Critical Race Theory and the threat to Democrats

Critical Race Theory and the threat to Democrats

Despite the left’s insistence, Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a dangerous wedge issue for Democrats. By focusing on one group, it threatens to alienate other groups that Democrats depend on. Due to the zero-sum nature of American politics, even small shifts yield big results. Something as big as CRT could produce more than small shifts.

Buried in 2020’s tumult was the inroad Donald TrumpDonald TrumpUkraine's president compares UN to 'a retired superhero' Collins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid Heller won't say if Biden won election MORE made into Democrats’ core groups.  From 2016 to 2020, Trump increased his percentage of support among Blacks (4 percent), Latinos (4 percent), Asians (7 percent), Women (1 percent), and Others (5 percent). 

Democrats are extremely dependent on winning big majorities in these groups, each of which (with the exception of Women) are decided electoral minorities. Even with Trump’s inroads, Biden still won large margins in each: Blacks (87 percent), Latinos (65 percent), Asians (61 percent), Women (57 percent) and Others (55 percent). 

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Due to the extremely balanced nature of American politics, despite his large margins with these groups, Biden’s margin of victory in the popular vote was just 4.45 percentage points. Recall further that Trump won 2016’s electoral vote despite losing the popular vote by 2.1 percentage points, and had he won just 160,000 more votes in five states (Nevada, Wisconsin, Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania) in 2020, he would have done so again.  Therefore, even small shifts in their base group margins present potential problems. 

In American politics, when it comes to vote shifts, small is big. In American public policy, CRT is already big. It is a divisive national issue and politically polarizing. Yet, it is a key demand for the left because it provides leverage for the broader societal changes they seek.  

The problem for Democrats is that despite strong appeal to the left, CRT is not broadly targeted at the general population.  It is aimed at primarily one group, Blacks, who made up just 13 percent of the electorate in 2020. This means it is not aimed at the remaining 87 percent of the population — including their base groups where they need to win big majorities.

Politics is the marketplace of policy and electoral politics is marketing. Marketing to just a narrow subset of the population is a difficult strategy for building majority support.

Even if CRT proponents try to argue that CRT is not aimed against the remaining 87 percent of the population, it at least largely excludes them from its primary focus. In the “what have you done for me lately?” of America’s political marketplace, exclusion threatens to quickly become alienation from what is being sold. 

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For Democrats seeking to market themselves to a broad number of groups with which they need to win very large majorities, CRT’s group-specific targeting is a difficult assignment. When overlaid with Trump’s gains with Democrats’ base groups, “difficult” becomes “dangerous.”

Recall that Trump’s 2020 success with Democratic base groups came before the left’s heavy push on CRT. CRT is a relatively recent phenomenon to the broad American public. Therefore, its full electoral impact has not been made. Yet the left appear to have no intention of reducing their emphasis on CRT and their demands for Democrats to do likewise.

If Trump’s conservative populist push had such success ahead of CRT, how much more success could a conservative populist push — and pushback — have in 2022 and 2024? 

Caught unaware at a time when their priority was simply returning children to school after a year’s absence, expect parents to have a much more formed response to efforts to inject CRT into their schools in the coming year. Even those not concerned with its intention could become opponents if they see it as crowding out instruction in the fundamentals their children need to advance academically. The question is: What will be America’s response when the nation fully focuses on the left’s push for CRT? 

The left is attempting to force CRT on the Democrats, demanding it as a price of their support. This support is indeed important to Democrats. In 2020, liberals comprised 24 percent of voters and they voted 89 percent for Biden. Liberals’ percentage of the electorate is almost twice that of Blacks (13 percent) and they voted for Biden by two percentage points more than Blacks did. 

Democrats are trapped between two forces: An insistent and highly motivated minority left and a far larger but less motivated (so far) majority. As CRT extends in duration, if not virulence too, it is increasingly likely to be viewed as extremist. As such, it poses an growing danger to Democrats. CRT threatens to become a huge change in the American political game where even small shifts are big. 

J.T. Young served under President George W. Bush as the director of communications in the Office of Management and Budget and as deputy assistant secretary in legislative affairs for tax and budget at the Treasury Department. He served as a congressional staffer from 1987 through 2000.