Claire McCaskill Blamed Democratic Losses On Trans People — She Couldn’t Be More Wrong

Photo: Jeff Roberson/AP/Shutterstock.
As the country waits anxiously for the results of the 2020 presidential election, many pundits are attempting to draw premature conclusions from incomplete data, in an attempt to explain why this year's races played out the way they did. One topic of particular interest is voters who switched from one party to another in the span of a few years. This is what former Missouri Senator, Democrat Claire McCaskill, attempted to do during an appearance on MSNBC on Wednesday night — only she did so by employing harmful stereotypes about different groups of people.
“I think it began around cultural issues,” McCaskill said, referencing the waning support for Democrats among certain blocs of voters. “Whether you’re talking guns, or issues surrounding the right to abortion in this country, or things like gay marriage and the rights for ‘transsexuals’ and other people who we as a party have tried to ‘look after’ and make sure that they’re treated fairly. As we circled those issues, we left some voters behind and Republicans dove in with a vengeance and grabbed those voters... You saw it in the South, I’ve seen it in some rural areas of my state.”
McCaskill continued: "So we’ve got to get back to the meat and potatoes issues, we’ve got to get back to the issues where we are taking care of their families, and we also need to quit acting like we’re smarter than everybody else because we’re not.”
By saying this, McCaskill didn't only throw marginalized people and progressive issues under the bus: She also blamed Southern and rural voters as being too close-minded and bigoted to support these communities and issues, thus making it seem like caring about things like LGBTQ+ rights was an elitist issue, and not something that mattered to "meat and potatoes" — aka "regular" — Americans.
McCaskill later said her remarks were misconstrued, and that what she “was trying to say we need to also focus on the economic issues we champion.” While that is no excuse for her conflation of gay marriage, gun control, abortion rights, and gender identity, nor is it for using the outdated term “transsexuals” for trans people — it also demonstrates a disturbing understanding about who it is that makes up the Democratic party in 2020, and why it's a straw man argument to say that it's merely "economic issues" that are making people vote Republican, and that, in fact, it is Republicans who have focused on identity issues, rather than Democrats.
What McCaskill didn't mention when blaming Democrats for being too identity-oriented is that there have been candidates over the past few years who have focused on identity — only they've been Republicans, and they made anti-trans legislation the crux of their campaign. Perhaps she should Google Pat McGrory’s 2016 gubernatorial campaign in North Carolina, where McGrory obsessed over “bathroom bills,” or Matt Bevin’s 2019 race in Kentuckyansas. Both those candidates lost — but they clearly weren't afraid of using identity issues to appeal to voters, including Southern and rural ones.
In fact, McCaskill’s pivot to blaming Southern and rural voters is out-of-touch in a variety of ways. The South is home to the highest concentration of Black people in the country and local organizers have been on the ground in those states putting in the work for a long time (hello, Stacey Abrams in Georgia!). So when McCaskill says "Southern" and "rural," what she really means is “white working-class.” But a look at the polling shows that more voters who make under $1500,000 per year voted for Biden.
Perhaps it's time that cable news organizations stop booking people like McCaskill, who lost her re-election bid in 2018 to a Republican, to provide political commentary at all. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said as much on Twitter: “McCaskill tried her approach. She ran as a caravan-hysteria Dem& lost while grassroots organizers won progressive measures in MO. Her language here shows how she took her base for granted.”
This morning, McCaskill offered a mea culpa. “I’m so sorry I used hurtful term last night. I was tired, but never a good excuse,” she tweeted. “People have misinterpreted what I was trying to say. Our party should never leave behind our fight 4 equality for trans people or anyone else who has been marginalized by hate. My record reflects that.”
McCaskill’s language may have been an honest mistake, but during an election where stakes are higher than they’ve ever been for the rights of trans folks and other marginalized groups, that language matters — and so does leaving behind the outdated ideas behind it. People’s lives depend on it.

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