. —  but the real issue is cultural.

There's no mix of policies that will win over voters who want someone to say they love coal. And if you try professing your love for coal, it'll just seem disingenuous.

4. Focusing on presidential politics

The Democrats have two separate problems:

Presidential politics (they're fine)

State-level politics (they're not)

With a flawed candidate, in a closely divided country, in which it is historically rare for a party to hold the White House for more than 8 years, they nearly won.

But they've done terribly in state elections.

Republicans now control 32 state legislatures. Democrats have 13 (northeast, west coast, and Illinois, just like you'd expect). Five are split.

There are also 31 Republican governors, giving Republicans total control of 25 states. Democrats control six. (Here's a handy map.)

A lot of governing takes place at the state level. It also hurts Democrats in House elections, because state legislatures draw Congressional districts.

Instead of focusing on state elections, Democrats are obsessing over the presidency, as if losing a really close contest (while winning more votes) indicates they need to scrap their whole approach rather than tweak it.

If they're smart, Democrats will pour their time, money, and effort into winning state elections. That will shape policy, help the 2020 redistricting, and cultivate a deep bench for future Congressional and presidential elections.

Run someone without Hillary Clinton's baggage and lack of charisma, or Bernie Sanders' history and far-left policies, and you've got a good shot at the presidency.

But if you don't win more state elections, you're screwed.

This article was originally published on Medium.

Commentary by Nicholas Grossman, a lecturer in International Relations at the University of Iowa, where he teaches about drones and terrorism. He blogs on Medium about politics and national security. Follow him on Twitter @NGrossman81.

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