I’m guilty. In this case I really do not matter. Most Democrats including many key players in the 2016 Clinton campaign are also guilty and that ended up being a big deal. The crime: Not taking your opponent’s chance of winning seriously enough. Let’s explore.
Despite the fact that he is the President I still find it difficult to take Donald Trump seriously. He was a caricature of a candidate in 2016 and since assuming office has proven himself to be even more incompetent than his detractors (me included) predicted he would be. The reality is that for at least the present Trump is President and has all the powers that go along with the position.
Democrats underestimated him during the entire 2016 campaign. Many on the left have questioned the lack of action on the part of then President Obama. I was far from a fly on the wall of the Oval Office and there were no breakfasts with Barack but I’m confident that Obama chose not to take certain actions because he felt that Hillary was going to win anyway and he didn’t want to look like he was using his office to put his thumb on the scales.
I’m far from making a prediction about the 2020 presidential race! I’m not even ready to endorse anyone. There is reasonable doubt as to who the Republican candidate will be let alone the identity of the Democratic standard bearer. I’d say there is probably a better chance that Mike Pence will be the GOP’s candidate than Donald Trump. Democratic long term planners should be making early plans to run against both. On the Democratic side the choice is even murkier. I can make a case for a score of Democratic potential candidates and a slam dunk argument for none of them.
A huge mistake Democrats made in 2016 was underestimating Donald Trump. In 2016 it was obvious that only the Democratic and Republican nominees had any real chance of winning the presidency. 2020 will be no different. Therefore both sides need to take the other side’s nominee seriously. It will simply be a binary choice no matter what a plethora of news reports will say to the contrary. The principle of taking the challenge your opponent poses seriously applies at all levels from dogcatcher to President. Upsets happen in politics just as they do in sports. That’s why we have elections and play the games.
We are also in a transition phase in the history of waging a political campaign. Data has never been more abundant, accessible and affordable. There is a temptation to take the cost effective data driven path and forego more traditional campaigning. I find myself with feet firmly planted in both camps. I love data and demographics but I still see the need for a ground game.
I feel different media reaches different targets. There is a need for old fashioned lawn signs, radio ads, television ads and personal appearances along with social media and web based advertising. In the 2012 campaign one of the Obama campaign’s most cost effective advertising programs involved signs on buses. It worked for a candidate who needed a huge turnout among the less wealthy who used public transportation. It probably would have been a waste of money for the Romney campaign. This was a case where knowing your target audience made all the difference in the world.
I’m still a huge fan of paid local organizers who are left in a specific geographical area for the campaign. They have to be employed early enough to have time to literally organize the volunteers in that area so that they can be productive in the last phases of the campaign. Your paid staff can also act as surrogates for the candidate. It is almost impossible to get a Presidential candidate into a local church on a Sunday but there is no reason your organizer can’t hit one in their territory each Sunday for months before Election Day. People understand that the candidate him or herself can’t make it yet they feel both important and respected that the candidate’s representative made the effort to ask them for their vote! There is still no substitute for shaking hands and kissing babies!
In the future we need a combination of old fashioned shoe leather and new technology. In fact the biggest value of technology is to show us how to allocate the personal contacts most effectively. We can fret all we want about Russian interference and fake news but we have an extremely limited ability to control them; we have all the opportunity in the world to control our own thoughts and actions. Assume you are losing until you have been declared the winner.
This article is part of a series dealing with the path forward for progressives to start winning at the polls again.
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