With Kamala Harris’s unexpected departure from the presidential race Tuesday, the lineup of the next primary debate has become something the Democratic Party as a whole decidedly is not: all white. With Tulsi Gabbard and Andrew Yang yet to qualify, and Cory Booker and Julían Castro unlikely to, the debate stage will be notably lacking in ethnic diversity.
For a political party—and a country—whose minority population is growing, this is a problem. How did we go from a debate stage early last summer that was the most diverse in history to a race where all the leading candidates are white?
“A media narrative has emerged that says, ‘In order for Democrats to win, they really need to get working-class whites in the Midwest,’” Castro, the former housing secretary who’s the first major Latino candidate to run in a Democratic primary, but who didn’t make the cutoff for the last debate and won’t make this one, told me. “And what people are taking from that is, ‘Well, only a certain profile of candidates go and get those votes.’ There’s a big mistake that's being made. We may not see the consequence of that until 2020.”
Democrats still haven’t gotten past their obsession with winning back the white working-class voters who defected to Trump after dripping away from Democrats for years. Because Hillary Clinton lost the last election by only a few hundred thousand votes total in three states—Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania—Democrats can prevail, or so this theory goes, by winning back those voters. And to do that, the party needs to pick someone “electable”—which is to say, “white.”