Campaign Like It’s 2018 Again

In my opinion the biggest value to the study of history is learning from it. If something works repeat it; if something doesn’t work don’t keep repeating it. 2018 was a great year for Democrats. A large part of that was a backlash against Donald Trump which generated unprecedented Democratic turnout for a mid-term. The result was a huge Blue Wave. As in sports so it is in politics: opportunity is only good if you seize it and make the most of it. 2018 is a guide for 2020. Let’s explore.

A week is a month and a month is a year in politics, but at this point it is looking better than ever that Trump will be the 2020 Republican presidential nominee. Even though his name wasn’t on the ballot in 2018 Democrats were effectively running against him and they beat him like a drum. It may seem counterintuitive but they did so by spending very little time and energy talking about him.

Political junkies like me and my readers spend a great deal of time following Trump and his antics. Average voters do not. They are too busy with life. They don’t have the time to sort through the lies and many scandals get lost in the abundance of them. They worry about things like health care, their children’s’ education and making their paycheck stretch until the next payday. What one of my late political teachers, John Maloney, taught me a long time ago was that Democrats need to stick to what he called the kitchen table issues because that is where they represent the interests of the voters. Those issues are the ones mom and dad worry about when they sit at the kitchen table after they put the kids to sleep.

Democratic candidates have to stay away from any lengthy talk of impeachment or otherwise getting rid of Trump. If you are a Democrat running in 2020 assume supporters or the voters that you are trying to motivate to show up at the polls dislike Trump and move on to talking about things like health care, jobs you can support a family on, public education, consumer protection and the environment. While Trump supporters (who aren’t going to vote for you anyway) discount the environment, likely Democratic voters hold it as one of their top concerns. Your voters and potential voters will assume you, like them, are unhappy with Trump. Being anti-Trump is not enough. If that is all they take from your message don’t expect them to donate, volunteer or most importantly show up to vote.

The House Democrats, under the leadership of Nancy Pelosi, have done a good job to date. While hearings have gotten the most press they already have a substantial record of passing legislation dealing with kitchen table issue. Obviously it would be better for them and the country if those bills became laws, but if they don’t (and they probably won’t) it will be because Mitch McConnell never let them come to the floor in the Senate or Trump vetoed them. That will leave Democrats with a series of examples to illustrate the difference between the parties and reasons to vote Democratic.

I feel that the successful Democratic candidates will spend the vast majority of their time telling the voters what they believe in and what they will work to achieve while spending as little time as possible on talking about how bad their opponent is. Use your opponent’s record against them but don’t waste all your time talking about them even if it is about how bad they are. People always complain about all the negative ads. (If they didn’t work to some degree nobody would be running them.) I’m not saying don’t tell the truth on your opponent (trust me I’d be the last to give that advice!) just don’t let it dominate your talk or advertising. Spend the majority of your time talking about what you are for and not what you are against.

Let Trump and his enablers largely self-destruct. It worked in 2018 and is a solid strategy for 2020.

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