The Chill of A Party Label

Separating Trump voters from Trump supporters.

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I watched this summer as Clinton committed a misstep. In a party that is increasingly moving to the left, she was willing to welcome non-Trump Republicans into the fold.

That wasn’t a mistake, it was a strategy.

The entire ethos of the Clinton campaign has been unity. It isn’t flashy, it hasn’t been stitched on hats, but it has held together the Democratic base. That base has been able to welcome an increasing number of disgruntled GOP voters and independents in the past week (at least for this election).

This was evident in the way that Obama and Clinton spoke during the Democratic National Convention.

“Look, we Democrats have always had plenty of differences with the Republican Party, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s precisely this contest of idea that pushes our country forward,” Obama said. “But what we heard in Cleveland last week wasn’t particularly Republican — and it sure wasn’t conservative.”

There was a painstakingly clear effort to define Trumpism and Conservatism. That tightrope may be paying dividends in Clinton’s current polling.

The election has shifted into “doom and gloom” versus “unity and progress.” The latter has always been the traditional political message, and it was not bound to one party. We as a nation always believed that there were better days ahead, but the Republican nominee is peddling an image of America pockmarked by skyrocketing crime, diminished ambition, and curtailed possibilities.

Clinton painted this picture as a rhetorical contrast to her unifying message.

“He’s taken the Republican Party a long way … from ‘Morning in America’ to ‘Midnight in America,’” Clinton said.

This cycle it is out with the message and hope of conservative savior Ronald Reagan, and in with the impending doom of Trump.

The goal was to distinguish between Republicans and Trump supporters. The two highest ranking Democratic party members offered the wary GOP voters an offramp. An ad-hoc alliance against Trump was supposed to take root. The parties were supposed to unite and build a unity coalition.

That peachy future did not come to fruition.

Trump has shed support from key groups. College educated whites have fled in record numbers, but the race somehow pulled tight in the months following the convention. Defectors did not show up on the shores of the Democratic party en masse. They were limping across the finish line in a slow trickle. There was no river of support following the presentation of a unifying olive branch.

This changed with the release of a single video tape.

At this point, nearly everyone has seen Trump’s hot-mic tape of lewd comments. Polling shows women and independents responded with visceral electoral defections. Reality shows that many of voters are simply not surprised.

Bragging about sexual assault and the objectification of women is a pretty big line in the sands of morality. Trump crossed it over a decade ago, and now it has come back to haunt him. Dozens of high level GOP elected officials followed the lead of the voters and rejected his comments.

The value of distance from planet Trump has become immense, but the SS Democratic Party already took off. For nearly two and a half months, the Democrats left this life vest of no-strings-attached coalition building available. The problem is that those who rode out the waves in its comfort have already been rescued. Survivors were few and far between. The Dems and Clinton campaign were against Trump before it was cool, and everyone else is just late to the party.

Clinton and Obama’s outreach efforts were not met with appreciation from members of the Democratic party or their allies on the left. The open hand of partnership as opposed to the closed fist of partisanship could have diminished enthusiasm.

Trump was portrayed as anything but mainstream. He was logically a creation of shifting Republican electoral strategy. The Democrats believed that Trump was the awkward lovechild of the GOP Southern strategy and Obama-obstructionism. That left the door open for repudiation of this approach by Republicans who were willing to jump ship.

In reality, the worries of the left should have subsided faster than the tide of fear. It was an abstract objection that was rhetorically pointed, but broke against the concrete wall of reality. No matter how much work was put into splitting the Trump label from their personal brands, GOP candidates were going to face the impending electoral backlash.

The attempt to normalize Trump in lieu of compartmentalizing his vitriolic politics will forever be a blight on the record of the former big tent party.

“I think it’s pretty stunning that after the debate, the speaker of the House has to come out and say that he will no longer defend Donald Trump and that each Republican member of Congress has to decide for themselves whether or not they’re going to support their party’s nominee,” Clinton’s communications director, Jen Palmieri, told reporters Monday. “I understand why they’re doing that, but Paul Ryan and other leaders in the Republican Party — there was a time where they could have spoken out. That time was this summer. And obviously it’s too late now. Somewhat of a civil war is breaking out in the Republican Party, but I think that Donald Trump didn’t become the nominee of his party on his own. These leaders helped legitimize him and I think they have a lot to answer for and the voters I imagine will hold them accountable.”

Luckily for the Democrats, these leaders of operation legitimacy are in contested states that could help them retake the Senate from the GOP.

Through conversations with my Republican friends, there has been a distinction that rings true in this situation. There is a difference between a Trump voter and a Trump supporter. Many are willing to vote for him in opposition to Secretary Clinton and her politics. Some want a massive shakeup in Washington. Whatever the reasoning, there is an underlying schism in the Republican party that has not yet remedied itself. The continuation of this saga will only yield politically confounding results.