While Trump seems to be reshaping the Republican party as the investigation into collusion starts to boil, the Democrats are not well positioned to pick up seats as revelations about their party’s dysfunction have bubbled up. Nancy Pelosi has told her colleagues not to call for impeachment in order to let the presumed future Republican failure on “tax reform” make the Democrats a clear alternative in the upcoming midterm elections. People criticize this kind of strategy as being too passive. Bill Maher, for example, suggests that Democrats need to “get some balls” and employ aggressive Republican-style tactics against them.
Republicans, even more so in the Trump era, have no qualms about lying to the American people. They aggressively present fictions as being true and hope repetitions of falsehoods somehow make them true in the public’s mind. Think back to the suggestion that ObamaCare would foster death panels. To embed this falsehood in the mind of the public, the Republicans hosted town hall meetings where the death panels were the main topic of discussion. Did ObamaCare result in death panels? Of course not. However, people still dislike ObamaCare even though it has been a successful program. It saved both money and lives. Did Trump’s questioning of Obama’s birth certificate ever produce any evidence Obama was not a citizen? No, but it spawned Trump’s candidacy. It damaged Obama’s reputation and paved the way for other wild accusations. Today, examples of lies in Trump’s presidency are easier to find than examples of truth. But, that does not seem to matter much as the Cabinet and Republican party spin tales the Grimm brothers would be proud of, noting how gruesome the original fairy tales were.
Lying to deceive the American people for political gain is not a strategy the Democrats should ever employ. The Democrats have to distinguish themselves from the Republicans by being authentic, by not by becoming like them. They need to speak the truth in a way that resonates with the American people. The need to become the un-politicians. No alternative facts; no Willie Horton ads either. Just honest, forthright, strongly expressed beliefs given for the good of the country, not just the party.
While making up stories is not one of the aggressive tactics the Democrats should deploy against the Republicans, the Democrats do have to be more aggressive in some ways. The Republicans have been quicker to respond to criticism. They fire back immediately when their views are challenged. Before the negative story can develop legs, the Republicans offer a contrary view. Where is the Democratic response when Sarah Huckster Sanders speaks? Don’t wait for the talk shows on Sunday or hope the press does its job for you. When the Democrats got swift boated, John Kerry took days to respond. That ad, which attacked Kerry’s character, cost him the election, I’d say. When the Republicans tell their stories, Democrats must be ready to fight back.
No matter how quickly the response comes, most studies show, the initial false statements often has a lasting impact, but the quick retort may educate those who want to be informed. It may slow the story down. People’s trust in what they are being told by Republicans must weaken for this country to return to the facts. Make America Rational Again. Democrats have to attack their opponent’s credibility, not just what they say. People don’t like hearing that kind of personal attack in an honest debate, but Democrats have to give up the notion that their opponents, in today’s environment, will engage in honest debate. They must express their heartfelt convictions. Democrats have to call out liars. We have to elect Democrats who have the integrity to challenge the way politics is played in our country.
Democrats must also realize that to be an alternative to the Republicans, they have to take stands on positions they believe in. Duh. They need to ignore what the polls say and the advice they get from Washington insiders. Pelosi’s advice to avoid calling for Trump’s impeachment is undoubtedly poll tested. She must be thinking about getting those disaffected middle class white males back into the Democratic fold. Don’t alienate them, must be her underlying logic. Wrong approach. Get ahead of the polls, Nancy. Do the right thing. Show leadership. Attack the liars. Quit playing it safe. Your strategy will cost you election after election.
Maher is right. The Republicans are not afraid to take stands even when they defy logic and common sense. While I am sure they study the polls, it is more important to Republicans to appear to be strong leaders. People don’t always vote using the cerebral cortex. They often use their lizard brains. Pelosi’s mistake is to assume people’s votes are rational. If there is one lesson to be learned from the last presidential election, it’s that people do not always make rational choices, especially when they perceive the system to be corrupt.
John Ossoff recently ran and lost the election to replace Tom Price. Over $50 million was spent by his campaign! He had an incredible number of volunteers calling and canvasing the 6th congressional district in Georgia. His strategy was not to say anything that would offend the largely white educated voters in the district. He chose a couple of issues to promote he thought would appeal to the undecideds and he listened to the pollsters. No doubt, he ran a “smart campaign.” But even educated voters have lizard brains. Ossoff ran against a political hack, but did not win. Victory for lizards everywhere. Democrats need to vigorously promote their core beliefs, whether popular or not.
The polls do not account for the fact that people change their minds. They may believe in XYZ, but vote for a candidate that believes in ABC if they like the person. We don’t like politicians who hold back, who hide who they are. Just ask Hillary Clinton. We generally don’t get excited supporting someone who says what the polls suggest should be said. That’s the second lesson from the last campaign. What Trump has said, ad nauseam, would not test well in any polls, but his core believers and over 75% of Republicans continue to support him (at least according to the polls). Imagine what would happen if we had Democratic candidates who spoke their minds, drew upon evidence to support their views and were strong, authentic leaders.
Sanders, Warren, Harris, and Franken are role models for the future of the Democratic party. Democrats don’t have to agree with their positions to run, but they need to be real. They need to challenge the status quo and pay far less attention to the polls. They must attack the lies and liars. They must appeal to the forebrain and to the brain stem. Democrats must think long term, not short term. It’s not about how to win back the House of Representatives, Nancy, it’s about how to win back the country.