These are the strangest political times I can remember. After a presidential election contest that featured perhaps the worst choice since Richard Nixon, George Wallace and a convention-protest battered Hubert Humphrey sought the prize in 1968 there is a lot of anger out there. A lot of angst. A lot of people taking to the streets.
Which is fine. I believe strongly in the free speech rights of folks to do so. It’s all spelled out in the First Amendment, which has that wonderful language “redress of grievances.” Always loved that wording.
The question for me is whether such protests are going to result in the change that those taking to the streets seek to achieve … with their main grievance being the occupant of the White House.
To start this debate I will use some other language that I love: “eyes on the prize,” which was coined during the Civil Rights era.
If folks want to ensure that Donald Trump is a one-term president then they need to keep their eyes on that prize. Right now I am seeing a lot of angry people who aren’t necessarily doing so.
The key, as I see it, is to persuade voters in swing states such as Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida to swing back to the Democrats in 2020.
Or as David Brooks wrote in the New York Times: “The task for many of us now is not to resist Trump. It’s to figure out how to replace him."
Some troubling examples:
--Signs and T-shirts and chants at rallies that rival Trump for their coarseness. Are such efforts going to turn Trump voters? I don’t think so.
--Rallying in places in which the main impact is preaching to the converted. A demonstration of 600 people outside the Benton County Courthouse in Corvallis … well, most folks in Corvallis are already riding that bus. Participants may feel better at the end, but how much closer to the prize are they?
--Television “news” programs that are virtual 24-hour anti-Trump-a-thons (yes, I know there are pro-Trump-a-thons out there, too). One hilarious example from the anti-Trump parade was a discussion on MSNBC about impeachment – four days into Trump’s administration. The “expert” on the program noted that such an action would require Democratic control of Congress. Oh, sure, we can take care of that in a week or two!
--Constantly regurgitating an Al Franken soundbite about Scott Pruitt or the annoying giggling from the pundits who know so much more than the rest of us isn’t going to convince those Trump voters to change their minds. It’s a wasted exercise in smugness, and it perpetuates the divisions that already exist.
It’s going to take a lot of work to change this one. People are going to have to be stubborn and keep at it. They might have to think about working out of state or contributing money and/or time to out-of-state races. How are rallies in Portland supposed to help the Democrats in 2018 or 2020? Hillary won Oregon by 11 points.
Aside: There is a great book called “The Big Sort” by Bill Bishop and Robert Cushing. The thesis: Americans are migrating to areas in which they are more comfortable politically. They wind up living in “safe” districts and rarely hear from people who think differently than they do. End aside.
And there is a big word that people need to pay more attention to: It’s reapportionment, the every-10-years process in which new census numbers lead to new maps for state congressional districts and slight shifts in the Electoral College allotments as well.
The more Republican legislatures that are in charge of the process the harder it will be for Democrats to gain ground in the House. And with Trump states Texas in line to add 3 seats and Florida to add 2 seats because of their population growth … well, the Electoral College math becomes even more challenging as well.
The other thing Democrats are going to need is better polling numbers. Hillary Clinton was so sure that she was going to win Wisconsin that she didn’t appear there during the general election campaign. Yes, it is harder to poll these days because of the land line/cell phone issue and the fact that a lot of voters don’t want to participate (and many of those voters who don’t want to participate pulled the lever for Trump).
But you have to find a way. When Bill Clinton won in 1992 I recall publishing a post-election analysis piece from one of the national papers (I was a national editor in the Bay Area at the time). His pollsters decided to target only states that were winnable. They hit on 33 of the 34 they went after.
How different might things have been if Hillary had had a better idea of the reality out in those swing states? Fun parlor game, but it’s warm beer now. The key for those who want to replace Trump is to have the knowledge, organizational skills, stamina and mojo to make it happen – rather than march in the streets with people who already agree with you.