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Opinion Howard Dean on young voters: ‘These people are not Democrats’

Former Vermont governor Howard Dean addresses the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last year. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

“Trump’s election was the Edmund Pettus Bridge … for those kids.”

As Hillary Clinton hits the road for a book tour to talk about “What Happened” and the 2016 presidential election, the latest episode of “Cape Up” turns to Howard Dean, former Vermont governor and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee who ran for the party’s presidential nomination in 2004, to talk about the future of the Democratic Party. “They see in Trump the destruction of the United States as they have been taught that it was going to exist,” he told me. “The Trump election was essentially a negation of every value that young people have.” Dean believes “those kids” are the “core base now” of the Democratic Party. “The most reliable demographic of our voters are the young people across the board, across racial and ethnic lines,” he said. There’s just one big problem.

“These people are not Democrats.”


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“They’re very independent-minded. They don’t like politics. And they mistrust institutions,” Dean said in his characteristically matter-of-fact style. “I think our problem as Democrats is, we’re the head of the oldest party in the West, and this party is an institution that looks incredibly unattractive; not because of our ideology, ’cause that is attractive, and that is why they always vote for Democrats. But the Democratic Party means nothing to them because it’s an institution built by people like me who’s 40 years older than them.”

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Dean believes the Republican Party blew a chance with these young voters. “The Republicans had a shot at these guys because these young folks are libertarian economically,” he said, “but the Republicans are so cast in racism and anti-feminism and all these other things that these young folks value.” And Dean’s assessment of the leadership of the GOP was withering. “Leadership in the ultimate is telling your own people that they have to do something that they don’t want to do,” he said. “There’s no leadership at all in the Republican Party. None. Zero. They’re all terrified of their monster that they’ve created, which relies on xenophobia and racism and all these other unpleasant-isms.”

With all the attention now showered on white working-class voters, I asked Dean whether he thought the Democratic Party should focus on them. “Well, I don’t think we can focus on any group of voters including white working-class voters, if what’s driving them is race and I think it is in a lot of cases in the white working class,” he said. “Because [the Democratic Party] is about inclusion, and this party is about a comprehensive vision of America. We’re about hope that things are going to get better, not a wish to go back to the 1840s.”

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Listen to the podcast to hear Dean talk more about the respective problems of both political parties and what the Democrats need to do to be attractive to young voters. And he counsels folks like me driven crazy by the incessant demands of a certain someone (cough, Bernie!) who doesn’t see fit to join the Democratic Party.

“Who cares if he’s in the Democratic Party or not?” Dean said. “Bernie can call himself whatever he wants, but functionally, he is a Democrat.”

“Cape Up” is Jonathan’s weekly podcast talking to key figures behind the news and our culture. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever else you listen to podcasts.