In South Carolina on Saturday, [Kamala] Harris was careful to cast herself in the mainstream.
“I care about the environment,” she said. “Not because I have any desire to hug a tree, but I have a strong desire to hug a healthy baby.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar looked to set herself apart from other Democrats running for office on Monday by telling voters here in New Hampshire that she judges gun control bills by whether they would “hurt my Uncle Dick in the deer stand.”
There are a huge number of Democratic presidential primary candidates. That creates even more immediate pressure than usual to stand out from other contenders and means that winners of the early primaries and caucuses aren’t necessarily going to need to win a big percentage of the vote on an absolute level to finish first. This would suggest that at least some candidates will try at least initially by defining themselves in opposition to other candidates, even if that comes at the expense of annoying the other candidates’ supporters.
Given that voters are generally not incredibly familiar with the details of policy proposals, especially early in the campaign before primary coverage dominates the news cycle, the performance of a distinct cultural identity thus becomes one good way to stand out. And in a Democratic Party that has seen a resurgence of leftist ideas driven by figures like Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders—but nonetheless retains many voters who do not necessarily think of themselves as leftists—it stands to reason that one identity that will resonate with at least some significant share of the primary electorate is that of the down-to-Earth regular gal/guy who doesn’t go in for all this radical and/or hippie stuff.
In Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris’ cases above, we see two elements of that performance: On one hand, the rejection of “tree-hugging” as silly idealism, and on the other, the embrace of Uncle Dick, who’s using a tree as God intended, as something to sit on while he shoots the crap out of a deer. (Klobuchar’s line in particular calls to mind some of the images that red-state Democrats used in their ads during the midterms, like North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp arm-wrestling while endorsing the prosecution of illegal immigrants and Indiana’s Joe Donnelly swinging an axe while discussing his support for the troops.)
Unfortunately for Harris and Klobuchar, they’re probably toast if they end up having to face Joe Biden, whose mastery of both the “sensible, level-headed policy guy” and “blue-collar good old boy” tropes is demonstrated in abundance by this classic clip in which he encourages parents to buy shotguns:
Incidentally, gun safety experts apparently say that firing warning shots is a bad idea, and in many places it’s actually illegal. In any case, the race is on to be the first 2020 candidate to disparage arugula!
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