Clichés, Collaboration And Strategy

What do you get when you put together a conservative Republican operative and a progressive Democratic political junkie in a sort of collaboration, seasoned with clichés? The answer is the roadmap for a big Democratic win in 2020 and this article. I’ll explain. Let’s explore.

The Republican is Rick Wilson and obviously I’m the Democrat. Wilson and I share several rather harsh political views – electoral if not philosophical. In many cases I don’t like them and after reading his book, Running Against The Devil, I don’t think he does either; but they are reality. I couple his/our views with my philosophy that Americans vote against, not for candidates. Enough overview; let’s get into the meat and potatoes.

Wilson’s number one principle for 2020 is forget (Rick and I both use much saltier language but I try to stay PG for this column) the popular vote and only consider the Electoral College for the presidency. The presidential election is actually 56 separate races (50 states, the District of Columbia and the 5 congressional districts of Maine and Nebraska). The polling you will see is the nationwide popular vote; it doesn’t mean anything. I know you probably don’t like the system and for the record neither do I. That doesn’t matter! Those are the rules the 2020 election will be run under and in all honesty probably all remaining presidential elections in my lifetime. I didn’t like the three point shot in basketball when they put it in during my coaching career. But that was the rule the games were being played under. We tweaked an offense or two and recruited a few players who could shoot the three.

One more very important word about polls: Pay attention to the margin of error! For example if a poll has your guy or gal up by three with a margin of error of five it is not telling you your candidate will win. It is telling you that it has no idea who is going to win.

All campaigns are a matter of asset allocation. In simple words where do you spend your time and money? Wilson has 35 states along with DC off the board. For the sake of argument (and a bit of laziness) I’ll use his 15 battleground states. Those are the only places where the outcome is in doubt. (For simplicity’s sake I have disregarded the individual congressional districts in Maine and Nebraska.) I’ll guarantee that the Democrat will win New York and California in 2020. In that same vein Trump will win Alabama and Mississippi. The battlegrounds are the 15 states and other than token assets (defensive if it’s your turf) and fundraising trips don’t waste your time in the others.

Here are the battlegrounds in order of priority:

Florida                               29 electoral votes

Pennsylvania                 20 electoral votes

Ohio                                    18 electoral votes         Defend Sherrod Brown’s seat

Georgia                             16 electoral votes         Flip David Perdue & Kelly Loeffler’s seats

North Carolina            15 electoral votes         Flip Thom Tillis’ seat

Michigan                        16 electoral votes         Defend Gary Peters seat

Virginia                           13 electoral votes         Defend Mark Warner’s seat

Arizona                          11 electoral votes         Flip Martha McSally’s seat

Colorado                        9 electoral votes          Flip Cory Gardner’s seat

Minnesota                   10 electoral votes         Defend Tina Smith’s seat

Wisconsin                    10 electoral votes

Iowa                                  6 electoral votes          Flip Joni Ernst’s seat

Nevada                          6 electoral votes

Maine                            4 electoral votes          Flip Susan Collins’ seat

New Hampshire       4 electoral votes          Defend Jeanne Shaheen’s seat

If you noticed the third column in my chart lists Senate seats up in battleground states. In what I view as the likely worst case scenario Trump win reelection and Democrat Doug Jones loses in Alabama. In that case the Democrats need to flip five current GOP seats. A tough order but achievable. While presidential campaigns talk a good game about helping down ticket candidates the reality is they are selfish and only help others in their Party by accident. As DNC Chair – not an easy job – Tom Perez has to change that this time around. Taking back the Senate is arguably more important than winning the White House in 2020, (more about that in a future posting).

We can talk all we want about moral victories and the popular vote but the reality is that if we want to accomplish anything to advance our causes we have to win both the White House and the Senate. The numbers and the map gives the Democrats a legitimate chance of winning the Senate in 2020 and that is not the case in every cycle. Decades ago an old mentor taught me the first obligation of a politician is to get elected or reelected because unless you were in office you couldn’t do yourself, your Party or your causes any good. It’s like basketball – if you don’t have the most points on the board at the end of the game you lost.

It shouldn’t be but 2020 will be a close election. All close elections boil down to turnout! Plain and simple: if more of my people show up to vote I win and vice versa. Therefore the question becomes how we get people in the battlegrounds to show up. Sorry, larger voter turnout in California doesn’t help the Democrats; there are no extra electoral votes for a blowout.

My answer (and Wilson’s) is to make the election a referendum on Trump. His negatives are high. Many people who voted for him in 2016 and are considering voting for him again in 2020 don’t like him. In many cases they liked Hillary even less. Candidates matter. Look no further than the UK’s recent elections. They elected Boris Johnson. Are you going to tell me that most Brits actually like him? Democrats need to keep that in mind during the primary season. Trump can’t beat us but we can beat ourselves.

Based on my decades of observing the political actions of Americans the way to get them to show up is to anger them. Want proof? I’ve attended a lot of local political meetings over the years; town, county and Board of Education meetings, etc. Generally they don’t draw flies. If the room is packed you can be sure that people are upset about something.

I suggest that the Democratic nominee go negative and stay on that path until the Associated Press calls the election. In the 2000 election I said that should have been Al Gore’s strategy. He didn’t do it and (fair or not we’ll never know) George W. Bush ended up in the Oval Office on January 20, 2001. Going negative on Trump is easy; he writes your attack ads.

It’s a little trickier for the down ballot candidates. Before you go full bore anti-Trump find out how he polls in your district. If you are in one of the few places where he is extremely popular (I’m looking at you Senator Jones) then you have a difficult road ahead of you and you have to be careful on the Trump bashing. Otherwise paint your Republican opponent as a Trumper and once you do don’t back off the accelerator pedal one bit.

If you feel this isn’t fair all I have to point out is that your only job between now and November is to win. Besides, do you think the other side is going to play fair? Who knows what stunts people like Bill Barr will pull between now and Election Day. Trump’s closest allies know they are dead if he loses. They are fighting for their political lives and in many cases to run out the clock on the statute of limitations.

Be prepared for when Trump or his minions lie about you. They will. Remember a multitude of lies can be told in a 30 second sound bite but it takes much more than 30 second to refute a single lie. Why did I pick 30 seconds? The answer is because that is about the attention span of most voters when it comes to politics. Just make them hate Trump and your opponent. Forget long policy statements; the few people that actually read/pay attention to them are core Democratic voters and GOP oppo people.

If you take on your opponent’s lies individually you are letting them define the debate and you never win playing defense the entire game. To have the most points at the end you have to score at some point. You need to come up with some catch all dismissive line. Sorry, “Fake News” is taken; Trump stole it form 1930’s European fascists and they probably stole it form someone before them.

I went long today but this is important. I’ll end with a cliché you hear every election but this time it is true. This election is the most important of your lifetime! The White House, Senate and at the state level control of redistricting in 2021 is at stake. The Democrats have a great opportunity; let’s see what they do with it. If like most of us you are not running, you have a role to play in this too. You need to at a minimum vote! American democracy hangs in the balance.

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