11.01.2018 0

Democrats have forgotten that winning elections and majorities requires addition, not subtraction

By Robert Romano

Say what you will about President Donald Trump, but at least he knew how to draw a map, specifically, a map of the Electoral College in 2016 that won him the election.

Trump campaigned heavily across the country in swing states like Florida, North Carolina and Ohio, but to get over the top, he also competed fiercely in Democrat territory in rust belt states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin that Republicans had not won since 1988 and 1984.

That took vision. It took attention to issues of concern to voters in those states, where trade deficits and job outsourcing from globalization and trade agreements weighed heavily on voter attitudes. Blue collar and union households that traditionally voted Democrat in those states, it turns out, were ripe for the picking, and Trump’s message of America first, particularly on trade and immigration, resonated.

It’s why he won. Trump successfully crossed the aisle, just as every president in modern history has done before him. The way the system is designed, you probably cannot win without at least a few votes from the other side. So the challenge is to broaden the appeal of the message across party lines while still maximizing one’s political base. Obama did it. Bush did it. Clinton did it. Bush and Reagan did it.

Which brings us to the not-too-hard-to-figure-out puzzle of unsuccessful candidates such as Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney. Both were marred by unfortunate gaffes that seemingly trashed the very voters on the other side they needed to cross over and vote for them.

In 2012, Romney famously stated, “All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. And I mean the president starts out with 48, 49 percent … he starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax.”

As with any broad generalization, it was bound to bite back, and surely it did. Romney failed to connect with voters who perhaps thought he viewed them as sponges or leeches on society. In one paragraph, he had written off half the country, forgetting that winning elections is the process of addition, not subtraction.

In 2016, then, it was astonishing when Hillary Clinton made the same exact mistake, stating, “You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? They’re racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic — Islamophobic — you name it. And unfortunately, there are people like that.”

Clinton added, “Now, some of those folks — they are irredeemable, but thankfully, they are not America.”

To Trump’s supporters, particularly those who felt they were not racist or sexist or xenophobic, etc. it was an extremely insulting remark. Imagine how life-long Democrats in the rust belt, who were supporting Trump because of his positions on trade, for example, must have felt. It might have cemented their conviction to vote for and take a chance on Trump, because it was clear Clinton was not one of them. She wasn’t with them.

That was again the lesson of 2016 again. Winning majorities requires addition, not subtraction.

And so it is extremely baffling that again Hillary Clinton has returned to the national stage, again blasting Republicans in very general terms, telling CNN, “You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for.”

It’s one thing to attack party leaders or specific politicians or your opponent on the campaign trail. That’s to be expected. But when you start ripping on their supporters, the politician is almost always going to get hurt in that exchange. It’s an unnecessary risk.

Fast forward to the midterms upon us on Nov. 6, and it’s hard not to see the same mistake repeating itself, again on the Democratic side.

In the wake of political and racist violence by Cesar Sayoc and Robert Bowers, with the mail bombs scare targeted at Democrats and shooting and killing 11 at the Pittsburgh synagogue, respectively, and many Democrats have once again used it as an political opportunity to attack the President — and all of his supporters — making about the most incendiary charges that one can manage to make in public discourse. Republicans are Nazis, anti-Semitic, you name it.

It’s far beyond the pale.

The visceral reaction against Trump, going on for over three years now, may be rooted essentially in his desire to secure jobs for Americans, which can be viewed as at the expense of jobs for non-Americans and those overseas. But that’s not racist, since all Americans benefit from that posture. Unemployment for blacks and Hispanics is at or near all-time lows and many are crediting Trump’s economic policies on trade, taxes and deregulation.

So, Trump and Republicans may have something of a message again that crosses party lines. Midterms are notoriously negative affairs for the President’s party in Congress, so we’ll see how well it works this time. We’ll also get to see how Democrats’ message that all Republicans are Nazis or racists plays out in states where they will need at least a few Republican votes to win, in red states like North Dakota, Missouri and Indiana, which look like potential Republican pick-ups in the Senate.

Perhaps it’s a rare species of persuasion. But, probably not.

There will undoubtedly be many post-mortems written about the 2018 midterms. It’s still too early to tell, but if Democrats fail to win back the Senate when they only needed two seats, Democrats’ failure to campaign on a national basis again will certainly loom large.

Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government.

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