I don’t usually kick dogs when they are down. I have been the dog in this metaphor and it not only hurts, but also often seems unfair. But I have to ask: What are Democrats doing with their closing electoral strategy?
The plan seems to be: Run on issues such as health care, especially the Republican threat to not cover preexisting conditions, to win over independents, and then to rely on President Trump’s daily outrages to stoke Democratic turnout. I am sure that Democrats all across the country have millions of polling cross-tabs that show that the best way to build a winning coalition is not by attacking Trump, but by presenting solutions that help “everyday Americans.” (Remember Hillary Clinton using that poll-tested phrase? Remember how well that went?)
Meanwhile, Trump and the Republicans are nationalizing the election: a vote for Republicans is a vote for Trump and a vote for Democrats is a vote for higher taxes, open borders, recession and other assorted miseries. Perhaps recent Republican momentum has stalled and Democrats will regain their wave, but I don’t think the latter party’s closing argument packs enough punch.
Democrats need to urgently remind their base and independents of the deeper and more emotional stakes of this election. They need to show their base and potential converts that there is a way to convert anger, malaise and resignation about Trump into an affirmative and liberating action. Here’s my attempt at such an appeal in the form of a 30-second ad: “Two times in this century we have elected presidents who didn’t even win the popular vote. One got us into a never-ending war and the other is remaking America in his terrible image. Trump already controls the courts and has a government full of corrupt yes men. Imagine what he’ll do with even more power. Your vote is the only check and balance left. Use it. Or lose it.”
Perhaps Democrats are ignoring this kind of message because they feel that Clinton lost not because people didn’t understand how bad Trump was, but because she and her party failed to present a compelling alternative that appealed to Americans left behind in the new economy. But to win a decisive majority in the House and have any chance whatsoever of winning the Senate, Democrats need to raise the stakes of this election above who will better preserve protections for preexisting conditions or favor the middle class in tax policy. The stakes are whether we are going to regain some control of our democracy from a man who is bent on turning it into just another one of his possessions. The Democratic Party should act like it.