Monday, May 21, 2018

Ya Gotta Ac-CEN-too-ate the Positive ,,,

If ever there was a clearer illustration of the adage "you have to be for something to get elected; you can't win by being against stuff all the time," the past year and a half or so has demonstrated it in spades.

During the Republican primaries in 2016 (you remember the 17 seat clown car, don't you?), all of the candidates based their campaigns initially on "I'm not Obama" ... except donald trump. His campaign was, is, and always will be "I'm awesome, I'm incredibly wealthy and powerful, and I'm gonna get shit done" (the fact that he never actually defined, in any detail, what that "shit" actually was is irrelevant; quite frankly, there isn't a campaign in history that offered that level of detail). He was also brash, obnoxious, politically incorrect, and unfiltered. This carried through to the general election.

Precisely what his supporters had been saying they wanted.

Granted, there is the possibility (looking more and more likely each day as new information comes to light and new indictments are handed down) that he had ... shall we say, "unconventional assistance" ... from a hostile nation, but that is a topic for another rant. Moving on ...

When trump was elected, he enjoyed approval ratings right around 40%. They have fluctuated over time, as these things tend to do, but the average baseline since Election Day 2016 has hovered right around 40%.

What is interesting is, in that time, there have been millions of words written or aired on broadcast media pointing out his unfitness for office, his staggering ability to lie almost reflexively, his just as impressive ability to hold two contradictory viewpoints (sometimes in the same sentence), his crassness, his boorishness, his stunted intellect, his inherent laziness ... the list goes on and on. And yet, even though these opinions have been voiced by people who are usually respected authorities on these matters, from both left and right, his support numbers ... just stay where they are.

The reason for this? Poisonous bitching never won anything. Sure, it's cathartic, and it makes the bitcher feel a little better for getting it off their chest, and it may even make the bitchee feel a little twinge of something for a moment or two, but on the whole it accomplishes nothing.

Conventional wisdom holds that the Democrats are going to retake the House in November, and that there is a slight possibility they will also retake the Senate. I fear that conventional wisdom doesn't know what the hell it's talking about, since every Democratic campaign for Congress I have seen has had as its basic message "Vote for me. I'm going to impeach trump."

This is not a winning strategy. Yes, there are more people who don't like trump than do, but there are also other, very real concerns that people are facing -- some brought on by trump (tax cuts for the wealthy, backing out of the Iran nuclear deal) and some not (concern about firearms regulations, funding Social Security). In order to win this November, candidates need to start telling us what they are for instead of constantly complaining about Mango Mussolini.

The other thing that Dems are doing wrong? So far, every candidate for President in '20 that has been put forth -- either "officially" or as leaked scuttlebutt -- has been about as inspiring and interesting as Ben Stein's character in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." They have also -- almost without exception -- spent most of their breath talking about what a disaster trump is and how they ain't him. Granted, there have been some proposals put forth that have nothing to do with trump, at least not directly (Cory Booker's proposal for a federal jobs guarantee -- similar to FDR's WPA program -- is an example), but for the most part trump has been doing what he does best: sucking all the oxygen from the room.

What the Democrats needs is another Barack Obama: a young, charismatic, inspiring figure who articulates a new way forward, offers a message of inclusion instead of divisiveness, and generates enthusiasm for heretofore apathetic voters. Someone without all the political baggage of a Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton, someone with the intellectual horsepower of a Barack Obama or Bill Clinton, someone with the charisma to win over millions of trump voters.

(Okay, okay. Twist my arm, already. I'll do it. Sheesh.)

Anyway, whoever runs for President in 2020 should probably do the following things on the campaign trail:
  • Articulate a trumpless vision of America without demonizing trump. Basically, he or she needs to describe policy proposals that directly contradict the worst of the Republicans and trump without actually giving them the martyr fuel of naming them. For example, instead of the current tack of screeching about what a horrible tax plan the GOP passed a few months back, they should instead propose a new tax plan that will provide benefits to the lower and middle classes and let those benefits trickle up, instead of relying on a repeatedly discredited trickle-down theory.
  • Stay focused on issues. It's pretty much a foregone conclusion that trump's re-election campaign is going to use a lot of the same tactics and sleazy tricks his first one did: wildly inaccurate claims about nonsense that are intended solely to divert attention away from his opponent's message; claims of being treated unfairly by the media/his opponent/Democrats/liberals/God/the rest of the world ... in short, full-on paranoid raving; using tactics more appropriate to pro wrestling than a political campaign to generate media coverage. The Democratic candidate's best defense against this nonsense is to give it all the attention it deserves -- which is to say, none.
  • Reassure the voters that they will never lie to them, even if it's not pretty. Ever since he launched his campaign in June of 2015, almost everything that has dripped from trump's mouth-sphincter has been false. "Millions of illegals voted for Hillary." Largest inauguration crowd. Stormy Daniels, Michael Cohen, and the rest of that rogue's gallery. Left unchecked it won't be long before we have a 21st century American equivalent of the Reichstag fire that he will use as a lever to scare people into re-electing him ... similar to the "wolves at the door" ads run by George W. Bush in 2004, only this time there could be some very real people who end up very really dead.
  • Demonstrate, through both word and deed, high standards of conduct. One of the many complaints against trump is that he is, to be blunt, classless white trash. One commentator pointed out that the only difference between trump and some shirtless fat guy named Cletus with a Confederate flag trucker hat living in a dilapidated trailer is the number of digits in his bank account (okay, it was me, just now). A viable opposition candidate needs to conduct his or herself with dignity and grace at all times.
  • Resist the urge to get in the mud. Here's the thing that a lot of people in politics seems to forget on a daily basis: if you're gonna wrestle pigs, you're gonna get dirty. Modern politics has become a race to the bottom, where to the  nasty go the spoils. Campaigning has become insult comedy ... bad insult comedy. It will be very tempting, when trump makes some outlandish claim that the Democratic candidate had sexual relations with an ISIS-affiliated cow or something, to issue denials and respond in kind. This is the wrong approach. What needs to happen is the same thing I was told in second grade when I complained about a bully: just ignore him. See, trump feeds off attention; that kinda what narcissism is. Deny him that attention, and he withers.
  • Do not characterize "trump voters" negatively. One thing I have seen repeatedly -- from mainstream media to Facebook posts -- is the use of sweeping generalizations about trump voters: they are all white; they tend to be less educated; and so on. And while there may be some basis in fact for some of these, the truth of the matter is that anyone who gets lumped into an "all people who are " is going to get defensive and double down ... it's the way we're wired.

This last one is very important. Let's look at things from the perspective of a trump supporter. For the past two years, trump supporters have been depicted as backward yahoos, slack-jawed, illiterate rednecks who base their entire political identity off a MAGA hat. Speaking from experience, this is not the case ... I know many trump supporters who are intelligent, articulate, and willing to provide perfectly valid justifications for their support of him. We are definitely not going to win them over by calling them idiots, and we are not going to win without them.

And not only do we have to win, but we have to win big. Like, landslide big. Anything less is going to invite complaints from the right that the election was rigged, Alex Jones is going to go off on a rant about how Hillary Clinton employed the Mafia to strong-arm people at the polls, Sean Hannity will start bleating about how the Democrats are completely unwilling to be bipartisan about anything at any time for any reason (because, y'know, the Republicans have been so open to that sort of thing), and before you know it we end up with gridlock again while various members of both parties hurl feces at each other.

The only way to deny trump a second term, and to do so with enough authority to quell any squabbling before it starts, is to absolutely destroy him in the voting booth. And the only way to do that is to show -- not just tell, but demonstrate -- why it would be advantageous, on a personal level, for a trump supporter to give his or her vote to the opposition. We need to make it so tempting for them, so obviously a better option, that they have no choice but to come back from the dark side.

I gotta lie down.

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