PROLOGUE: ABOUT LAST NIGHT
I’ve always loved politics. The run-up to an election can be exhilarating. The aftermath can be downright fascinating! After Romney lost in 2012, the Republicans did an autopsy. This was in response to an election loss that isn’t even on the scale of what we witnessed last night. Donald Trump largely ignored the lessons that the RNC put into that report and rode a wave to victory. So what does that mean?
First, it means the RNC autopsy drew incorrect conclusions (at least in the short-term). Their solutions to a shrinking base were not the “only” ways to retake the White House.
Second, it provides valuable insight into what the establishment thinks vs what the rest of us think.
Full disclosure, I am a registered Independent, so I am coming at this from an outsider’s perspective. This is not a idealized suggestion of how to govern. This is a realist’s perspective on how to go about winning the dirty business of elections. Without further adieu, here is my unsolicited autopsy of the DNC’s 2016 campaign (in no particular order).
Why Did You Fail to Beat This Guy?
ISSUE 1: ABORTION
Let’s get this one out of the way. It is an emotional argument (murdered babies) and voters are known to vote emotionally. For many people with religious convictions, this is the only issue that matters. If not for the death of Justice Scalia, I believe we would be reading about President-Elect Clinton. His vacant seat, and the looming prospect of more vacancies in the next four years, literally put the fear of God into some voters. And it is a shame, because they are voting based on the narrative created from lies.
Late-term abortions are not at all like what Trump described in the third debate when he said they could occur literally within the last day of pregnancy. That is an outright lie. Yet anti-abortion foes ate it up. So when Hillary Clinton tried to rebut his mischaracterization of a late-term abortion, they tuned out her nuanced, fact-based response. He gave them a soundbite, a bumper sticker slogan, which reinforced their worldview. At that point, the only counterargument that makes a dent is one for the health and safety of the mother and a protection for rape/incest victims. That is the only ground ceded by abortion foes that has any real traction. To try an lure them into a meaningful dialogue on the subject only invites more accusations of baby-killing.
Early polling suggests a historic Latino turnout. Everyone assumed this was bad news for Trump because he had denigrated Latinos in his campaign. But what if abortion and its future in the Supreme Court mattered more to a group that is overwhelmingly Catholic? Trump got a larger percentage of Latino voters than Romney and it wasn’t because of their warm-and-fuzzy feeling toward him.
I’m not saying to give up the fight on abortion. There is no way this country should ever go back to back-alley procedures and forcing women to carry babies to term. The supposed moral high ground that anti-abortion foes feel they have has given them license to attack the issue in less-than-moral ways. This includes faked “gotcha” videos that purport to show procedures that simply never happened as well as ignoring recommendations from the medical community. They set the narrative and Democrats have only been too happy to engage them on their home turf. The conversation has to be changed.
ISSUE 2: RURAL AMERICA
What did I hear from Hillary Clinton that spoke to people living outside of the population centers? Crickets. The Great Recession decimated main street America. Prior to 2010, counties with less than one million residents accounted for 71% of new businesses created in the country. After 2010, those counties without large urban centers only generated 42% of new businesses. We know that the economy has been in recovery mode, aided by the stimulus, through the Obama years. We now also know that almost all of that recovery was isolated to large urban cities, located in approximately 20-30 counties (out of 3,143 nationwide).
Is it any wonder that rural voters looked at the gridlock in DC, perpetuated by millionaires with their hand in the public trough, and said, “Enough!” Go to any small town that was sustained by a single, large industry. Whether it is mining, energy, or manufacturing, when that major job-supplier is outsourced, the town dies. What is a non-skilled laborer to do when the jobs dry up? Pick up and move their families to the city, where the cost of living will double or triple? It’s not an option for many of them. Right or wrong, Trump zeroed-in on bad trade deals being the boogeyman that destroyed their way of life. They think he has the magic bullet to save them. What did Hillary offer? Not much, other than to communicate that she wanted to shut down coal.
Democrats have to learn how to speak to non-skilled labor forces. Not only has it lost the rural labor force, but it now appears that organized labor within population centers is revolting. Democrats may still have union bosses on their side, but the rank-and-file clearly responded to Trump’s call as well. There needs to be a comprehensive and comprehensible message to these workers because they felt left behind by the establishment on both sides. Trump offered them an outside option to shake things up. Listen to what they are telling you.
ISSUE 3: MEDIA RELATIONS
Fairly or not, the DNC is seen as being in bed with the liberal elite media. While a fair press still exists in this country, Democrat operatives aided in blurring the lines between “reporting” and “editorializing”. Now most Americans can’t tell the difference, so many seek out alternative sources of information and give it more credence because they aren’t mainstream.
So when the media sounds the alarm on very real issues, such as climate change, or a candidate’s multitude of lies, they are dismissed as being biased. When talking heads openly celebrate a Supreme Court ruling seen as ‘liberal’ and question ‘conservative’ rulings, it undermines their very essence for being. The news is meant to deliver information and allow for voters to make decisions. When you deliver the news through your own surrogates, it loses all impact.
Case in point: Donna Brazile. She became the story when she was employed by both CNN and the DNC. Leaked emails indicate that she used her media connections to perhaps benefit her party unfairly in a debate. Even if that was not the case, her conflict of interest cast doubt on her defense. Democrats should have known better. This was tailor-made for a conspiracy theory. In the future, operatives need to pick a lane. They either provide commentary on TV or the work for the party. They should not be doing both. That will allow legitimate news outlets to call things out on both sides and deflect accusations of bias.
ISSUE 4: ESTABLISHMENT
Given the separation of wealth in this country, the average American rightly believes the deck is being stacked against them by the elites in power. Democrats talk about helping reduce the squeeze on the middle class. They want to assist the working poor. They want the rich to pay their fair share of taxes. In short, they want to level the playing field. That being said, actions speak louder than words.
Over the summer, America witnessed an uprising within each party. Trump emerged from the GOP. Bernie Sanders faltered, even though he arguably had more momentum and popularity than his opponent. Why?
The DNC stacked the deck. Even before the Primary officially started, Clinton was the presumptive nominee. Her campaign appears to have collaborated with leadership within the party to subvert the Sanders movement. The use of Super-Delegates, unbound by the will of the people, put her over the top. As a result, most of America feels her nomination was tainted, if not stolen outright. There was clearly a groundswell of change occurring in this country. The RNC allowed it to occur. The DNC squashed it.
So how can an organization speak about leveling the playing field for Americans when they refuse to do that within their own party? The nominating process needs revamped. Now that the Clinton Machine has been vanquished once-and-for-all, it is time to allow the best candidate to emerge from the fold without preordaining them.
There may be an instinct to nominate a white male next time because America is “sexist” and Obama was a once-in-a-lifetime candidate. If the DNC tries to give America what it wants based on some sort of trait analysis, it has missed the point of this whole election. America didn’t reject Obama. America didn’t reject a woman President. America wants the best candidate you put forth, no matter what demographic boxes they check. Hillary was clearly not the best candidate.
ISSUE 5: OBSTRUCTION
There will be the desire to give the Republicans a taste of their own medicine by obstructing everything their President tries to do. If Democrats do that, they will lose Congress, and perhaps the White House, for a generation. The message from voters to both parties last night was to end the gridlock and to work together to solve this country’s problems. If you use the taxpayer’s time and money to do nothing on some misguided four-year campaign to embarrass the incumbent, it will backfire. I promise it will.
The Supreme Court is lost for now. Do not become hypocrites by taking up the playbook that you so rightly criticized these last several years. If you do, it may be lost forever.
I’m not saying all obstruction is bad. Just pick your spots wisely.
ISSUE 6: GROUND GAME
Trump proved there are new rules in elections. You no longer need a massive ground game to get out the vote. Or rather, a massive ground game cannot motivate people to vote better than a great message. Major TV ad campaigns cannot overcome a great message. In a way, this is a very good thing. It means the effects of Citizens United may be overblown if the right candidate comes along. Clinton outspent Trump in every conceivable way, yet his message was the one the voters heard.
ISSUE 7: PARTY LOYALTY
Trump fractured the GOP, there is no doubt about that. But they were able to coalesce around mutual hatred of the Democratic nominee. For that and other reasons, they came back home. Worse, they were likely joined by members of the Democratic party who either voted against Hillary or sat out the election because of how the party dealt with Bernie Sanders.
Republicans were beaten down all election season from every angle. They had every reason to crumble. Yet it was the Democrats that failed to secure their base. Whether it was a smaller turnout of black voters or a lack of support from groups that Trump had insulted, like women and minorities, the DNC took its base for granted. They took Michigan for granted. Clinton didn’t step foot in Wisconsin. The most sophisticated get-out-the-vote effort in history faltered because the DNC had set up no rearguard. So while they plunged into states like Georgia and Arizona, hoping to turn them blue, states that had voted traditionally Democrat handed the Presidency to Trump. Years of analysis might tell us the lessons to be learned from this result, but it may very well come down to a simple case of neglect.
ISSUE 8: INDEPENDENT VOTERS
A knee-jerk reaction to last night might be, “What if we had nominated Bernie instead?” And as a result of that thinking, you might think the party needs to veer further to the left to capitalize on his base. If you do that, you risk alienating the largest group of voters up for grabs each general election, moderates and voters without a party affiliation. Appealing to them should be a priority.
ISSUE 9: GUNS
“Obama is going to repeal the Second Amendment!” He didn’t, but that didn’t stop the NRA and GOP from falsely claiming he had the authority to restrict gun rights unilaterally. They did it again with Hillary. Much like the abortion topic above, the DNC has been arguing the issue on Republican turf for too long. If Sandy Hook didn’t do anything to change the gun culture in our country, no party’s platform will either. The argument might be morally right, but it is a stinker with voters the way it is currently framed.
ISSUE 10: ELITISM
It will be easy to dismiss Trump’s victory as the result of the KKK, white trash, ignorance, church ladies, uninformed voters, misogyny, bigotry, idiocy, hypocrisy, or whatever. It will be even easier to wallow in self-pity, wondering how so many people got it wrong. They fell for his lies. They dismissed behavior that would have been disqualifying if it had been anyone else. They prayed to God or the Flying Spaghetti Monster to guide their ass-backwards hand at the voting booth. Whatever. You get the picture. To cast judgement on your fellow Americans for failing to see the light is exactly why you lost this election. There is a disconnect between how Republicans and Democrats are perceived in this country, and how they perceive themselves. If the DNC tries to demonize all of Trump’s supporters, if it tries to talk down to them and explain why they were wrong, the backlash will continue. People can only feel like they’ve been kicked around or laughed at for so long before they rise up and revolt. Last night was that revolt.
Republicans have four years to deliver on a lot of outlandish promises made by their candidate. They should be held accountable for those promises if they are not kept. A retooling of the DNC apparatus is in order to nominate the right candidate to bring that accountability to the forefront. There does not need to be a major overhaul. Basically, it comes down to this:
–Fix the DNC nominating process so that it is perceived as “fair” and media relations so they are perceived as “unbiased”
–Get right with traditional supporters so they do not feel taken for granted
–Do not engage the GOP in arguments where they have set the narrative
–Develop a comprehensive plan to rebuild Main Street in small town America
–Without a message that resonates, a sophisticated ground game is meaningless
So until the next race, be good to each other and remember we really are rooting for our country to succeed, no matter who wins or loses an election. That’s the great thing about Democracy. There is always another election around the corner for you to make your voice heard.