Even traditional Republican allies — including the state’s Chamber of Commerce and West Virginians for Life, the state’s pro-life organization — were mostly in the Democrats’ corner, since the Democratic Party was conservative enough to be in theirs, too, and held the power.
Times have changed. I visited West Virginia over the weekend and, while I was well aware that Republicans now hold almost all the key state and federal offices, what still surprised me was the complete reversal in tone and allegiance voiced by the rank-and-file voters I encountered. From impeachment to the confrontation with Iran, President Trump is their man, and they are ready to rise to his defense against those spiteful Democrats, I heard time and again.
It was amazing but not shocking. In 2000, against anti-coal, pro-choice Democrat Al Gore, Bush won West Virginia with about 52 percent of the vote. He won it again in 2004 with 56 percent. John McCain took the state with about 56 percent of the vote in 2008, while Mitt Romney walked away with 62 percent in 2012. So, while Trump’s nearly 69 percent in 2016 was impressive, it was really part of a trend that coincided with the Democrats’ increasingly liberal nominees.
When Democrats discuss how they lost key “blue wall” states to Trump in 2016, they typically blame lower turnout among minority voters, compared to Barack Obama’s victories. A recent Politico analysis pondering the attributes of a winning Democratic nominee in 2020 asked, “Does that person have a clear message; do they inspire hope and excitement across the party’s diverse voting blocs?”
But it could well be that the party’s message is all too clear and its myopic focus on diversity the main obstacle. The typical Democratic message discounts generational occupations (coal mining, manufacturing) and demonizes cultural values such as gun rights, pro-life principles and evangelical Christian beliefs. As a result, many voters end up echoing Ronald Reagan, who declared, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. The party left me.”
The blue wall states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin that Trump won are more racially diverse than West Virginia, but so is Ohio, which was until recently a swing state but is probably now safe for Trump. How many more states can Democrats afford to abandon?
The recent dust-up over the Hallmark Channel’s initial refusal to run an advertisement featuring a kiss between a lesbian couple offered a perfect example of the left’s divorce proceedings from middle America. According to some liberal critics, Hallmark is not just guilty of harboring an unenlightened attitude. It is also in the unscrupulous business of making movies that appeal to white people living in small towns and rural areas.
Writing in Salon last month, Amanda Marcotte undertook a leap of Grand Canyon proportions, claiming, “Hallmark movies, with their emphasis on returning home and the pleasures of the small, domestic life, also send a not-at-all subtle signal of disdain for cosmopolitanism and curiosity about the larger world, which is exactly the sort of attitude that helps breed the kind of defensive white nationalism that we see growing in strength in the Donald Trump era.”
I had to smile when the subject of Hallmark movies came up during my West Virginia visit — not in relation to the recent brouhaha, but in regard to how some women said they had been spending their holidays. Safe to say, Hallmark movies are as popular in blue wall states as Trump is.
Diversity is an admirable objective, and tolerance is important for us to peacefully coexist. Conservatives must tolerate progressive cultural trends with which they disagree. Likewise, progressives must tolerate the conservative values held by millions of Americans. But tolerance is different than advocacy, which is what Democrats seem to demand these days, declaring an enemy of anything on the societal landscape that doesn’t aggressively promote their definition of cultural diversity.
Diversity, by definition, includes not just people of color or progressive ideals but also white Americans and conservative principles. Each side must strive to respect the other. If the Democrats don’t figure that out, their future will include more West Virginia-style breakups, and they’ll look back, wistfully, remembering when states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin were theirs.