Want Trump Out In 4 Years? Then It’s Time to Be the Party of Change
Hot takes about the future of the Democratic party are everywhere. Just weeks ago everyone felt great about our future and suddenly we are apparently in shambles. Everyone questions what Hillary did wrong. They say Democrats are focused on the wrong ideas. All this is correlation without causation. What we do know is that Trump won, and he won several areas that went to Obama 4 years ago. People can’t understand why the flip.
But actually the flip is normal. The flip is what we do.
Let’s look at the last 50 years of elections. (For presidential elections that means we’re starting with 1968.) As a country we almost always bring back the incumbent.
But when the 8 years is up, we swing the other way.
The only time we’ve gone with the same party through 3 straight elections is when we elected H. W. Bush, whom we quickly ousted. Otherwise we flip and we flop red, blue, red, blue.
And not only that, when we flip, we like to not just change the party in power but we like to go to the new guy. Carter in ’72, Governor of Georgia, no Washington experience. Reagan in ’80, Governor of California, no Washington experience. Clinton in ’92, Governor of Arkansas, no Washington experience. Bush in ’00, Governor of Texas, no Washington experience. Obama in ’08, Senator from Illinois who hadn’t even finished one term and was accused of having insufficient government experience. (You could even argue that Nixon, who had decades of Washington experience, was running against an incumbent Vice President and was still the change-ier of the two.)
If you look at it through that lens, Hillary, Bernie, and even Biden were all bad candidates. People with a lot of Washington experience, when voters have made it quite clear that they only value that experience in a potential 2nd term president.
We flip. We want change, we don’t get enough, so we flip to try and get some of the other kind of change. Rinse, repeat.
If the Democrats want to win back Congress and the presidency, they need to reintroduce themselves to the American people as the party of change. They should not be working to support Trump across the aisle. Instead they should be promoting their own agenda and showing the country just how it differs from Trump’s approach.
The ideal presidential candidate that the Democrats should be doing is someone with little or no Washington experience. Someone with a strong platform that is focused on improving the lives of Americans. Someone who will spend the next 4 years saying loudly and proudly that Trump is wrong.
When I say “we” flip, I mean those voters who are not tied to one party. There are enough of them to shift the pendulum back and forth every few years and they are always the key to victory. They are the most likely to be disappointed by Trump and they will have different reasons, so this should not be a limited platform. It needs to cover all the big stuff: labor, health care, education, immigration, foreign policy. They will be wanting change, and it won’t be long until they are looking for it.
There is much talk of identity politics and there is a part of it in this argument. The longing for change is rooted in a feeling of safety. There’s an assumption that the US is immune from the kind of President who could cause real harm in 4 years, so there’s willingness to try the new thing because it’s there. That is how you go from a vote for Bush to a vote for Obama to a vote for Trump. It allows you to switch parties and swing states. And it is, we must acknowledge, largely the habit of white voters. They’ve seen presidents before who have racist or bigoted views and since it didn’t affect them, Trump seems an awful lot like the rest, just more direct about it, thus the oft-repeated “he says what he means” line. Other politicians thought the same but wouldn’t say so, they believe. And they are probably right.
Just in the last 20 years, when you’d expect us to be more enlightened, our leaders have consistently upheld and allowed bigotry and prejudice. Clinton passed DOMA and the 1994 crime bill, effectively legislating hate while claiming to be progressive. Bush let poor Black communities perish in Hurricane Katrina and went to war in the Middle East. Obama has carried out and extended much of what Bush put into place, including Guantanamo and drone strikes, and was against gay marriage. From a position of privilege, Trump’s policies are hyperbolic, but in keeping with our traditional position as a country, looking on suspicion with all those who are not like us and insisting that America is the greatest nation.
Trump makes people uncomfortable. He talks big. He doesn’t apologize. He’s a change candidate exaggerated to cartoonish effect, but still easily recognizable as the change candidate. Voters who aren’t even able to admit that they live in a country built upon white supremacy are not going to be all that bothered by a candidate who champions white nationalists. That is the status quo they really want even if they are not able to recognize it.
My suspicion is that all those Trump voters who insist they are not racist fall into a few groups. 1) The Republicans who were going to vote red. 2) Those who disliked Trump but are single-issue voters on abortion. 3) Those who voted for the change candidate to “have something different” or “shake things up” because this is what they usually do.
Democrats never had a chance with the first two categories. But the third one will always be up for grabs and it’s time to start grabbing.