istorically, the three greatest threats to America have been, 1) the Civil War, 2) WWII, and 3) Donald Trump. These are listed chronologically. Your personal ranking may vary.
But rather than looking backward, let’s look forward to the immediate future—the 2018 Congressional elections. This is when we can begin to diable the current obscenity. If you don’t believe with every fiber of your soul that winning at least one house of Congress is existential, then you’re probably reading in the wrong place. As Vince Lombardi made famous, “winning isn’t everything—it’s the only thing.”
But how does that get done?
irst, let’s stipulate the facts:
1) People who love Trump or hate Trump are not going to change their minds. Period. And most of them are confirmed voters. Talking to either of these groups is a waste of time and money.
2) The logical bullseye, then, is the “independent” (actually undecided. or troubled) voter. Recent polls have established independents as a clearly larger group than Republicans, and nearly as large as Democrats. (One actually shows independents as larger than either.) But these potential voters shouldn’t be considered entirely in play; most already lean one way or the other. The number of ‘pure’ independents has only inched up 3 points or so since the last election.
3) More than ever before, voters are motivated by what/who they’re voting against rather than what/who they’re voting for. Partisanship = loathing = votes.
4) If you’re encouraged by the ‘blue wave’ ready to swamp the GOP in November, you may want to take another glance out to the horizon. Not only is Trump’s approval rating growing, but overall ‘satisfaction with the way things are going in the U.S.’ is also up—by nine points since last election day. The tide, in fact, is going out.
hat this means is that Democratic contenders in November are grappling with choosing from among a triad of campaign themes:
Which one do you choose? Or alternatively, how do you stitch them together? All 435 House races are up for grabs, in addition to 35 Senate seats. Every state and district and every candidate has unique properties, so “one-size-fits-all” definitely does not fit.
Still, doesn’t it make sense for there to be a unifying plan of attack that supersedes the local variables and creates synergy? Why, yes—yes it does! But for Democrats, what is that? Well, there’s a national campaign committee called the D-Triple C devoted to electing congressional Democrats. But if you go to their website, you’ll find only two things: outrages against Trump actions; and, a relentless call for donated money. Exactly how that money will be spent—and exactly what issues it will promote—are absent.
So, let’s first consider option #1, attacking Trump. The Nation reported that Democratic party leaders are coalescing around a strategy attacking “Trump corruption.” Big mistake. Relentlessly railing against Trump makes no sense. Every voter in America already has an opinion on how he’s doing—and besides, Trump is not on the ballot this year. If Democratic candidates see attacking Trump personally as their winning ticket…well, good luck. We saw how well that worked last time. John Kerry—who knows something about losing an election to Republicans—says, "lay off Trump." Let Mueller be Mueller, and maybe he’ll deliver America a weapon. We’ll see. But in the meantime, Trump will continue to rant against the very government he now oversees, and take credit for a boobytrapped economy he’s rigged even further in favor of his fellow plutocrats. And in the process, his arguments will continue to resonate where he wants them to. Everything he says and does to irritate liberals energizes his base. So, to repeat, attacking Trump gets you nowhere.
Which leaves the other two options.
ou’re familiar with the movie plot where a group of burglars plans and executes the perfect heist. But once the deed is done, they then turn on each other in order to grab a larger share of the loot. Honor among thieves is just a theory.
That’s where the GOP Congress is now. They’re turning on each other. John Boehner recently said, “there isn’t a Republican party anymore—there’s only a Trump party. The Republican party is taking a nap somewhere.” The tension between the two shows up every day.
John McCain’s final battle for decency makes fellow Republicans squirm. The main strategist in McCain’s presidential campaign, Steve Schmidt, just defected to the Democrats. One of the Democrat's strongest spokespeople is former GOP strategist Rick Wilson. All this because the crazies are at the wheel: in Congress, the “Freedom Caucus” defeated an immigration bill it helped draft. (BTW, if ‘Freedom Caucus’ is new to you, it’s just the old Tea Party contingent, rebranding itself without its proud hoodie of racism.) This is the same divide that forced out Boehner, and also helped nudge aside Puppet Paul Ryan. In my own backyard, the respected Republican county prosecutor just switched parties to become a Democrat. He said, “people want to know…are you really a Donald Trump supporter? I am clearly not.”
Republican voters can’t help but notice the discord—and they don’t like it. On the day Trump was elected, their view of their shiny new Congressional dynasty was 37% positive—sharply up from an overall national support for Congress that had cratered into the single digits in recent years. But this GOP infighting couldn’t be blamed on ‘obstructionist’ Democrats, who had no longer had the power to obstruct anything. So, at this writing, Republican support for the Republican Congress has shrunk by almost half…to 22%. And to repeat, these are Republican respondents. The natives are restless.
So, let’s make them more restless…and carve away a meaty slice of independent and discouraged Republican voters. And we can do that by targeting both their hearts and minds.
n an intellectual level, what are known today as moderate Republican scholars have always seen themselves as the guardians of the Constitutional galaxy. The rule of law, separation of powers, etc.--noble goals enshrined by the liberal Founding Fathers. Those Republicans who inhabit this intellectual sphere today are aghast with what’s going on. George Will is urging a vote for Democrats! No matter that these mainliners may support some of Trump’s ends, they deplore the Republican Congress for abdicating its role in the ingenious construct of checks and balances. On Capitol Hill, no one is checking. There is no balance. This GOP congress is bending over and begging Trump, "please, sir, may I have another?!" Republican poohbahs are unnerved—and increasingly unafraid to say so.
But that’s an esoteric argument in the minds of the majority of voters. That part of the electorate operates more freely on the basis of what can tug on the heartstrings. And those voters are telling us that their heartstrings are hanging right there…ready for the tugging. The most powerful issues are not those that connect directly to the voters themselves…but more emotionally, to their kids and grandkids—and for many, even to other people’s kids and grandkids.
According to a recent Quinnipiac poll, the three following ‘heartstring’ issues form an electoral promised land:
1) Gun laws. I’ll admit, after Sandy Hook I thought America would never care about gun violence. It looks like I was wrong. There is now overwhelming, bipartisan support for doing the logical things that can reduce the number of deadly weapons reaching those with deadly intentions.
Here’s how independent voters feel about the following:
It should be noted that 97% of Republicans support background checks. The only people opposing this idea are the leaders of the NRA…and their paid pawns in Congress. In a democracy, who should prevail on a deadly issue like this—98% of voters, or a business association devoted to making it easier for Americans to kill each other?
Democrats, run on that.
2) Immigration enforcement
Let’s look at numbers gathered before the reporting on Trump’s ICE troopers forcibly separating terrified children from their parents. In other words, these are the less inflamed opinions of independent voters on immigration issues:
This is also a no-brainer. Independents overwhelmingly want the DACA kids to have a chance…and more than half believe the GOP Congress actively prefers to have them shoved back across some border--any border.
Again, this was before children were pulled from their parents and put in cages. That firestorm isn’t reflected above. But independents have thoughts on that, too--they oppose the separation policy by a three-to-one margin.
Democrats, run on this, too.
3) The deficit
The federal budget is pretty wonky stuff, right? People notice if they get a few more dollars in their paycheck or another deduction…but they don’t pay any attention to future implications.
Not so fast.
Independent voters now are split right down the middle in saying which party does a better job of handling the economy, taxation and the federal budget. (No matter that the facts damn the Republicans here across the board.) The point is that selling the danger of the deficit is more than worth the battle, since a whopping 93% of independent voters believe it’s an important issue. That’s because deficits are about descendants. Every incumbent Republican running this fall should be forced to explain how his or her vote for the preposterous tax cut can be squared against the monumental debt loaded onto the backs of the next couple of generations.
Run on that, as well.
Certainly, to this troika you could add two other obvious contenders. The first is health care. Yes, the GOP lied when they promised a 'better' alternative to Obamacare. There has not been--and won't be--any alternative from them. And yes, depending on state, Democratic candidates can point to how GOP governors and legislators have hurt their own constituents with the decision making. But the danger in health care arguments is always the same--go too deeply here, and you step into a trap, because all GOP candidates are pre-programmed to respond with, “socialized medicine!” In fact, single payer is an inevitable answer, but now is not the time. It’s ripe for the next Presidential election.
The other, more imminent threat is the choice of a new Supreme Court justice. I may want McConnell tarred and feathered for his perfidy, and emotionally this should be a ‘burn down the house’ moment for Democrats. But getting hung up considering possible Senate defectors on the GOP side…or worrying about the obvious Constitutional setbacks the new justice will allow…is also partisan in nature, because most Republicans are cheering this moment, and swaying some independents in the process. Anyway, the deed seems certain to be done by election day, so to many swing voters the very legitimate outrage will seem like distant sour grapes. Instead, retain focus on the issues listed above that bridge the gap between party loyalties.
That means yelling about kids being gunned down in schools...kids being ripped out of their parents' arms...and kids crushed by a ballooning deficit that will let few escape.
The fact is, Democrats don’t have to detail all the ‘better answers’ in this election. That can wait for the standard-bearer in 2020. They need only point out (correctly) that the GOP Congress is entirely responsible for the mess we’re in…and thus, it’s time for them to leave.
he path forward is clear. GOP candidates are burdened by indefensible positions—but only if they’re pushed up against the wall and forced to defend them. Certainly, individual Democratic candidates are free to raise the issues of gun control, DACA and the deficit on the campaign trail. But in order to be truly impactful, their local battles must be backed by a national army. Step up, DNCC! Spend now! Hammer these issues!
More than 50% of independents say Democrats better represent their values, compared to 30% who favor Republicans. They give Democrats an 11 point margin in who they’d rather see in control of the House, and a 13 point advantage in the Senate. Only 27% of voters are Republican. Use those sentiments as a blunderbuss. It’s there for the battering.
However, this must be said: these aren’t national elections. Each one will be decided by district or by state, and the same monied interests who elected Trump are standing by with even more dollars—and more intent—to retain their Congressional toadies, one election at a time.
A very good friend early on described Trump this way: “everything he does hurts people.” In fact, Trump wants to hurt people—those defined as anyone who refuses to support him. One White House co-worker recently described him as, "the meanest man I've ever met."
The hurt he administers can’t be fully realized without a craven Congress. They are the bullets in Trump’s crazed holster.
Throw them out…take control of at least one house…and we take the weapon out of Trump’s hands.
It’s now or never.
Editor’s note: this article deals with what can be done on a national level. But what about you—the individual progressive voter? Is there something you should be doing?
The answer is yes…but you might not like taking the medicine.
To find out what that is, please read on in part two. (link)
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