Kelly Loeffler, David Perdue, & Ivanka Trump give new meaning to the concept of “populism”

White Male Voters and Georgia on My Mind

What happens in Georgia this week doesn’t stay in Georgia. If the Democrats can defy conventional wisdom and win a sweep in Georgia’s run-off election on January 5 for two Senate seats, they can create a 50–50 tie in the Senate, allowing Vice-President Kamala Harris to cast tie-breaking votes to pass legislation, confirm federal judges, and otherwise advance liberal and progressive priorities.

Much of the hope for a Democratic victory hinges on the possibility of a huge turnout among voters of color, and young voters. Since record-breaking numbers have already voted, which most observers say benefits the Dems, it appears as if this groundswell is already underway.

Much of the hope for a Republican victory rests similarly on big turnout. But in the case of the GOP, the turnout they need is of white voters, especially white men, who are by far the party’s most important constituency, in Georgia and every other state. According to exit polls in the recent presidential race, Donald Trump trounced Joe Biden in Georgia among white men, winning 72% to 27%.

But almost no one aside from Republican political operatives has paid close attention to the white male vote in Georgia.

This is entirely understandable from a Democratic perspective, as the most realistic strategy for winning elections like this one is to motivate your base and get them to the polls.

In the short term, it makes little sense to expend precious campaign resources on trying to persuade white men to vote Democratic.

Alas, the very reason why a Democratic victory requires a massive turnout among people of color, young people, and single women is in order to counteract the voting power of those very same white men. Trump and his people know this, as do Republican strategists, which is why Trump held a rally the day before the election in the small city of Dalton, known as a center for flooring and carpeting manufacturing.

Dalton is at the center of the conservative congressional district that made national news in November by electing Marjorie Taylor Greene, an extreme right-wing, QAnon-believing Trumpster.

Trump’s last-minute appearance in Dalton was intended to energize and drive turnout among white voters — men and women — because the Republicans know that Stacey Abrams and her New Georgia Project have been registering hundreds of thousands of new voters, most of whom will be voting Democratic.

Republican strategists have the added headache of trying to convince their base to vote despite Trump’s repeated attacks on the integrity of the state’s voting system, under the leadership, ironically, of the pro-Trump governor and secretary of state.

This senate run-off election is in some ways a microcosm of the electoral challenges national Democrats face in coming years, and the tensions involved in cobbling together electoral majorities in a country in which 74 million people voted for Donald Trump, despite living through four years of his divisive and chaotic presidency — and his disastrous mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the central tensions the party has to navigate is how to appeal to what Abrams calls the “New American Majority” while simultaneously winning back the support of a larger segment of white working-class voters, many of whom deserted the Democratic Party decades ago — in the south and elsewhere — but who still comprise crucial percentages of the electorate in voting districts nationwide.

This tension in the Democratic coalition has persisted in one form or another since the early 1970s, when the aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement, antagonisms sparked by the Vietnam War, and the rise of the women’s and gay rights movements, in concert with increased corporate attacks on organized labor, opened fissures in the Democratic Party that remain to this day.

With the possible exception of Barack Obama’s election and re-election in 2008/2012, the party has not been able to successfully stitch together a stable electoral majority ever since, in large measure because they have lost the support of so many white working-class voters all over the country — not only in the South. Racism is part of the reason why a significant chunk of the white working class deserted the Democratic Party.

But there are many other reasons, including the perception by many working-class whites that in recent decades the historic party of the blue-collar worker forgot about them in its rush to serve the interests of an unlikely alliance of global capital, college-educated professionals, racial minorities, and ethnic immigrants.

In his surprise victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016, Donald Trump successfully convinced millions of working-class and lower middle-class whites — especially but not exclusively men — that unlike the Democratic coastal elites who supposedly looked down on working people, he truly cared about their plight and would tirelessly fight for them.

Of course once elected Trump governed — in substance if not style — like a traditional conservative Republican, passing a huge tax cut that benefitted the wealthy, trying to roll back gains on access to health care for millions of Americans, gutting regulations that benefit workers and consumers, and appointing corporatist judges to the federal bench, including the Supreme Court, that rule overwhelmingly against the rights of workers and “the common man and woman” when their rights come into conflict with corporate profits.

That is why one of the interesting things to watch for in the Georgia runoff elections will be the white male vote. In the presidential race, Biden made significant gains among white men with a college education. But nationally, Trump trounced Biden 70% to 28% among high school-educated white men. In Georgia, those same high school-educated white men voted for Donald Trump over Joe Biden by a whopping 83%-17%.

Huge margins among white male voters are crucial for GOP victories

In the Georgia senate race, the Democratic candidates Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff are running as moderate liberals who support policies that will benefit working and middle-class voters on issues like health care, education, and many others. Neither is running as a full-fledged progressive, but their respective platforms and personal commitments strongly suggest that in the senate, they would vote to support progressive legislation that advances the interests of working families.

The Republican candidates, on the other hand, are textbook examples of the financial elite who consistently prioritize the interests of private capital over the needs of ordinary citizens. Senator David Perdue built his career as what the New York Times referred to as an “unapologetic, free-trading practitioner of the outsourcing arts.” Now that he needs the votes of Trumpist white working-class voters, he is running as an America First populist.

And Senator Kelly Loeffler, who the Times refers to as a “Wall Street senator with a hardscrabble pitch,” is the wealthiest member of the senate. She grew up wealthy, and her husband and chief financial backer is the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange. Again according to the Times, “Ms. Loeffler…appears to be a traditional business-oriented Republican whose hard right turn is a stark reflection of the ideological gymnastics many politicians in her party have performed in the populist, culture-warring Trump era.”

There will be many to things to watch for in the hugely important Georgia runoff. One of them will be the degree to which blue collar white men turn out to vote for the fake populists on the GOP ticket. If huge numbers of them do so, even with Donald Trump not on the ballot, what will it take in future elections for them to support candidates that actually care about workers and their families?

Jackson Katz, Ph.D. is creator and co-producer of the recently released video entitled The Man Card: White Male Identity Politics from Nixon to Trump

Author and expert on masculinities, politics, and culture. Creator and co-producer of “The Man Card: White Male Identity Politics from Nixon to Trump.”