For years, Republicans have considered it the ultimate insult to brand Democrats the party of “identity politics.” It certainly sounds like a bad thing, until you dig into the meaning a bit.
Identity politics is a political style that focuses on the issues relevant to various groups defined by a wide variety of shared personal characteristics, including, but not limited to, race, religion, sex, gender, ethnicity, ideology, nationality, sexual orientation, gender expression, culture, shared history, medical conditions, and other of the many ways in which people differ from each other, and into which they may be classified or classify themselves. (Source)
Due to its tendency to appeal to minorities, ethnic, religious, and otherwise, it actually makes sense to me that the party would be associated more with identity and class than simply economic and policy proposals.
Maybe that is a bit of an oversimplification on my part, but even taking a policy issue, like healthcare, Democrats want to insure everyone; in order to make that point, they use examples of disabled and poor people who have slipped through the cracks of the system and are currently uninsured. Even if they do not intend to make it about a class of people, that is what ends up happening anyway.
Republicans have had more luck avoiding this label in recent decades, probably because the vast majority have been white Evangelicals. When you eliminate entire subgroups or categories of people, it’s much easier to appear to not be playing into “identity politics.” However, it is my belief that they really always have. In 2008 and 2012, McCain and Romney ran on the economy and healthcare, but pundits and media view those as “disagreement over the size and scope of government rather than divisive disputes about racial identity.”
If the parties had been reversed, would they see it the same way? I seriously doubt it. In my honest opinion, anything Democrats do will be seen as more tribalistic, due to nothing other than party makeup. But in essence it was Identity based, white Evangelical identity for the majority.
All of this was upended in the 2016 election. Trump ran his campaign on blatant racial politics, a white race-inflected nationalism that appealed to working-class whites across America and even flipped some 2012 Obama voters. Despite all the talk of “economic anxiety,” Trump voters have an average income of $70,000 per year, well above the national average. So while some may have concerns, the numbers do not support that as an actual reason for his support.
The Republican play on white identity politics was furthered by voter suppression. “Because even in the wake of federal court orders striking down many of the most odious, discriminatory features of voter suppression, the GOP resisted, stalled and defied the judiciary until confusion and resignation reigned at the polls.”
The Klan and “White Nationalists” have not only supported this newly overt GOP, but also blatant flaming racists are being ushered in through the front door and given keys to the White House.
If ever Democrats worried that being accused of playing identity politics was a bad thing, let 2016 be the defining moment they can stop. This is owned by the GOP now. They have again become the exact thing they accused and loathed, and they cannot pretend anymore they have not.