The conversation about electability — who is and who is not viewed as capable of unseating President Trump — is a daily one among liberal voters. Voters and pundits alike often debate whether a candidate who is popular with the base can win enough moderate Democrats to defeat Trump. Others wonder if a centrist Democrat will motivate enough of the party’s more liberal voters to show up for Election Day.
Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), who is running for the Democratic nomination, weighed in on the topic Sunday. She primarily faulted pundits for lacking diversity and nuance in their depiction of Midwestern voters and who they deem electable.
At the NAACP convention in Detroit, she said:
“There has been a lot of conversation by pundits about “electability” and who can speak to the Midwest. But when they say that, they usually put the Midwest in a simplistic box and a narrow narrative. And too often their definition of the Midwest leaves people out. It leaves out people in this room who helped build cities like Detroit. It leaves out working women who are on their feet all day — many of them working without equal pay. And the conversation too often suggests certain voters will only vote for certain candidates regardless of whether their ideas will lift up all our families. It’s shortsighted. It’s wrong. And voters deserve better.”
Harris’s message was clear to the largely black audience at the event: Stop believing the pundits’ take on who can win — and instead get behind the candidates you align with personally. While Harris is popular with many among the left — especially for her takedowns of Trump surrogates during Senate hearings — according to the most recent Quinnipiac survey, only 2 percent of voters think she can beat Trump. The number is the same when controlled for voters of color.
Who black voters deem a winning candidate is often shaped by the media — and wrongly so, said Aisha C. Moodie-Mills, a fellow at the Harvard Institute of Politics, who frequently goes on air to discuss politics. She told The Fix that black voters may doubt that the candidates they like are electable because of the biases of those on air who choose to focus on some candidates more than others.
“P.R. and buzz go along way,” she said. “Folks are busy. People don’t have time to get into the devil of the details every single conversation. And the truth is folks hear buzz about a person or a thing and then that elevates that candidate for them. If we hear the media talking points are ‘Biden this’ and ‘Bernie that,' then certainly the people who are getting the buzz are the ones we’re going to assume are the most viable.”
LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, a political education and mobilization group focused on the South, told The Washington Post’s Vanessa Williams that even after Barack Obama’s victories, some voters have very narrow views on what viability looks like — especially in this political climate. She said:
“We underestimate how deeply embedded racism and patriarchy is in America and particularly in the political discourse. So, regardless of how progressive-leaning we are on policy, we see over and over again that we think of political leadership in this very narrow context of white males. . . . Consciously and unconsciously we go back to that default position.”
And going to that default decision is about comfort for some black voters still traumatized by the 2016 election — and living under a president who is highly unpopular with black voters, said Joel Payne, who worked on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. He told The Fix:
“Given Donald Trump’s profile and his cavalier bigotry, the Trump victory in 2016 was catastrophic for minority communities. I believe the lesson learned was to defeat Trump at all costs next time around. The Trump presidency is an existential crisis for the African American community. Black voters do not want to simply make a point, they want to support a winning candidate."
And for now, winning looks like Joe Biden — a straight white man focused on winning back some Trump supporters, according to the polls. However, putting too much confidence in polls -- especially this early out -- is something many warn against. It is worth remembering that in 2008, many black voters initially supported Clinton, in part, because they were not convinced that Barack Obama was the most electable candidate. So as history has proven, things can change. Time will tell.