Opinion

Why Night 2 of the Democratic convention was a glorious contrast to the RNC

Democrats' diversity just can't be beat

Watching the roll call of states when the Democratic convention formally nominated Hillary Clinton for president, not to mention all the delegates in the hall, one couldn't help but notice the remarkable diversity on display. White people, black people, Latinos, Asian-Americans, Native Americans, gay, straight, young, old — even if you're not a Democrat, it was a glorious panoply of America's diversity, and a reminder of what makes this country so extraordinary.

It was also, unavoidably, a contrast with last week's nearly all-white Republican convention. Fusion obtained the numbers: Sixty percent of the delegates at the Democratic convention are women, 25 percent are African-American, 16 percent are Latino, 13 percent are LGBTQ, and 6 percent are Asian-American. There were as many African-American speakers on the first night of the Democratic convention (18) as there were African-American delegates at the Republican convention.

If Monday was Unity Night at the Democratic convention, meant to demonstrate that the party's ideological factions had come together behind Hillary Clinton, Tuesday was Diversity Night. Even though the evening culminated with Bill Clinton's rambling but effective retelling of his wife's life story, the program seemed designed to showcase the varied hues of the Democratic Party, with speakers from all the pieces of the party's coalition represented on stage, in many cases multiple times. And that, as much as Clinton's weaknesses or Donald Trump's next appalling statement or the state of the economy, could be what determines the outcome of the 2016 presidential race.

One of Clinton's challenges in this election has been to reassemble the "Obama coalition," the diverse electorate that elected and reelected the president. But it is entirely possible — maybe even likely — that the Clinton coalition will be even more diverse than Obama's. She could nearly match his totals among African-Americans (95 percent in 2008, 93 percent in 2012) and do even better among Latinos horrified by Trump. Even if Trump succeeds in boosting his support among white voters over what Mitt Romney got four years ago, it probably won't be enough. In a country that becomes less white with each passing year — most projections put this year's electorate at around 31 percent non-white — demographic divisions among the voters could put the election out of reach for Republicans.

It's something of an oversimplification to say that the Democratic Party is a coalition of varying demographic groups while the Republican Party is a coalition of (slightly) varying ideological groups. But the contrast between the two conventions reminds us that it may never have been more true than it is right now. And there are lots of Republicans who sincerely wished it could have been otherwise. They wanted their party to find a way to persuade Latinos to embrace conservative ideas and Republican candidates. They would love to get more than a tiny number of African-American votes. They don't want to see the rapidly-growing Asian-American population cement a loyalty to the Democratic Party.

But even as those reformers tried to figure out how to make all that happen, they were anchored to a base that wasn't just nearly all-white, it has been fed a steady diet of racial resentment for years, as Republican politicians and conservative media figures went after minority groups in both policy and rhetoric. As conservative intellectual Avik Roy said in a recent interview, "We've had this view that the voters were with us on conservatism — philosophical, economic conservatism. In reality, the gravitational center of the Republican Party is white nationalism."

Put aside Donald Trump's celebrity and his know-nothing version of outsiders, and what's left at the core of his campaign is an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, xenophobic appeal that revels in expressions of hatred under the guise of not being "politically correct." It isn't an aberration, it's the fullest expression of Republican politics as it has existed over the last 50 years.

And Trump is getting plenty of help, even as many Republicans fret that he's digging them further into a hole they'll struggle to climb out of. On Monday, Michelle Obama said, in the most moving passage of an extraordinary speech, "I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent, black young women playing with their dogs on the White House lawn." It was part of her argument that the greatness of America lies in its ability to change, to overcome its weaknesses and its sins, to be forever a work in progress. Yet some on the right couldn't hear that as a redemptive story; all they heard was a black lady complaining about slavery again.

The next day, Rush Limbaugh, the country's most popular radio host and a relentless race-baiter, complained that when it comes to slavery, the Obamas are "never going to let it go," so determined are they to make white people feel bad. That evening, the most popular personality on the Fox News Channel — Bill O'Reilly, whose angry-old-white-guy persona is a living caricature of the prototypical Republican voter — felt the need to assert that "Slaves that worked there [constructing the White House] were well fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government." That outreach to minorities is really coming along great.

Even if you think Republican policy ideas are superior, there's just no question which party is the inclusive and welcoming one. Democrats may have their problems, but on the national level, their multi-racial, multi-ethnic, interfaith coalition represents not just America's future, but its present as well. Maybe one day Republicans will figure out a way around it, but it won't be by doing what they're doing now.

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