Every so often, a piece of thoughtful discussion about the state of the American electorate grabs enough of the inside the beltway to be accepted. These think pieces circulate and get discussed with breathless recommendations, “wow” addendums and a discussion of whether or not this should change the direction of how we evaluate a way to win.
The reason this happens is that many of these articles have thoughtful, good points. They actually highlight real concerns and reflect things to consider. The other reason is because too many who live in large, coastal metropolitan areas seem to think as though lessons from Venezuela or state X applies universally to all other rural areas in the world, because, again, most of them have never been there.
Over the last day, I've been sent this particular article from the Washington Post 12 times to my email, from different individuals who wanted my thoughts. Rather than respond to email, I thought I'd put some of my thoughts here.
Ã¢ÂÂ David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) December 28, 2017
The crux of the article’s analysis comes down to this point, that Trump supporters want scandal; they relish the fight; they assume Democratic members ARE the enemy, and that if they are screaming, all is good and right with the world:
That this combat is dangerous, hypocritical, built on lies. That you, after all, are innocent. His supporters are convinced that you are to blame. Until you can convince them otherwise, they will cheer him on. The name of the game is polarization, and the rookie mistake is to forget you are the enemy.
Andrés Miguel Rondón’s analysis isn’t wrong. It’s so apparent I’ve heard high school kids use this very point in debate rounds this year. This certainly defines a great deal of the conservative base that love Trump. And, one of his conclusions is also certainly correct:
Finally, there is indeed a place for your legitimate moral outrage: not the dining table, but the voting booth. Just ask Alabama Democrats.
But, before he reaches this conclusion, there is a huge, epic mistake in the way we deal with elections in 2018 — and beyond.
Trump’s solutions may be imaginary, but the problems are very real indeed. Populism is and has always been the daughter of political despair. Showing concern is the only way to break the rhetorical polarization.
I have only one real thought on this:
You see, this is in fact, the exact wrong approach to take to the Trump situation. The truth of the matter is, states that succeeded — like Alabama, that the author cites — were not successes because we pandered or showed concerns with the core issues of hardened Trump supporters; in fact, they were successes because we drove the narrative to turn out our own voters. There are universal concerns: jobs, safety, infrastructure. But guess what? Hardened Trump supporters will never, not once, listen to you seriously about any of those things, no matter how much “concern you show”.
This is undeniable based on the voter returns we are seeing.
Hardcore Trump voters will, under no circumstance whatsoever, vote against Trump or Republicans, no matter how much time and energy you waste consoling them, patting them on the back, sympathizing with them, saying you understand their claims.
And every single minute you spend doing those things, you are wasting time from turning out voters you know WILL vote for your candidate, or COULD vote for your candidate.
You see, the Trump hardened base, about 32% of the electorate, well, to quote Denny Green:
That’s ok, because we KNOW who the hardened Trump supporters are, and we know we don’t have to pander to them in order to be successful. Pandering to them will never be successful, and it turns off our own voters, volunteers and workers, and wastes time we don’t have to waste.
But once you remove that 32% from your pool, or roughly that, you can find voters who voted for Trump for a myriad of reasons. They didn’t like Hillary. They thought it would be funny. They figured why the hell not. They didn’t care. They knew him from The Apprentice and liked seeing rich people fired. They believed his rhetoric.
Believe it or not, not every voter in America who voted for Trump is a hardened Trump supporter. There are some who have had real regret. Good for them.
But, even more than that, there is a rising change in the electorate who are fed up. Some who have never voted before, but now are interested.
Talk about scandal and Trump’s bad deeds certainly doesn’t endear us to his voters. Fine. But it does help remind our voters, people who we know are with us already, that Trump is dangerous and must be stopped.
We also have to remember that the other lesson from Alabama and Virginia was that we need to commit, strongly, to field and organizing on the ground to actually get people to the polls. A TV ad buy in a congressional district recommend next year is around $3 Million. For less than $300k, you could basically organize rides, a service to help provide voter ids to those that need it, and workers to walk. Guess which one is more effective? Virginia taught us that lesson.
Pointing out that Trump voters are unlikely to listen to anything bad about Trump isn’t especially brilliant rhetoric. It is an accurate assessment of what many of us have known for years living in red states.
But this year has finally pointed out what some of us have said for years: run everywhere. Give people a reason to vote for your candidate. Turn out Democratic votes everywhere they exist and leave as few as possible at home, not voting.
In the end, that is the only proven way to win. Period.