Jim Webb’s Presidential announcement comes as a pleasant surprise to low-income whites like me. Webb, a former Republican who served in the Reagan administration turned Democratic Senator from Virginia announced he was running for President last week. Webb is a Democratic far more in the mold of a Bill Clinton circa 1992 and Hillary Clinton circa 2008. His heterodox views herald back to the Jacksonian origins of the party focused more on individuality, a peaceful foreign policy and a live let live domestic policy. Unfortunately, the Jacksonian wing of the modern Democratic Party holds as much power as their progressive counterparts in the GOP.
Webb’s views are a hodgepodge of conservative, moderate and liberal views on key issues. Domestically, he favors sentencing reform and battling inequality by limiting CEO pay. He has been an adamant opponent of the Iraq War from day 1 (galvanized him to run for Senate in 2006). Webb favors liberal policies such as investing in pre-K education and infrastructure. He also wants to reform student debt and the immigration system.
But it is Webb’s conservative views on race and the “working class white man” that differentiate him from the Democratic field. Webb opposes racially based Affirmative Action programs and has accused Democrats of using white men as the party’s “whipping posts.” He is supportive of gun rights and against coal regulations. Finally, he opposes higher income taxes.
Unfortunately, his is a message the modern Democratic Party does not want to hear. Hillary Clinton has made race and gender identity the centerpiece of her campaign, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and Vermont Bernie Sanders are trying to outrun each other for the “Warren vote” and former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee is running as a foreign policy dove.
Webb is no hawk on foreign policy but neither is he a dove. He opposed the Iraq War but is supportive of operations in Afghanistan. However, he has been approving of military operations against ISIS and hedged on putting boots on the ground in Iraq. Few of these positions appeal to the modern Democratic coalition.
Webb is assured of standing no chance in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina where progressive party activists and minorities dominate. But his strength is likely to be found in the South where low-income whites have abandoned the party.
It’s debatable if Webb would be any stronger in the general election due to his appeal to white males than any other candidate. He would likely bleed progressive support as the Democratic Party is partly mobilized around its hatred of white men (think white privilege, male privilege). Indeed, when Webb ran for Senate in 2006 he lost whites by 24% in 2006 and relied on traditionally blue Northern Virginia to win.
Notably, while Webb has no shot of winning he is doing the party a favor by allowing low-income whites to feel like their interests are being represented. The down-side is once the primary ends and Clinton or another progressive is nominated the GOP will likely better appeal to these downscale voters.
For proponents of the conservative Democratic brand, all but dead, Webb’s candidacy represents a last hurrah for the party of Jackson. Webb won’t win but he will at least show there are still some in the party who believe in its Jacksonian traditions and not its modern identity based politics.