Some Electoral Strategy for Democrats

Democrat Donkey

This last week was a good week for Democrats, the first they’ve had in a long time.  Republicans lost their supermajority in the Virginia House of Delegates, and there’s a slim possibility they might lose their majority altogether.  Chris Christie’s political career has completed it’s long, drawn-out slide into humiliation and disgrace, and his chosen successor got annihilated in New Jersey.  Maine rebuked its governor and voted to expand Medicaid.

This gives Democrats cause for optimism going forward.  No doubt I’m not alone in feeling as though everything has been turned upside-down since last year.  But believe it or not, there are some rules that still apply.  And one of those rules is that unpopular Presidents are bad news for the incumbent party.  Indeed, the blatant idiocy and incompetence on display in the White House was apparently the deciding factor for many Virginia voters.

So what should Democrats focus on doing going into the midterms?  Admittedly, I’m just a humble guy with a blog, and not a political strategist.  That said, there’s three things I’d argue Democrats should do for next year.

1. Focus on the base, not on peeling off “moderate” Republicans

I don’t want to dismiss anti-Trump conservatives out of hand here.  Lord knows we need more principled voices on the right.  That said, making overtures to these voters was Hillary Clinton’s gambit, and Hillary Clinton lost.  It’s obviously been a catastrophic failure of a strategy.

Why did it fail?  It failed for the simple reason that anti-Trumpers are, at best, a completely marginal force in American politics.  Trump is more popular among Republicans voters than most other Republicans, and they’re sticking with him.  Praying that Republicans see the light and come around is not a winning strategy.  Partisanship is just too strong for this to work.  Republicans by and large hate liberals.  No matter how awful their guy is, the vast majority of them will never, ever vote for Democrats.  Appealing to the small fraction who aren’t like the rest means fewer resources to spend on appealing to larger groups of voters.

Instead, what Democrats need to do is go all out in turning out the vote.  Forget trying to woo disaffected Republicans.  The Democratic base is disaffected enough already.  A septuagenarian socialist was able to seriously give Hillary Clinton a run for her money, and she suffered from a consistent lack of enthusiasm all throughout the campaign.

When asked what Democrats should take away from the 2016 election, Keith Ellison put it perfectly:

We learned that voter turnout is absolutely essential, and turnout is driven by three things: a great message, some credible evidence that you’re going to do it, and a delivery system. You have to knock doors, make calls, and build a relationship with voters long before Election Day. A year before. Two years before. That lesson was painfully learned.

All other things being equal, higher turnout is better for Democrats than for Republicans.  And that means getting people to the polls should be the party’s top priority.  That means energizing the base with a powerful message.  It means keeping people registered and combating Republican efforts to suppress turnout.  What it does not mean is endorsing establishment Republican positions in an attempt to claim “the center.”  Even if you win some disaffected, Trump-hating Republicans over, you trade off enthusiasm among your own base.  The Democrats made this mistake once.  They cannot afford to make it again.

2. This is politics—be willing to suffer fools

OK, look.  I’m a college educated New Yorker.  My parents were lab scientists.  I went back to school for history because I enjoy history.  I’m practically a textbook example of the smug, latte-sipping liberal elite Trump is always yammering on about.  And I’ll be the first to admit that an awful lot of voters believe some really whacky, stupid, and totally unjustifiable things.  Things that I read or hear, and immediately want to start smashing my head against the desk again and again, they’re just that stupid.

But dismissing peoples’ beliefs out of hand, no matter how insane, no matter how much you know they’re insane, is simply terrible politics.  Besides coming across as condescending, it looks like you’re not even willing to engage what people think.  Which is a problem.  Because if you look like you’re not listening, you’re going to have a hard time winning votes.

Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s hard.  Democrats are up against brazen liars who are so obviously a bunch of brazen liars, it’s truly a wonder that everyone else doesn’t see what brazen liars they are.  Unfortunately, Democrats have to work with the electorate they have, not the electorate they should have.  If the electorate doesn’t dismiss Republicans as a bunch of brazen liars out of hand, then Democrats can’t afford to either.

Recall back to the 2012 election for a minute.  The consensus after the first debate was that Romney cleaned Obama’s clock.  This wasn’t because of anything of substance on Romney’s part.  Romney was wildly gish galloping, jumping from half-truth to half-truth with a few true statements and a great many false ones thrown in for good measure.

No, the reason why it was because Obama didn’t seem remotely engaged. He really looked like he thought the debate was a waste of his time, and it showed.  It was as if Obama was thinking to himself, “Oh my God, I actually have to debate this schmuck? What the hell? He’s not even making sense, he just skips from half-assed point to half-assed point. There’s no way people buy this, is there?”

Fortunately, Obama got better, and in the next two debates didn’t come across as so aloof.  Democrats need to do the same between now and next November.  No more using “Have you seen the other guys?” as a campaign slogan.  Guys, we already know that people voted in an unqualified moron once.  They’ll do it again.  Don’t shake your heads in disbelief, craft a message that gives them something else to vote for.

3. For God’s sake, dump Hillary Clinton already

I voted for Clinton last year.  I have no regrets about doing so.  Furthermore, I think she gets unfairly maligned more often than not.  Clinton strikes me a technocratic, wonkish politician, clearly more comfortable with policy than with campaigning.  Fact checking bears this out.  Despite her reputation for duplicity, when it comes to honesty about policy, Clinton scores about the same as Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama, and beats out almost the entire Republican field. And yes, she’s had lots of accusations of scandal leveled against her.  But most of them—Whitewater, Vince Foster, Filegate, Benghazi, the Foundation—turned out to be utter bunk.

Having said that, Hillary Clinton is deeply unpopular.  And it really doesn’t matter whether this is all her fault or due to being unfairly maligned.  An unpopular face is the last thing the Democratic Party needs.  She needs to go away, and liberals need to shut up about whatever it is she’s up to nowadays.  Obviously, they can’t control what Fox and the rest of the Republican propaganda machine talk about, but they can at least make their jobs a bit more difficult.

If Democrats really care about stopping Trump, being tied to Hillary Clinton is likely to hamper them.  They need to clearly show that they’re distancing themselves from her—she is, after all, one of the few people less popular than Trump is.  Clinton doesn’t inspire much enthusiasm even among the Democratic base.  And the Democratic Party needs to energize the base, something that will never happen if it looks like it’s continuing to ignore it.  Whatever you think of Clinton, whether you think it’s fair or unfair to her does’t matter one whit.  This is a matter of political necessity.

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