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Liberalism’s Latinx Problem

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This weekend I wrote about how the increasingly ideological character of the Democratic Party could create a policy problem for its presidential nominee, by forcing a figure like Warren into a detailed defense of a likely-to-be-unpopular, unlikely-to-pass proposal for Medicare for All. Warren’s adoption of “Latinx” is a different example of this problem: There’s no policy here, but the rhetoric still suggests that Warren is distinctively beholden to a hermetic academic-progressive world, to a point where she doesn’t know how to talk to the less-ideological, less-woke, maybe-even-somewhat-conservative Hispanics whose votes her party needs.

[Listen to “The Argument” podcast every Thursday morning, with Ross Douthat, Michelle Goldberg and David Leonhardt.]

One question about a more progressive Democratic nominee, Warren or Bernie Sanders, is whether either can win back white Obama-Trump voters in the crucial Electoral College states of the Upper Midwest — states where Warren, in this newspaper’s polling, currently trails Trump. But a related question is whether progressivism can succeed in consolidating the larger share of the Hispanic vote that Democrats expected in 2016 and didn’t get — an 80 percent rather than close to a 70 percent share, which would tip states like Florida and Arizona and even Texas and make Trump’s Rust Belt resilience moot.

It’s possible, as many progressive activists insist, that the way to achieve that consolidation is by energizing and organizing nonvoters through a campaign that runs clearly to the left. But a lot of Trump-era polling shows the president holding or even expanding his Hispanic support, and it shows Warren, in particular, struggling with Latino voters, both in the primary and the general races.

Which is what you’d expect if, as my colleague Tom Edsall has argued, Hispanics (and African-Americans and Asians) now represent the moderate wing of the Democratic Party, the pocketbook-conscious, somewhat culturally conservative flank. In that case they’re a constituency where a less-bigoted-seeming G.O.P. could make substantial inroads, and where even a figure like Trump, if the economy is strong enough and the Democrat seems sufficiently culturally extreme, can at least win enough minority support to keep himself competitive.

This is why it matters that the signals that Warren sends when she adopts a phrase like “Latinx” are the cultural equivalent of the policy signal that she sends with Medicare for All. In both cases, she’s telling anyone who listens that a vote for the Democrats isn’t just a vote against Trump (which a clear majority would like to cast) or a vote for popular liberal policies (of which there are many) but a vote for the new progressivism in full — no matter how many Americans, of all ethnicities, are distinctly unready for its rigors.

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