To: All Democratic candidates
Dear Democrats, Here’s How to Guarantee Trump’s Reelection
You’ve got a historically unpopular opponent in the White House, but there are nearly a dozen ways you could still blow this.
by Charles Sykes, Politico Magazine, June 25, 2019
As you prepare for your first debates later this week, some unsolicited thoughts on what you could do to blow this election. With 20 of you clamoring for attention over two nights, the opportunities are abundant for you to kick off the primary season with an easy win for the president.
This might seem impossible. Donald Trump remains historically unpopular because the past three years have cemented the public’s image of the president as a deeply dishonest, erratic, narcissistic, Twitter-addicted bully. As a result, a stunning 57 percent of voters say they will definitely not vote to reelect him next year and he trails Democratic challengers in key states. Trump himself seems to have given up on swing voters, instead focusing on ginning up turnout among his hard-core base. But, as columnist Henry Olsen points out, this is unlikely to be successful because millions of “reluctant Trump voters” from 2016 have already shown a willingness to bail on him by voting for Democrats in last November’s midterms.
Even so, Trump could still win reelection, because he has one essential dynamic working in his favor: You.
Trump’s numbers are unmovable, but yours are not. He doesn’t need to win this thing; he needs for you to lose it. There are millions of swing voters who regard Trump as an abomination but might vote for him again if they think you are scarier, more extreme, dangerous, or just annoyingly out of touch.
And, you have some experience at this, don’t you?
Despite the favorable poll numbers and the triumphalism in your blue bubble, you’ve already made a solid start at guaranteeing another four years of Trumpism. Last week’s pile-on of Joe Biden was a good example of how you might eat your own over the next 16 months.
On Tuesday, Trump refused to apologize for calling for the death penalty for the Central Park 5, a group of black and Latino men who were later exonerated of charges that they had beaten and raped a woman in the 1980s. But rather than focusing on the latest Trumpian racial outrage, many of you spent the next few days hammering your front-runner for saying that civility required working with people like the late segregationist senators John Eastland and Herman Talmadge.
This week’s debates give you two more chances to form circular firing squads, turn winning issues into losers, and alienate swing voters.
Here are 11 pointers on how to guarantee that the most unpopular president in modern polling history wins reelection next year.
1. Hold firmly to the idea that Twitter is the beating heart of the real Democratic Party.
Woke Twitter is convinced that anger over Trump means that voters want to move hard left. You should ignore polls showing that most Democrats, not to mention swing voters, are much more likely to be centrist.
2. Embrace the weird.
George Will carries around a small card listing all the things that you have said “that cause the American public to say: ‘These people are weird, they are not talking about things that I care about.’” A short list:
Terrorists in prison should be allowed to vote. End private health insurance. Pack the Supreme Court, abolish the Electoral College, ‘Green New Deal,’ … reparations for slavery.
“The country hears these individually,” says Will, “and they say I’m not for that.”
He’s going to need a bigger card.
3. Keep promising lots of free stuff and don’t sweat paying for it.
Trump and his fellow Republicans have run up massive deficits, but you can make them look like fiscal hawks by outbidding one another. People like free stuff, but they are less keen on having to pay for free stuff for other people, so talk as much as possible about having taxpayers pick up the tab for free college, day care and health care.
By one estimate, Elizabeth Warren’s various plans would cost about $3.6 trillion a year—or $36.5 trillion over 10 years. She insists she can pay for much of this with a vast new wealth tax that is politically impossible and constitutionally dubious, but, hey, at least she’s not Bernie.
4. Go ahead and abolish private health insurance.
Health care should be a huge winner for Democrats in 2020, as it was in 2018. But you can turn that around by embracing a Bernie Sanders-like ‘Medicare for All’ plan.
Sure, the idea polls well and is wildly popular in MSNBC green rooms. But, unfortunately, when voters find out that it would double payroll taxes, cost trillions of dollars and lead to the abolition of private health insurance, support plummets—even among Democratic primary voters. In fact, when Democratic primary voters are told that Medicare for All would cost $3.2 trillion a year, support drops to just 38 percent. And that is among Democrats.
The numbers are even worse with the wider electorate. The Kaiser Tracking Poll found that Medicare for All’s net favorability drops to minus 44 percent “when people hear the argument that this would lead to delays in some people getting some medical tests and treatments.” Voters also turn sharply against the idea when they are told that it would threaten the current Medicare program, require big tax increases and eliminate private health insurance. Count on the GOP to spend hundreds of millions of dollars making those arguments.
5. Spend time talking about reparations.
There may be no magic bullet to guarantee Trump’s reelection, but support for reparations for slavery may be awfully close. Even before Charlottesville, Trump’s record on race was horrific, and his winking appeasement of the white nationalist alt-right has been a running theme of Trumpism. But Democrats can neutralize Trump’s most glaring weaknesses by redoubling their support for reparations.
You have already made the hyperdivisive issue a big theme of the campaign and the Democratic House seems poised to pass legislationcalling for a study of the issue. Support for considering reparations has also quickly gained support in the 2020 Democratic primary, with contenders like Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris expressing their interest in Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee’s plan. It’s a stark shift from previous presidential campaigns in which Barack Obama opposed reparations.
The problems here are obvious. No one really knows how reparations would work. The historic wrongs committed against African Americans are undoubtedly unique, but as the debate heats up, the questions will be: Who pays? Who is owed? How do we pick the winners and losers? And then there are other inevitable questions: Who else? The Irish? Jews? Native Americans? Asian Americans? Gays and lesbians?
What is clear, however, is that reparations are opposed by somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of white voters, so your support is a huge gift to Trump’s reelection campaign, which would like nothing more than to drive a deeper wedge between black and white Americans.
6. Trump thinks that immigration and the crisis at the border are winning issues for him. They aren’t. But you can turn that around.
Trump is actually underwater on the immigration issue. In a recent Fox News poll, 50 percent of Americans said Trump has gone too far, more than double the number of voters who think he hasn’t been aggressive enough. Family separations continue to shock the conscience of the nation and his threats to round up millions of illegals could backfire badly on him. Moreover, huge majorities favor giving legal status to the so-called Dreamers.
But you can flip the script: instead of talking about Dreamers, talk as much as possible about your support for sanctuary cities, double down on proposals to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and be as vague as possible about whether or not you really do support open borders.
7. Lots more focus on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
By no means allow voters to hear more about centrists who actually swung the House like Abigail Spanberger in Virginia, Mikie Sherrill in New Jersey or Dean Phillips in Minnesota. Trump wants nothing more than to make AOC the face of the Democratic Party. You can make it happen.
Trump will accuse Democrats of being socialists who want to turn the United States into Venezuela. This is a tired, implausible trope. But you can make it work for him by actually calling yourself socialists and loudly booingyour fellow Democrats who suggest that “socialism is not the answer.”
9. Turn the abortion issue from a winner into a loser.
Polls suggest that there is wide opposition to overturning Roe v. Wade and Republicans have drastically overreached in states like Alabama where they have outlawed abortion even in cases of rape and incest.
But here again, Democrats can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by moving to a hard-line maximalist position. While the public leans pro-choice, its views are quite nuanced. So, instead of talking about abortion as “safe, legal, and rare,” you should demand the legalization of late-term abortions, focus on taxpayer funding and express as much contempt as possible for people with different views.
A model for this is Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who compares being anti-abortion to being racist. When she was asked whether her pro-choice litmus test for judges threatened their independence, she said:
“I think there’s some issues that have such moral clarity that we have as a society decided that the other side is not acceptable. Imagine saying that it’s OK to appoint a judge who’s racist or anti-Semitic or homophobic. Telling or asking someone to appoint someone who takes away basic human rights of any group of people in America, I don’t think that those are political issues anymore.”
You might recall how Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables” comment played in 2016; this time around, Democrats can convey their contempt for much larger groups of people, which will be immensely helpful to Trump’s efforts to convince his base and swing voters that Democrats look down on them.
10. You can also turn a winner into a loser on the issue of guns.
There is a growing bipartisan constituency for reasonable restrictions on guns, including overwhelming support for expanded background checks. Trump’s GOP is especially vulnerable here because it remains a wholly-owned subsidiary of the National Rifle Association, which is stumbling under the weight of its own extremism and grift these days.
But you can easily turn this into a firewall for Trump by joining Senator Cory Booker’s call for vast expansions of the licensing of guns and banning certain kinds of weapons. Under Booker’s plan, “a person seeking to buy a gun would need to apply for a license in much the same way one applies for a passport.”
Let’s see how that plays in Texas, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan.
11. As you try to get Americans more alarmed about Trump’s attacks on democratic norms, make sure you talk as much as possible about your support for court-packing.
Tinkering with the makeup and independence of the Supreme Court hasn’t been a winning issue since 1937, but, waving the bloody shirt of Merrick Garland as often as possible still feels satisfying, doesn’t it?
Given Trump’s deep unpopularity, losing to him won’t be easy. But don’t despair; remember, you managed to pull it off in 2016.