I don’t always agree with Matt Yglesias but in this case I think he has it exactly right. In the process, he cements his position as Vox’s token political realist. If his judgement here is right–and I think it is–we may look back on South Carolina as not only a positive inflection point for the Biden campaign bit as a negative one for a certain kind of politics popular with a voluble set of activists and no one else.
“Loser (from the South Carolina primary): Assuming normal voters think like professional activists
Clinton won the 2016 nomination due in large part to scoring huge margins with African American voters in places like South Carolina.
Once it became clear how central black voters were to her support, she started talking about politics in a particular way — talking about intersectionality, asking “if we broke up the big banks tomorrow … would that end racism?”, and invoking the phrase “systematic racism.” These are ideas familiar to younger college graduates, often developed by black intellectuals and popular in racial justice activism circles. And since Clinton did, in fact, obtain overwhelming majorities among African American voters, many 2020 contenders essentially tried to imitate this approach.
Suzanna Danuta Walters in the Nation hailed Warren for running “an unapologetically intersectional campaign,” which she certainly did. So did Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and former US housing secretary Julian Castro, both of whom ended up dropping out early, with Castro endorsing Warren and becoming a frequently used campaign surrogate.
In South Carolina, this approach delivered meager results with the electorate. Both in the Palmetto State and in national polls, black voters seem split between Biden’s back-to-basics kitchen table economics pitch and Sanders’s democratic socialist pitch, with the divisions mostly falling along age lines.
The two candidates’ pitches on economic issues are very different, but Biden and Sanders are similar in having some of the weakest claims to wokeness and least explicitly intersectional rhetoric in the field.
It’s not that racial issues aren’t important or that the candidates doing well in South Carolina don’t have strong policies on them. But most voters are working class, not necessarily super-familiar with particular social justice issues, and not as siloed in their concerns as activists.
There’s a strong market in South Carolina for “similar to Obama” and a smaller but also strong market for Sanders’s youth-fueled revolution, with few voters looking to attend a critical race theory seminar.”