Hillary Clinton reminded the world this weekend why she lost rural voters in critical swing states by margins of up to 4 to 1 in 2016.
Speaking in Mumbai, India, Clinton painted large swaths of the U.S. interior as “red America” and implied those regions are economically unimportant and not forward-looking.
If you look at the map of the United States, there’s all that red in the middle where Trump won. I win the coasts, I win Illinois, Minnesota , places like that. But what the map doesn’t show you is that I won the places that represent two-thirds of America’s gross domestic product. So I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward, and his whole campaign, ‘make America great again,’ was looking backwards.
This statement begs comparison to Clinton’s 2016 campaign comment that “we are going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” Though this sound bite echoed like canon fire around coal country during the election, that statement was actually part of a larger argument that America cannot abandon its workers who are displaced by structural economic change.
Related Story: Rural America is more than a bowl of red soup.
It’s harder – much harder – to give Clinton the benefit of the doubt this time around. This weekend at an event called the India Today Conclave, she discounted the economic and cultural value of places that did not vote for her. And her reference to “the middle” of America makes it clear that rural areas are on the list of the unenlightened, if not at the top of it.
Don’t believe me? Watch the entire video. The exchange we quoted from starts with the question “What’s going wrong in America?” at about 35:40.
Throughout her talk in Mumbai, Clinton is adroit at acknowledging and accommodating her audience. She knows it’s important to welcome and include the people who are in the room. Since she’s a skilled communicator, we’re left with one of two conclusions: either she is intentionally insulting rural America or rural America is so far from her consciousness that it never enters her mind.
Either way, this is a problem.
For Democrats, it’s not just rural votes at stake. When a candidate is tone deaf with rural voters, he or she also risks losing an even larger swath of the electorate that is culturally aligned with small cities.
In the aggregate, Clinton won only in metropolitan areas with 500,000 residents or more. She lost everywhere else. Collectively, metropolitan areas of under 500,000 residents account for about 57 million people. Add to that the nonmetropolitan population of 46 million or so, where she also lost, and you start to see how the numbers add up.
Fifty million people here, 40 million people there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real voters, to paraphrase a quote attributed to Everett Dirksen.
America’s Electoral College system is not simple. It is, however, well established and well understood. It all starts with the premise that the GDP does not vote, people do.
Tim Marema is editor of the Daily Yonder.