Bernie Sanders reportedly will enter the presidential race very soon. When he does, I believe he will be the first white, heterosexual male contending for the Democratic nomination. (At any rate, I can’t think of another).
Beto O’Rourke might join the race. That would make two. But O’Rourke, though a phenom, lacks Sanders’ nationwide following. So even with Beto in the race, Sanders would be the leading white male contender unless Joe Biden jumps in.
Does this matter? In a party obsessed with identity politics, it might.
It’s tempting to assume that Democratic identity politics runs just one way — against white males. If you’re a female candidate and/or a candidate “of color,” your race/gender/identity works in your favor. If you’re a white male heterosexual your race/gender/sexual preference is not an asset, even if you’re the only white male heterosexual in a crowded field.
But that, apparently, is not how Sanders views the situation. Sanders says that real progressives should build their movement based on ideology and policy, not diversity for diversity’s sake.
Sanders went on to criticize his potential Democratic opponents for obsessing over diversity:
There are people who are very big into diversity but whose views end up being not particularly sympathetic to working people, whether they’re white or black or Latino. . . Many of my opponents. . .think that all that we need is people who are candidates who are black or white, who are black or Latino or woman or gay, regardless of what they stand for, that the end result is diversity.
This is old-line socialist doctrine, according to which the working class is a single entity that evil capitalists seek to divide any way they can. It’s also good politics. Sanders can’t play the diversity card, so why not disparage it?
But if Sanders were a Republican, the disparagement would be considered a “dog whistle” to white voters who resent the Democrats’ obsession with identity politics. That’s probably a goodly portion of white male Democrats, though not of white male Democrat activists.
If Sanders becomes the choice of most white male Democrats and a chunk of white females fed up with racial politics, he’ll have an advantage over candidates like Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Cory Booker, who will likely divide the rest of the Democratic vote.
Sanders lost to Hillary Clinton in 2016 in part because his appeal didn’t extend beyond white voters. But in the crowded 2020 field, it might not need to.
UPDATE: A reader reminds me that John Delaney, a white, heterosexual male, has announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination. Never heard of him? You’re not alone.