I’m no campaign manager, but I play one on the internet. If I were the head of the Democratic Party or the head of the Republican Party, I would stick my finger in the air and ask, “What does this country want right now?” Do the American people want to move slowly, generally? Is there a pressing issue that we feel should be addressed quickly? Should we, as conservatives, or we, as liberals, support a candidate that makes people go with what they know, or are they ready to take a leap of faith with the rest of us? Finding the right answer to these questions, and the candidate that accurately taps into that vein of American energy, has proven difficult—in the last presidential election, it proved disastrous for the Democrats. But these questions are worth thinking about, I say as an internet campaign analyst, because if Democrats aren’t careful, 2020 will prove another disaster.
All About Trump
If the Mueller report taught us anything, or rather reminded us, it’s that Trump is a success despite his failures, and he’s managed not to be a complete failure thanks to those around him. Though the special counsel made no definitive conclusion as to whether or not Trump obstructed justice, he pointed out numerous instances where Trump definitely tried, but ultimately failed, to do so only because those around him wouldn’t do what he had instructed them to do. Trump’s presidency has largely reflected this same paradigm: Trump talks of fire and fury while Bolton or Kelly (or whoever was Secretary of State at the time) whisper to the media on the sidelines, “No, we’re not going to do that.” If Michael Cohen was Trump’s fixer, the cabinet members are his cleaners. Sarah Sanders, in this scenario, would be the person who puts a tarp over everything and tells everyone there’s nothing to see here, and you’re stupid for even looking in that direction.
The question for democratic candidates now is whether to go after Trump, the man, or go after Trump, the idea. Prior to his election, Trump the man was the one most attacked by the Democratic Party. Trump, the man, was a serious propagator of sexual assault—that ultimately didn’t matter. Trump, the man, was inexperienced in government matters—turns out politicians aren’t particularly well-liked anyway, so that didn’t work. Trump, the man, was a failure as a businessman. About this point, I’ve never fully understood what Democrats were trying to prove here.
Let’s break it down.
The characterization went (and continues to go) like this: Trump, the businessman, is a failure because he lost a lot of money over a ten-year period. Democrats tried to portray Trump as a conman who harped on his business experience to make the case for the transferability and necessity of his skills. But he couldn’t be a good businessman, and therefore didn’t possess the desired skills of a successful leader, because he lost a lot of money. The New York Times’ acquisition of Trump’s tax returns fueled this line of attack and, for Democrats, it was enough to prove that Trump’s business experience could be written off as easily as Trump himself would write off Big Mac meals as a business expense.
So why didn’t Trump go down?
Simple, because he’s still rich. Despite the fact that Trump lost over a billion dollars over a ten-year period and was still a millionaire and his businesses economically solvent makes one look at the New York Times report, the Democrat’s guffaws and finger-pointing, and wonder just what the big deal was/is all about. If anything, the fact that a person could lose a billion dollars and still be fine makes me think Trump is even richer than I knew! I think the American people understand that no business venture continually makes money without ever suffering losses, or serious losses at that, and bouncing back or at the very least hanging on. If one buys into Democrats’ narrative that Trump is a business failure, the laughter can only last as long as one suspends the reality of Trump still being a millionaire. And then you’re left scratching your head because you couldn’t handle the doublethink necessary to keep laughing. Again the NYT came out with another article about his tax returns and his losses—I’m honestly not sure if it’s another decade where Trump lost another billion. If it is, rather than convince me that Trump’s business chops are no good, I’m even more impressed that that dude could lose $2 billion dollars and still be a millionaire. Am I being clear enough? Democrats, that line of attack makes no f*cking sense.
Trump, the man, has proven figuratively bulletproof. Trump, the idea, is just the Republican platform. Trump, the candidate, however, is a boisterous, stream-of-consciousness orator who has gladly taken on the mouthpiece that speaks of America’s ills. The Democrats had those equivalent qualities in Bernie Sanders, which is why so many of Trump voters overlapped with Sanders, but Democrats put their weight behind Hillary instead. While Republicans were ready to go more radical, Democrats, in a catastrophic failure of judgement, chose to play the 2016 election more conservatively. That, to me, is the great irony of the 2016 election, though there are so, so many: Democrats were the ones who chose the conservative candidate.
With the candidacy of Hillary Clinton, Democrats said let’s move forward, but not too quickly—let’s move conservatively, one might say. Let’s be temperate in our negotiations with international partners and maneuver in a level-headed manner against threats that concern the American people. Being a hawk and interventionist, she was happy to keep the door open in Syria and act if necessary—these are all qualities largely in line with a traditional conservative platform. She wasn’t offering anything new, not on the international front. Trump, on the other hand, wanted to move quickly. China is screwing us, he said, so we’re going to tariff them into fairness. Our companies are screwing us, he said, so we’re going to whack them with a stick-sized carrot until they come back. Immigrants are screwing us, he said, so we’re going to build a big, beautiful wall. And we’re going to do all of these things very quickly because they have to be done quickly.
I’m not endorsing anything he said, though I understand—and academics will agree—that he focused on the negative effects of international trade to great result. Trump was the radical in the 2016 election, and Bernie was largely saying the same thing, and continues to do so. Hillary, meanwhile, shrugged off the negative repercussions of globalization without so much as a kind word or gestures of indignation to offer people who had been adversely affected. On the domestic front, Trump was much more of a traditional Republican, though he at times flirted with liberal ideas like making healthcare more affordable.
Trump, the idea, is simply the Republican platform. The American people have proven with his election and continued support that his rhetoric doesn’t bother them enough to back off. While liberals may be disgusted and embarrassed by his demeanor and roundabout interviews, conservatives increasingly see him as the guardian of free speech. It should be no wonder that free speech continues to be such a contentious issue when Trump is described as “unhinged” and needlessly provocative for writing or saying whatever he wants. It is part of his unpredictability and, so far, it hasn’t led to the disaster that liberals warned us about.
So, should Democrats attack Trump, the man, or Trump, the idea? I propose Democrats go after the latter because that is the long-term, sustainable strategy. Attacking Trump, the man, hasn’t worked; the Mueller report didn’t bring him down, Stormy Daniels didn’t bring him down, his erratic behavior hasn’t brought him down, the trips to Mar-a-Lago, Michael Cohen, Kavanaugh, vacant government positions, nothing has brought him down. Give it up. Democrats need to go back to challenging the Republican platform, and they need to do it on the economic front because focusing on social issues also hasn’t been great. If the Green New Deal is supposed to be the economic boon Ocasio-Cortez says it’s going to be, great, I want to constantly hear hard numbers. If closing loopholes in the tax code and raising taxes on corporations is enough to pay for Medicare-for-All, great, I want a public filibuster focused entirely on those numbers. If providing a job guarantee, or universal basic income, or a higher minimum wage is going to pay dividends once enacted, I want that line to be constantly repeated, I want Democrats on Fox News, I want them unafraid to discuss those policies with voices clearly opposed.
Trump, the man, continues to bolster the security of his presidency. The revolving door of his presidency has finally given him an attorney general who will stonewall and finesse interpretations of the law to suit Trump. Pompeo, Bolton, and Mulvaney form the current triptych of his administration and are not at all bothered by their proximity to the man or the goals of his presidency. Trump, the man, is unsinkable. Trump, the idea, is made up of older, rural voters predominantly of a single race who think that crony capitalism is an unfortunate, but unavoidable, byproduct of capitalism; who think that our population is too diverse to want or appreciate socialized medicine; and who regard social change as inferior to economic growth. I’m all for changing hearts and minds, but right now, we have to work on changing people’s minds.