TPM Reader JB rightly notes there’s no single explanation or solution …
I hope you are well. I have been thinking about your piece this morning, the one on the 8th, and Greg Sargent’s piece yesterday in regards to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ piece. I think my biggest problem with the way this conversation is playing out is that we have to deliver a single silver bullet to slay Trumpism, “Identifying the roots of Trumpism doesn’t give you sufficient answers to how to combat it, especially if it’s true that there are enough white voters, susceptible to activation by white backlash politics, to win national elections.”
I will stipulate up front that I am no expert (that’s why I read TPM), but I think determining the causes of victory in a very close election in the setting of a complicated environment, requires more than one factor. I agree with all the writers on the left that race was an important activator for a group of people. However, I will also say that negative partisanship brought Donald Trump 90% of his votes. I think that Jeb Bush or John Kasich would have gotten at least 40% of the vote just by being Republican. Trump only got 43%. You can ascribe that also to voting on race, based on dog-whistle appeals for decades, but the team sport aspect of politics drives voters. I think there was an imperative for change. The Vox team said their model (and others’ models actually predicted a Trump win, but they just couldn’t believe that to be the case (https://www.vox.com/2016/11/9/13571872/why-donald-trump-won, http://heavy.com/news/2016/11/2016-final-election-results-predictions-helmut-norpoth-abramowitz-michael-moore-nate-silver-vote-count-turn-out-electoral-college-maps-donald-trump-hillary-clinton-polls-forecasting-pennsylvania-michi/comment-page-2/) on the basis of the desire of the electorate for “something new.” I think Donald Trump had the benefit of the doubt in regards to competence. “He’s a billionaire! He must know what he is doing.” I think there is still part of the electorate that won’t vote for a woman (https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/from-1937-to-hillary-clinton-how-americans-have-felt-about-a-female-president/). Trump was smart with some heterodox policies like infrastructure and taking the edge off of Republican promises to deal kindly with social security and Obamacare. Trump was also very lucky that Comey interceded 12 days before the election. All polling suggested that moved the electorate enough to swing the election (https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-comey-letter-probably-cost-clinton-the-election/). And, finally, we don’t know the full impact of the targeted Russian advertising in activating each of these issues.
Bottom line: its complicated. The Coates’ article is important because now this component of the election can be discussed rationally, with data and evidence. It can be brought into the open and combatted. I think just getting it discussed is good. In 2004, I never thought gay marriage would be legal in the US. But I think whatever ickiness that drove people to dislike largely began to melt away when we were confronted with actual people who we knew, worked with, and were related to. Well, converting the Republican race activation from dog whistles to active intervention has brought it out into the public, created a shared revulsion, and may be the first step to dealing with the problem rather than ignoring it and hoping it will go away.
So, how do Democrats win back the Congress and Presidency? By attacking on every issue: 1) Race: We believe in the Constitution: We the people. The Declaration: All men are created equal. What do you believe in? 2) Change: Are you better off now? 3) Competence: Donald Trump and the Congress are incompetent. They got nothing done for you. 4) Populist promises: Where is the infrastructure? Why take away health care from people? Why reduce taxes on the rich when the rest of us are suffering? 5) Crimes: Donald Trump is being investigated for working with foreign powers and mafia figures. Worse, he is making money from being President. Is he for him orhis he for us?
Attacking each of these will move the needle. Different groups in the Democratic coalition and occasional Democratic voter groups will be activated by different messages. The only way to combat racism is to bring it out into the open and show its ugly face. We are getting that now with 60-65% of the country finding themselves revulsed with the Muslim ban, Charlottesville, DACA. Most people don’t follow politics closely. They follow it like I follow the NHL: I know who is in the finals. When I tune in, I am lucky to know the names of a couple of players. I root for my team. It takes a lot to change habits. I think Donald Trump is doing that now. I think that Donald Trump, by being in the news every day, by drawing ridicule and criticism for most of what he does by all except Fox/Breitbart, and by lying so so much is creating an environment where it is easier to draw favorable comparisons. People are getting tired of the schtick…because it isn’t helping them.