How to Beat Trump

It's baffling how inept Democrats have been in responding to Donald Trump. Do they intentionally want to lose? What other explanation could there be for playing into his hand time and time again?

Our democracy depends on not only a "loyal opposition," but an effective one as well. So I'd like to take this opportunity to give some much needed advice to Democrats. I know this seems presumptuous, but then nothing else is working and somebody has to offer a helping hand.

Full disclosure: I am an Independent; however, I support most of Trump's agenda. That said, I dislike Trump's behavior and think he's a deeply flawed human being. But Trump is the harsh medicine you get when core issues have been mishandled or neglected for too long. It's like waiting until midnight to call a plumber, then being disgusted when the only one you can find is smelly, dirty and vulgar. The job gets done, but you can't wait to clean up the stink and mess left behind.

First off, let's examine what isn't working for Democrats and in some cases is deeply harmful to their cause:
  • Letting Hillary run amok. The Clintons have never been known for selfless behavior, but Hillary's post election pilgrimage hits a new low in clueless self-exoneration. Every public appearance reminds voters (a) that she lost and (b) why she lost. It's shrill, it's sad and it's shameful. From a tactical standpoint, it gives Trump an opening to retell his victory story at every rally of the faithful. This is an unforced error. Senior Democrats should meet with Hillary and show her some tough love: "Shut up or be excommunicated." When threatened with a loss of prestige, Clintons will capitulate.
  • Lamenting Trump. Waling on every Trump tweet, misstep or misdeed is a complete waste of time. The voters who support Trump have already accepted how he acts. If anything, attacks on Trump are interpreted as personal attacks on those who support his policies. The result is a deeper commitment by Trump's base—and recruitment of marginal voters who view the attacks as unseemly. If you're going to preach to the choir, save it for the church, not the public forums.
  • Unrelenting partisanship.Tit for tat retribution is an evil byproduct of party politics. That's one of many reasons George Washington, the first U.S. President, was against political parties. Alas, partisanship is deeply entrenched in our political system. But that doesn't mean Democrats can't rise above and use virtue as a tactic. When nearly every vote is all Democrats against, it reveals a pettiness that tarnishes any claim of moral authority. Yes, Republicans did the same thing under Obama. And it was wrong. And it delayed making important fixes that might have been possible with a true bipartisan effort. A hallmark of statesmanship is a willingness to reach across the aisle on major issues. With someone like Trump in office, it should be easy for Democrats to outclass Republicans.

So what should Democrats do?
  • Completely ignore Trump. Trump feeds off both positive and negative energy. He flourishes only when he is being noticed. Trump is a consummate showman. His style matches that of a WWE impresario—a role he has actually played. Democrats need to act as if Trump doesn't exist. They should comment on the situation, not the person. Of course, this assumes Democrats have ideas that can connect across party lines.
  • Listen, don't lecture. Making people bad is not a persuasive tactic. Lecturing, hectoring and even physically confronting is a disaster. People become defensive when attacked. They feel insulted when talked down to. They resent any form of bullying. Democrats can't help projecting a tone of superiority—of knowing what's best for others. Doesn't this contradict the liberal message of equality in all things? Or are some more equal than others, as in George Orwell's "Animal Farm"? Democrats don't have to embrace opposing points of view, but they do need show a willingness to listen to and validate conservative viewpoints. Hillary lost the election with her rant about "deplorables." In one speech she condemned half the nation. How do you win an election by throwing away half of the potential votes? (Curiously, Romney made the same mistake in his 2012 campaign by dismissing 47% of population of the United States as government-dependent.)
  • Sell the solution, not the problem. People voted for Trump because he addressed issues that deeply concerned them. And he did it in a way that validated their worth as mainstream, working class Americans. Anyone who attended a Trump rally could rattle off the top five points of his agenda—"promises made." No one could do that after a Hillary rally. Democrats need to come up with bold solutions to widely recognized problems. They need to work from the middle ground outward, not from the fringe of extreme socialism. Their ideas have to be so appealing that even some Republicans would vote for them.
  • Pick winners. Elderly Democrats should be revered for their service and wisdom. As senior statesmen, they should have prominent roles in advocating core values. But they should not run for key leadership positions. They've had their time. And no more running candidates because "it's their turn." Then you get losers like Ford, Dole, Gore, Kerry, McCain, Romney and Hillary. They were never going to win, but they used their clout and tipped the nominating process in their favor. No more "super delegates"—another evil of partisan politics. Democrats need to find a Kennedy, or Bill Clinton or Obama. Fast. Or 2020 is already lost.
  • Rein in the left-leaning media. It's bad enough that Fox News is the mouthpiece of the Republican party. And it's natural to think converting CNN and MSNBC into partisan channels would be a good counterpoint. But for diehard CNN fans like myself, it's deeply disturbing to see raw partisanship and ranting and condemning. Hardly seems like a winning media strategy, and the ratings support that observation. The counterpoint to Fox is not partisanship but exemplary objective reporting without discernible bias. Top ranking Democrats need to meet with the heads of CNN and MSNBC and urge them to reclaim their journalistic integrity. It would be better for ratings, and for Democrats. Follow Michelle Obama's advice: "When they go low, we go high."

And one more thing: Don't be fooled by polls. They're like weather forecasts, which are only accurate a few days out. A big part of the problem is that, given the high levels of intimidation, Trump supporters often don't admit they support Trump. As my Mom who grew up during the Great Depression used to say, nobody ever admitted voting for Roosevelt in conservative circles.

It seems like Democrats have a shot at winning back the House in 2018. But the real game is in 2020. If Democrats do win the House, they will be tempted to double and triple down on their losing tactics. They will hold hearings, resist Trump at every step and, most fatally, try to impeach Trump. That's payback for impeaching Clinton for having sex with an intern. As with Clinton, the trial in the Senate will go nowhere. But the government will be gridlocked for two years. And after all that publicity, Trump will surely win a second term. It doesn't have to happen that way. And yet it seems inevitable.

Remember, Clinton's popularity went up after his impeachment.

Cable News Ratings
Clinton Receives Record High Approval Rating after Impeachment
George Orwell's Animal Farm
George Washington and Political Parties
How Many People Support Trump But Don't Want to Admit It?
Impeachment of Bill Clinton
Libertarian Conservatism
Michelle Obama's Advice
Trump and WWE

Comments? Send to: tedkseastrom@gmail.com

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