Anne Kim has a good article up on the Washington Monthly site that draws out perhaps the key political implication of the Muro-Whiton Brookings study on economic divergence between Democratic and Republican districts. After summarizing some of the Brookings findings (which I covered in a previous post) and related analyses and connecting them to regional divergence, she points out:
“These kinds of imbalances cry out for a policy agenda aimed at spreading economic opportunity more evenly across the country. But so far, the top contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination have stuck to universalist policy ideas like Medicare for All, while discussions of inequality have centered on race or class, but not on geography.
To be sure, a few candidates, including Vice President Joe Biden, have a “rural agenda” in their platforms. But the ideas encapsulated in them include relatively narrow default tropes like expanding broadband and helping family farmers. The one nod toward the disparate regional impacts of economic change is on trade policy, but there again, the prescriptions are less about creating new jobs than about posturing on China or regurgitating standard talking points bashing trade agreements. None of the candidates have put forth signature policy priorities that would rejuvenate the moribund economies of the industrial Midwest, or help heartland economies generate the kind of prosperity that their coastal neighbors enjoy.
The absence of a credible Democratic agenda on regional prosperity is one reason Trump has had free rein to exploit and magnify the economic discontent in large parts of the country for his political gain. As wrong-headed and destructive as his policies have been, his supporters can rightly say that Trump has at least acknowledged the significance of their economic decline.
Democrats shouldn’t continue to leave the field to Trump to romp at will.”
She concludes, and very rightly I think:
“Superimpose a map of the electoral college in 2020 and two things immediately become clear. First, Democratic strongholds such as California, New York, and Illinois are nowhere near sufficient to deliver the 270 votes Democrats need to secure the White House. The University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato, for instance, counts 183 “safe” Democratic electoral votes so far.
Second, many of the swing states Democrats will need to win fall squarely within the “other America” in need of help. These states include the industrial upper Midwest—Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan—as well as Pennsylvania and Colorado. Four of these also happen to be states that Hillary Clinton lost in 2016.
Some liberals no doubt worry that nodding to the economic woes of blue-collar heartland America somehow validates the nationalism, MAGA-ism, and outright racism that Trump has unleashed. Nothing is further from the case. Reviving the heartland to help all Americans prosper is ultimately not about blue states versus red states, but about reviving the national project now in jeopardy.”