You know exactly what I’m talking about. Stop being such insufferable snobs!
Let’s recap the reality as we know it. Donald Trump is the 45th president, and, not counting Russian interference (a prime reason why he’s sitting in the Oval Office and not Hillary Clinton), he is in the White House because working class voters in several key battleground states voted to put him there. And why? Because they were fed up with a party that no longer cared about their interests in a genuine, emphatic manner, other than spouting glib soundbites that sound great on camera but mean nothing in the end.
It’s very easy to dismiss this group and say they voted for Trump because they’re uneducated, toothless imbeciles who are so massively gullible that they fell prey to the empty promises and blandishments of a very good con artist and demagogue. Were they really so desperate they felt they had no other option but to place their faith in someone who, to them, was a refreshing departure from the Obama/Clinton establishment that had, according to them, lied and thumbed their nose at them for years?
You must respect the working class.
Ah, but Trump is a billionaire who has lived his life among the rarefied moneyed set. Why was he able to connect and engage with this group? Several reasons. He used plain, direct language on the campaign trail and employed a simple, powerful, concise slogan that resonated far better than Clinton’s messages. His mantra was to-the-point and addressed the malaise that many working-class voters feel as a result of their lives being upended by job losses and outsourcing. Of course, the solutions Trump offered, then as now, were superficial and clearly not well thought out (i.e., his alternative to Obamacare), but the real estate magnate and ex-reality TV star’s demeanor wasn’t as condescending to them as Clinton’s — or others from the liberal establishment.
Some, if not many, of these same working-class Trump voters supported Sen. Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary season, as a few admitted to his face during a town hall in Kenosha, WI that was billed as “Trump Country” and broadcast live on CNN. Why? For the same reasons that they ultimately shifted to Trump in the general election: they liked how Sanders addressed the issues important to them. Chief among them: closing the tremendous wage disparity between them and the rich. They also liked the straightforward, unembellished language and manner that Sanders used when connecting with them.
Trump, like Sanders, was not averse to wading into the remotest parts of the battleground states to get his points across and to sway voters to pull the lever for him. President Obama perceptively homed in on this as a big reason why Trump won; Sanders, seen initially as an underdog, built up an unexpected groundswell of support that morphed into a movement. Were Clinton and her surrogates too smug and too confident about her chances of winning the general? No doubt. Plus the erroneous polling data that consistently ranked the probability of her victory.
So, without further ado, here are my suggestions to the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, whomever they will be, to win back these constituents:
- When greeting possible voters in the Rust Belt or the key battleground states (and this applies to everyone quite frankly who is not an upscale professional), resist the urge to patronize. Don’t treat these people as if they’re wayward children who need your educating. They don’t. They know exactly what issues are important to them and what they want you to do for them. Address them as equals and don’t act like they should be grateful for breathing the same air as you.
- Avoid the $10,000-a plate Hollywood fundraising shindigs. They’re off-putting and obnoxiously elitist. Avoid the high-profile hobnobbing with the rich and famous. It gives voters the impression that if they’re not rich, famous, influential and full of status, they’re nonentities and unworthy of your time.
- Don’t limit your vocabulary when speaking to the working class. You might find this hard to believe, but just because someone didn’t attend an Ivy League school doesn’t mean he or she can’t understand complicated words or terms that have more than one syllable.
- Similarly, just because someone doesn’t earn a lot of money doesn’t mean they’re lazy or stupid or undeserving of respect. (Yes, I know Republicans think like this—but that doesn’t mean you should.) The size of someone’s wallet, coupled with their social value, should never be used as metrics to determine which voters to cultivate and whom to greet with a waxy smile, dead gaze and limp handshake.
- Respect all Democrats whose views do not perfectly align with official or unofficial platforms. Not every liberal should kowtow to the party line. Some may be anti-abortion; others (like myself) may support Israel. It doesn’t make them traitors. It makes each one a multifaceted, thinking human, not an android or walking propaganda organ.
- Remember that after Clinton lost, Obama said her campaign made the crucial mistake of not stumping at the grassroots level. Unlike he did in his two campaigns, they neglected to go to “every small town and fair and fish fry and VFW hall.” In the same speech, he added:
There were some counties where I might have lost, but maybe I lost by 20 points instead of 50 points. There’re some counties that maybe I won that people didn’t expect — because people had a chance to see you and listen to you and get a sense of who you stood for and who you were fighting for.
Listen to Obama and listen to Sanders — who’s been very vocal on the same topic. Forget the exclusive dinners with George and Amal. They’re not who you need to reach. And don’t counter by pointing to your Republican foes who do the same thing. That won’t help you.
We have a lot of work to do before now and 2020. But perhaps if Democrats heed the above takeaways, they’ll be able to recover some lost ground in the midterms. One can only hope.