What happens in Georgia Dec. 6 doesn’t stay in Georgia. If Democratic U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock can hold off Republican challenger Herschel Walker and win reelection, the Democrats will gain a 51-49 advantage in the Senate, giving them slim but clear majorities in key committees. Vice President Kamala Harris will no longer need to cast tie-breaking votes to pass legislation, confirm federal judges, and otherwise advance liberal and progressive priorities.
Despite Walker’s widely reported manifest deficits as a candidate, including a long record of misogynous abuse and coercive behavior toward women, and blatant hypocrisy on the issue of abortion, the race is still too close to call.
Many pundits have scratched their heads and wondered how a race between two African American men, one a thoughtful and respected Christian minister who occupies the same pulpit as Martin Luther King, Jr., and the other a personable but deeply flawed former football star, is even close. But their analysis often lacks more than a superficial understanding of the intersecting gender, racial and party politics at play.
Much of the hope for a Democratic victory hinges on the possibility of a huge turnout among voters of color, and young voters. Since record-breaking numbers have already voted, which most observers say benefits the Democrats, it appears as if this groundswell is already underway.
Much of the hope for a Republican victory rests similarly on big turnout. But in the case of the GOP, the turnout they need is of white voters, especially white men, who are by far the party’s most important constituency in Georgia and every other state.
The GOP has made gains in recent cycles among voters of color, especially men. According to NBC News exit polls from the Nov. 8 election, while only 5 percent of Black women voted for Walker, 12 percent of Black men did. There was a similar gender gap among Latino voters.
White women also supported Walker by a wide margin that was even more pronounced along class lines. Fifty-four percent of white college-educated women went for Walker—a number that was 25 percentage points lower than women with no college (79), who, notably, supported the alleged abuser of women at rates similar to their male counterparts.
But Walker utterly trounced Warnock among white men by 71-27 percent. This was nearly identical to the margin that Donald Trump had over Joe Biden among these Georgia voters in the 2020 presidential race. Walker’s advantage among white men without a college degree was an astounding 80-19 percent.
Yet despite these dramatic numbers, few mainstream political analysts have even mentioned—much less thoughtfully discussed—the white male vote in Georgia, and what it says about the current state of our politics as the GOP prepares to take back narrow control of the House of Representatives.
Walker’s advantage among white men without a college degree was an astounding 80-19 percent. Yet despite these dramatic numbers, few mainstream political analysts have even mentioned—much less thoughtfully discussed.
This lack of attention is entirely understandable from the perspective of Democratic political operatives on the ground in Georgia, as the most realistic strategy for winning elections like this one is to motivate your base and get them to the polls. Once elections are underway, it makes little sense to expend precious campaign resources on trying to persuade white men to vote Democratic. That is longer-term work. Alas, the very reason why Democratic victories so often require a massive turnout among people of color, young people, and single women is in order to counteract the voting power of those very same white men.
This Senate runoff election is in some ways a microcosm of the electoral challenges national Democrats face in coming years, and the tensions involved in cobbling together electoral majorities in a country in which 74 million people voted for Donald Trump in 2020, despite living through four years of his chaotic and deeply divisive presidency and his disastrous mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic, not to mention the Big Lie he has spread since the election.
Racism is part of the reason why a significant chunk of the white working-class deserted the Democratic Party.
One of the central conundrums the party faces is how to appeal to what Stacey Abrams calls the “New American Majority” while simultaneously winning back the support of at least a viable segment of white working-class voters, many of whom deserted the Democratic Party decades ago—in the South and elsewhere—but who still comprise crucial percentages of the electorate in voting districts nationwide.
This tension in the Democratic coalition has persisted in one form or another since the early ’70s, when the aftermath of the civil rights movement, antagonisms sparked by the Vietnam War, and the rise of the women’s and LGBTQ movements, in concert with increased corporate attacks on organized labor, opened fissures in the Democratic party that remain to this day.
With the possible exception of the preternaturally charismatic Barack Obama’s election and re-election in 2008/2012, and Joe Biden’s win in a pandemic-ravaged nation in 2020, the party has not been able to successfully stitch together a stable electoral majority ever since. This is in large because they have lost the support of so many white working-class voters all over the country—not only in the South. Racism is part of the reason why a significant chunk of the white working-class deserted the Democratic Party.
But there are many other reasons, including the perception by many working-class whites that in recent decades the historic party of the blue-collar worker forgot about them in its rush to serve the interests of an unlikely alliance of global capital, college-educated professionals, feminist women and “metrosexual” men, racial minorities, and ethnic immigrants.
As I explore in my documentary The Man Card: White Male Identity Politics from Nixon to Trump, this perception is fed daily on Fox News and right-wing talk radio, where hosts and guests declare repeatedly that Democrats and liberals “hate white men,” and mock the manhood of any man who supports liberal and progressive policies.
In his surprise victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016, Donald Trump successfully convinced millions of working-class and lower middle-class whites—especially but not exclusively men—that unlike the Democratic coastal elites who supposedly look down on working people, he truly cared about their plight and would tirelessly fight for them.
Of course, once elected, Trump governed—in substance if not style—like a traditional conservative Republican, passing a huge tax cut that benefitted the wealthy, trying to roll back gains on access to health care for millions of Americans, gutting regulations that benefit workers and consumers, and appointing corporatist judges to the federal bench, including the Supreme Court, that rule overwhelmingly against the rights of workers and “the common man and woman” when their rights come into conflict with corporate profits.
But conservative media rarely allows any airtime for these sorts of inconvenient facts, or anything that might complicate the narrative that “real men” should vote Republican. Every day in the right-wing universe of political angertainment, (white) men hear the twin messages of impending apocalypse (our civilization is under existential threat) and inspirational calls to them as its saviors (we need you to save it).
A farewell speech in Congress delivered recently by far-right North Carolina Republican Representative Madison Cawthorne, who lost his reelection bid in a primary, sums up the gendered appeal of the MAGA right:
“Our young men are taught that weakness is strength, that delicacy is desirable, and that being a soft metrosexual is more valuable than training the mind, body, and soul. Social media has weakened us, siphoning our men of their will to fight, to rise in a noble manner, square their jaws and charge once more into the breach of life and defend what they love.
“So on this precipice of disaster I ask the young men of this nation a question: Will you sit behind a screen while the story tales of your forefathers become myth? Or will you stand resolute against the dying light of America’s Golden Age? Will you reclaim your masculinity? Will you become a man to be feared, to be respected, to be looked up to? Or will you let this nation’s next generation be its final generation?”
This conservative appeal to “masculinity” helps to explain why—despite Walker’s numerous gaffes and bizarre statements on the campaign trail—he has kept this election within the margin of error. It has simply become unthinkable for millions of white men to vote for a party they see—in crudely stereotypical and misogynous terms—as soft, weak and effeminate.
The gender politics of this contest are even starker due to Walker’s hero status as a football star in “Dawg Nation,” where football is king. Stephen Lawson, who organized a political committee for Walker, had this explanation.
“The fact of the matter is,” he said, “there are 40-, 50-year-old men across the state who sleep in their No. 34 jerseys at night. He’s an icon. He’s a hero in this state, and the despicable attacks that come against him will 100 percent backfire.”
Walker himself regularly references his sports past as a positive rationale for his candidacy. “God prepared me for this moment because he didn’t want a politician. I’m not a politician. I can run that football. I can run track. And I do all those other things. I’m that warrior that God was looking for.”
There will be many to things to watch for in the Georgia runoff. One of them will be how many white men turn out to vote for a disastrously unqualified candidate merely because he has an “R” next to his name and the “blue-collar billionaire” endorsed him. And if despite all his baggage an overwhelming number of white men nonetheless vote for Herschel Walker, what will it take in future elections for them to support candidates who not only don’t abuse women but instead treat them with respect—personally and politically—and who champion policies that actually help working people and their families?
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