The Quest for the Unicorn Constituency
Throughout the annals of history, a host of all manner of men have lost their fortunes and some their lives in search of beasts and creatures of legend and lore. For the South Carolina Democratic Party, that beast of fascination is the “Unicorn Constituency.”
The Unicorn Constituency – Who Are They?
This elusive demographic is comprised of white moderate republicans and independents who, according to Democratic leadership, might vote for a Democrat; if that candidate is a white male, ignores black voters and progressives, is friendly with big business, and doesn’t believe workers deserve a $15 an hour living wage.
The South Carolina Democratic Party has spent a disproportionate amount of time and resources trying to win over this “Unicorn Constituency”, rather than focusing on the real needs and desires of the state’s residents. The party has become fixated on an imaginary, idealized demographic that simply does not exist in meaningful numbers. Meanwhile, it has largely ignored the black voters who make up a whopping 70% of their voting base in South Carolina.
It was Joe Cunningham’s pursuit of the “Unicorn Constituency” that led to his epic defeat at the polls, along with a series of unfathomably stupid moves.
It is safe to say that most Democratic voters would agree that Cunningham’s campaign was one of the worst in recent Democratic gubernatorial history. However, many Democrats are reluctant to voice this opinion out loud, as my mentor, the late Rev. Joseph H. Neal used to say, “Most Democrats in South Carolina practice polite politics.” Meaning they don’t like to publicly criticize other Democrats, especially in mixed company.
To keep an accurate record, let’s review some of Cunningham’s “unfathomably stupid moves.”
Fatal Flaws of a Frat Boy
The beginning of Cunningham’s campaign was a disaster unfolding in slow motion, with each misstep being more egregious than the last. It was impossible to look away from. He began by ostracizing the largest constituency in the party, choosing to spend very little money on outreach to Black voters, operating under the belief that “we can ignore the Black voters, we know we have their votes. Let’s focus instead on the white voters, these are the votes that truly matter.” He also refused to debate Senator MeLeod in the Democratic primary, out of fear that unengaged Black voters would become aware of a Black woman running for governor.
Democrats watched in disbelief as Cunningham doubled down on his “Pass the Beer and Booty” frat boy persona and made disparaging and ageist comments about elder elected officials. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he then announced that if elected, he would give half his cabinet positions to Republicans. (I’m still waiting on Tyler Jones to call me back. I want to know what type of bipartisan crackpipe Cunningham was smoking on when he came up with that bright idea.)
As Cunningham’s campaign began to sink, the state Democratic Party joined in the effort, which only made things worse. In a completely unprecedented and moronic move, the State Democratic Party sued the SC State Labor Party and had their gubernatorial candidate removed from the 2022 midterm ballot. This further alienated and angered progressive voters, destroying the last hope of a strong Democratic turnout.
Cunningham channeled his inner Dixiecrat, dusted off SCDP’s old losing playbook, and decided to go with their tried-and-failed tactics, and bet the farm, the house, and the dog on turning out the “Unicorn vote.”
In the end, South Carolina Democrats suffered their worst defeat at the polls in recent history. We all know the numbers by now, and they speak for themselves, so there’s no need to discuss particular races and percentage points, at least not here.
The Backbone of the Democratic Party in South Carolina
As someone familiar with the inner workings of the South Carolina Democratic Party, I believe significant reforms are necessary for the Party to once again become a viable political force in the state.
The first step is to acknowledge that the black voters are the backbone of the Democratic Party in this state and that the party must do more to engage with and mobilize this crucial voting bloc.
The Path Forward to a Stronger Democratic Party
There is a growing consensus among many Democrats in the state that the party has become too focused on appealing to a small group of white voters, at the expense of the larger, more diverse electorate. This has led to a lack of energy and enthusiasm among black voters, who are the party’s most loyal supporters.
To address the issues at hand, the South Carolina Democratic Party must put in the effort to strengthen its ties with the African American community. This involves paying close attention to the concerns and needs of black voters, crafting policies to address them, collaborating with black media to create impactful messaging, and partnering with black organizations that can aid in building strong coalitions. By doing so, the Party can reinvigorate black voters and deliver a message that resonates with them.
At the same time, the party must also recognize that the black community is not monolithic and that different subgroups have different needs and priorities. For example, young black voters may be more concerned about issues like criminal justice reform and rising education costs, while older voters may be more focused on economic and healthcare issues.
If the South Carolina Democratic Party does not reform and start prioritizing the needs of its most loyal voters, the party will continue to struggle in the state. The search for the “Unicorn Constituency” must come to an end, and the party must refocus and rebuild its relationship with its core constituency, Black voters.