Inslee’s answer showed that he understands why diversity is important.
“I think I have evinced a humility about being a straight white male that I have never experienced discrimination like so many do,” he said. “I’ve never been pulled over as an African American teenager by an officer driving through a white neighborhood. I’ve never been a woman talked over in a meeting. So I approach this with humility.”
He went on to say that he has focused on making diverse appointments as governor. He also has required his cabinet and executive team members to go through implicit-bias training.
Inslee discussed his work in criminal justice reform, specifically addressing racial disparities in sentencing for drug offenses. And he noted that he was one of the first governors to stand up against President Trump’s entry ban, which targeted people from many predominantly Muslim countries.
“So during my time in office, I have been very, very committed to making this a more just and open and tolerant society,” Inslee said.
Being a straight white man could be something of a liability for Democratic candidates this time around. “The energy in the party is with youth, it’s with women, it’s with minorities. Here’s an older white male — you’re not going to outdo Senator Kamala Harris on the diversity question or Senator Amy Klobuchar on the female question,” political analyst C.R. Douglas told KUOW, a Washington state outlet, about Inslee’s run. Harris represents California, while Klobuchar represents Minnesota; both are 2020 Democratic candidates.
Inslee’s statements suggest that he understands this liability.
The governor is still a long-shot candidate. He is running as a liberal and making climate change his main focus. In one early poll, just 1 percent of likely Iowa caucus-goers said he was their first choice, the same as Julián Castro, a Latino man who served as housing secretary in the Obama administration, and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay person to launch a presidential run.
But his conversation with Tapper suggests that Inslee might be able to talk about race in a way that appeals to people of color as well as white voters.
Trump won the election in part by tapping into white Americans’ anxieties about their increasingly diverse country. Inslee has a track record of addressing discrimination without isolating that key constituency. He’ll need to strike that balance to get anywhere close to winning the White House.