Sunday on “Meet the Press,” Chuck Todd decreed that the 2014 Senate races aren’t about Democrat versus Republican or liberal versus conservative but, rather, coffee versus chicken—or, to borrow Todd’s terminology, “Starbucks Nation” versus “Chick-fil-A Country.”
As Todd explained it, “Starbucks Nation” exists in “big cities” and their “adjacent suburbs” and is populated by Democrats. “Chick-fil-A Country,” meanwhile, can be found “in the areas between suburban America and rural America … the exurbs” and is full of Republicans. In 2012, the presidential battleground states favored Democrats because more of these states’ populations resided in urban areas. In 2014, the Senate battleground states favor Republicans because more of their populations reside in rural areas. Hence Todd’s prediction that, in the battle for the Senate, “it could be advantage to the Chicken.”
It’s an occupational hazard of political punditry to reach for these sorts of inane classifications—as if every big election boils down to how the Soccer Moms and Patio Men of Applebee’s America decide to cast their ballots. More often than not, it’s just a new way of describing the same old red vs. blue divide.
But Todd’s latest attempt strikes me as especially inane. Starbucks may have been a decent signifier of effete urban liberalism in, oh, 1995; but, in 2014, when you can cool off with a frappuccino at the Super Target in Denton, Texas, I’d say Starbucks is pretty Middle American. And, while Chick-fil-A may have a conservative Christian corporate culture—with its president’s public opposition to gay marriage and its longstanding policy that all of its stores are closed on Sunday—it’s hardly an exclusively exurban or rural phenomenon, hence its current plans to massively expand its number of stores in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
In fact, there are already more Chick-fil-A stores in New York City than there are in all of Montana and South Dakota, two states that Todd places in “Chick-fil-A Country” despite the fact that neither one has a single Chick-fil-A. Meanwhile, according to the man who’s made it his personal mission to drink coffee from every Starbucks in the world, Montana has 18 Starbucks and South Dakota has 15.
Or, to get even more granular, consider Colorado Springs, Colorado—which Todd correctly describes as a GOP stronghold and crucial to Republican Cory Gardner’s chances in the Senate race there. Yes, it’s a yard-bird-eating mecca, with five Chick-fil-A’s, but it also has three Starbucks. To paraphrase a certain 2004 Illinois Senate candidate, we order waffle fries in the blue states and we suck down venti decaf hazelnut lattes in the red states.
Todd recently took over as “Meet the Press” host and this is a somewhat inauspicious start. Especially since he’s explicitly cast himself as someone whose view extends beyond, as he’s put it, the “bubble in Washington” and the “bubble in New York.” As he elaborated in an interview with The Washington Post’s Ben Terris earlier this month:
[I]t’s an advantage that I grew up middle class in South Florida . . . I feel like I understand that resentment that can build when the New York perspective or the Washington perspective doesn’t seem to understand what’s going on in America.
I have no doubt that Todd has an excellent handle on the chicken and coffee preferences of Miamians circa 1985. But he needs to update his understanding of the rest of America as it is today. Maybe he should describe our political divide as Kroger Country versus Whole Foods World or Bass Pro Shops Land versus REI Planet. Or better yet, maybe he should leave the cutesy demographic descriptors to his fellow pundits and just concentrate on giving us a truly different sort of Sunday show.