Getting Off Your High Horse Campaign
“Well, the American people know better than to elect Donald Trump.”
Yes, we’ve heard that one before. If I had to pick one gripe, one frustration I have with the Democratic Party establishment, it would be our tendency to high-horse campaign. This is what I call it when a candidate chooses to only campaign in urban areas, speaks only to existing Democratic voters, and assumes all voter are educated enough in the issues to toss out a cheer or an ‘amen’ whenever a piece of talking point rhetoric is delivered. Unfortunately, not enough registered Democrats vote, not enough urban constituents vote, and not enough voters are well-educated enough on the issues to understand fully what a vote for a Republican means, versus a vote for a Democrat. Hence, the very conundrum I discuss in my next chapter on the political spectrum.
Here’s the cold, hard fact: deciding you don’t need to put in the effort of campaigning to party moderates and swinging voters limits your focus group to a much smaller demographic. Yes, we will probably see much higher Democratic turnout in the 2018 election, but there’s a reason we have more registered Democrats in our nation than Republicans, yet republicans win more than half of all down ballot and national elections. Not only do we coldly avoid campaigning to those who may swing their vote, we also don’t speak the same language as the rest of the nation.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign chose not to address Trump issues in the idea that his campaign was sinking his own ship. This concept of matter-of-fact, “Well, Donald…” lecturing on how incorrect Trump’s rhetoric was only worked to paint Clinton as a cold, lecturing matriarch to those not well-versed in her, her personality, and her stance on the issues. The public chose to purchase Trump’s rhetoric, regardless of fact, and Trump’s campaign was able to successfully sell fact as rhetoric. Hillary’s image made ignoring the allegations seem wry and shallow, versus showing compassion by being truly hurt by them.
For example, when Trump brought up Clinton’s use of a private email server in one of the 2016 debates, Clinton chose not to interject, and instead painted a big smile on her face, brushing off the comments instead of directly addressing them. This left the ‘Crooked Hillary” camps continued room to argue she both refused to deny being irresponsible with top secret American intelligence, but also didn’t take her legal duties to use a public server very seriously.
In all frankness, the best possible response to Trump’s allegations could have been to publicly admit she had used a public email server (as the facts were already out there and everyone was well aware), and educate the public on how much more secure said email server was than existing government requirements for government-based email and its security. It would’ve been a fantastic opportunity to address a failure of the federal government to largely update their security protocols and modernize with hackers as their breaching technologies also gained.
This is an example of a clear failure to prioritize explanation in favor rhetoric. This did away with human connection and painted almost a robotic wide brush across the issue in question. It could have been easily addressed by talking through it, but left ambiguity and anger with millions of voters looking for a true explanation. I say this as an individual who voted for Hillary not once, but twice.
We have been presented with one of the truly most unique opportunities in Donald Trump. He has alienated his party. He has alienated his voters. He has alienated those who are disenfranchised, and most importantly, he has alienated those who thought they shared his faith. There has never been a better time for Democrats to demonstrate they too can be the party of Christianity, the party of protecting religious freedom, the party of defending democracy, and the party of patriotism.
While we’re the political party most strongly defending the rights of the poor and disenfranchised by providing social programs, we’ve done such a modest job of supporting those individuals that they’ve turned to the Republican party as an alternative. The very party that would cut healthcare from more than twenty million Americans is somehow also the party of the people. How did this happen? Language. Rhetoric. Marketing. Branding. Showmanship. Charisma.
It didn’t matter what the candidates said and when they said it, it was how sure of themselves they were when they said it and who they were talking to. A caller into a radio show a few days ago stands out in my mind at this moment. The caller discussed how him and his father are no longer talking because of the divide Trump has created in their family. The concerned individual simply wanted to know how the show host would handle such a personal divide within the family. What the show host responded with blew my mind with its simplicity and accuracy. It was crass and poignant and both demonstrated what’s wrong with our political system and what’s wrong with Democrats’ approach to it. I’m paraphrasing here, but it was somewhere along the lines of:
“Why would you let politics divide your family? Do you think Hillary Clinton personally gives a damn about you? Do you think Donald Trump personally gives a damn about your father? Do you think either of them would bend over backward to solve either of your qualms if you met them in person?”
The reality is, no. They wouldn’t. They are tailored to be personable. The demands of polling results dictates their behaviors, what they say, how they stand, what color their ties are, who they talk to, when they talk to them, and for how long they stay in the conversation. This is broad brush politics en masse. Candidates will speak to the voters they think they can win and reject those they believe could never be reached.
As a Democrat who speaks to Republicans on a daily basis, I can tell you right now any voter of any ideology will abandon their party in a heartbeat if they find a candidate that appeals to their greatest wants and needs. If a Democratic candidate told a struggling Republican mother they’d provide tens of thousands of dollars of annual support for childcare, that mother wouldn’t flinch in the voting booth to flip parties. As a result, when you have a candidate like the incumbent in my district creating bills only to deregulate the auto industry, the real estate industry, and the banking industries, you have the absolute most valid reason in your hand for why an individual shouldn’t be allowed back into office.
When Greg Abbot, the governor of Texas, recalls the state congress for a special session for the sake of a bathroom bill and modification of municipal tree regulation (yes, I said ‘tree regulation), you have a clear-cut example of how an incumbent is abusing power for the benefits of their donors and disregarding the benefits of their voters. Especially when tremendous issues like protection of healthcare, voting rights, women’s rights, immigrant rights should be on the docket and are on the tips of every constituent’s tongues.
What we, as Democrats, need to learn in this election cycle is how to talk about these issues and wholeheartedly confront the cowardice of the corrupt party we oppose. Here are some key tips: blatantly, belligerently, and often.
Your thought process has to be to know your audience. Listen to the question. Pause. Hear not just the question, but WHY someone is asking it. Do they understand what they’re asking? Do they understand everything you’re about to tell them in your answer? The acronyms? The program names? The history? Do they understand how your opponent feels about it? Does your opponent event care about it?
If the answer to any of those questions is negative, you better get up on every single rooftop and shout about it until your lungs are sore, and then some. If you don’t leave every venue with a trail of angry disenfranchised voters that are well educated on at least one issue where your opposition has screwed them, you’ve failed at your single most important job.