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Howes: The debates may have been in Detroit, but Dems are still ignoring the Midwest

The Democratic debates took place over two nights at Detroit's Fox Theatre.
Malak Silmi
Michigan Radio
The Democratic debates took place over two nights at Detroit's Fox Theatre.

Twenty Democrats angling to unseat President Donald Trump graced the Fox Theatre over two nights to show what their party learned from their 2016 shellacking. The answer: not much.

When moderate contenders warned that Medicare for All would be too expensive – or that people working union jobs may not want to surrender their private insurance – progressive senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren mocked them for thinking small. And they wondered why such killjoys would even bother to run for president.

When Washington Governor Jay Inslee claimed the green economy would create millions of jobs, you could feel the skepticism oozing from the TV screen. Heard that before here in Michigan, smack in the middle of what we called “the Lost Decade.”

daniel howes
Credit Daniel Howes / Detroit News
Detroit News

When former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris traded shots over whose health care plan would reign supreme – and how much each would cost – the numbers battle confirmed one over-arching point: it’ll be real expensive.

When New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio touted a tax on the wealthy and his many successes in the Big Apple, you just knew he doesn’t have a clue how that sounds to the typical Midwest ear. In a word: irrelevant.

This may be a progressive moment for the party aiming to oust President Trump, but their policy preferences and reliably anti-business tone aren’t reassuring in the industrial heartland.

With the notable exception of Biden, the big names vying for the nomination seemed largely disinterested in the bread-and-butter issues: concerns of how to pay for things and whether escalating tax raids on employers and do-good green policymaking would undercut job creation and harm communities.

New York, New England, and the West Coast from Seattle to San Diego are the motherlode of Democratic votes. But it’s the industrial Midwest that elects presidents. Did the Dems in Detroit this week speak to their anxieties? Not really.

Did the few who bothered to mention General Motors’ looming plant closings portray the move as anything other than Donald Trump’s fault? Of course not.

Am I the only one who sees the irony in Democrats voicing support for union jobs in one breath only to propose health care policy that would gut their most valued benefit: collectively bargained health insurance?

Am I the only one who connects the building Green Wave in transportation to rising costs and the pressure on automakers to build products the market is not yet ready to absorb? Eventually, that wave will arrive and will transform both the auto industry and its workforce… but not as soon as its rooting section thinks.

The post-mortem of Trump’s victory in 2016 included a lot of hand wringing by national media and the Democratic Party establishment: how could they have missed the rise of Trump and his ability to narrowly carry critical Midwest states thought to be solidly blue?

It’s because they didn’t listen. And two nights in Detroit suggest many of them still don’t.

Daniel Howes is columnist and associate business editor of The Detroit News. A former European correspondent for The News, he has reported from nearly 25 countries on three continents and in the Middle East. Before heading to Europe in 1999, Howes was senior automotive writer and a business projects writer. He is a frequent contributor to NewsTalk 760-WJR in Detroit and a weekly contributor to Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor.
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