“But Trump!” Is Not Enough — What Hillary Clinton Needs for Her Big Win in November

Like a proper crazymaker, Donald Trump seizes our attention whether we like it or not. He is hard to avoid — cable news broadcasts his rallies and reports his tweets with abandon. Of late, commentators debate whether or not his campaign can right the ship. This is good for Hillary Clinton, right?

Conventional wisdom holds that whoever this campaign is “about” is going to lose, and during these past weeks of Olympic coverage and August summertime, the Clinton campaign has worked hard to get out of the way and let Trump be Trump — a display so frightening that it’s hard to imagine a message more motivating for Dems to turnout in November.

Yet, I return to the question of hope v fear in presidential campaigns. How our last two two-term Democratic presidents ran so hard on hope, one was from a place called Hope and the other had a book called The Audacity of Hope. Oh yes, I deeply fear a Donald Trump presidency. I am not alone. But is “But Trump!” foolproof?

In October 2004, I returned home to Detroit to work the last weeks of the Kerry-Edwards campaign. I had the zealot’s fire, believing America could not survive another term of the George W. Bush administration after we’d invaded Iraq under false pretenses. In my view, “W” seemed controlled by his Vice President and the neo-conservatives whose policies promised perpetual war.

One day, our entire campaign office was sent out to canvas, meaning all of us — from directors to phone-bank volunteers — would knock door-to-door handing out campaign literature and talking to residents. Our neighborhood: Warren, MI, near the GM Tech Center, otherwise known as Reagan Democrat ground zero. Pollster Stanley Greenberg made this county famous with his study of blue collar white Democrats who bolted the party for Reagan in the 1980s.

With “lit” in my hands my reserve went out the window. Yes, I had the talking points about Kerry-Edwards proposals. But the danger, to me, was Bush. Kindly people allowed me inside their foyers. They even nodded their heads in agreement as I spoke. And on that Election Day, Kerry-Edwards carried Michigan. But Kerry-Edwards did not carry enough states to win.

No matter how ridiculous W appeared in Jon Stewart jokes, no matter that war raged on in Iraq and Afghanistan, he was still president. “But Bush!” had not been enough. If you ask me what the big message was for Kerry-Edwards beyond “let the sane folks be back in charge”, I couldn’t tell you.

Now, we stare down the last weeks of Hillary Clinton v Donald Trump. This past year I’ve sat mentally slack-jawed as Trump made declarations that for any other candidates would have been bullets to the brain. From “Mexicans are rapists” to baiting Russian hackers to track down deleted Clinton emails, Trump is proving to be the real Teflon Don, still in this race despite GOP Establishment snubs and pervasive disbelief that a candidate caught lying so often could get this far.

The Clinton campaign needs the “blue wall” — states that have gone blue, or Democratic, since 1992 — to hold. Campaign advisors have stated they hope to win with the “Obama Coalition”, people of color, white women, college educated, and independents who are highly motivated to vote. Polling is strong right now. But the key words in the previous sentence are “highly motivated.” Pollster answers don’t count for votes.

What motivates? Enthusiasm, yes. But I’d argue: the beautiful future. Good ole Morning in America. I worry that Mrs. Clinton is so concerned about not over-promising, that she is reluctant to speak to the dream that nourishes, the dream that mobilizes. The dream that can be shared by so many Americans at once, as we try to pull ourselves out of a status quo that for too many people is violent, discriminatory, and lacks economic opportunities and mobility.

Mrs. Clinton: please don’t be afraid to over-promise. No one is expecting you to deliver all of this on your own. This is the dream you speak to that we all engage together. You have so many positive messages and policy proposals. Conventional wisdom is convincing, but as the homestretch approaches, never deny your voters the big picture of what our American future can be.

Hope isn’t fuzzy-wuzzy; hope is self-interest — for one’s community, for one’s self. Hope is faith that life can be fair, better.

The reality is this: Democrats are competing against Trump’s “hope” pitch. He promises jobs. He promises good deals. He implicitly promises power to whites that feel prosperity and status are their birthright.

We cannot overstate the motivating power of the beautiful future. A vote for President Obama was always more than just a vote for a man, or an administration. A vote for Obama was a vote for a vision of America closer to the Founding Fathers’ ideals than had ever yet been. Despite policy roadblocks and failures, Obama’s coalition re-upped in 2012.

As the man who created the Trump Taj Mahal knows, gamblers play despite knowing the odds. They hear coins clang from winning slot pulls. They imagine, to borrow from the old lottery tagline — if someone’s gonna win, why not them? If Hillary Clinton doesn’t offer a powerful vision of shared prosperity and fairness — if she doesn’t offer hope that goes beyond the greatness of her historic run– too many gamblers may stake our future on a disastrous bet.

I have great hope that Mrs. Clinton will pull this off.

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