Some advice from a concerned anti-Republican voter
I have to admit, you have me worried. And for more than just the usual reasons.
In the week since it became clear you would be facing Donald Trump in the general election, I've sensed giddy delight coming from your camp.
Believe me, I get it.
Trump has incredibly high unfavorable ratings. Women hate him, as do Hispanic voters. The very things that made him attractive to the Republican base — the anger, the fear-mongering, the misogyny — could drive millions of undecided voters into your outstretched, welcoming arms.
And all of this comes on top of fundamentals that give a substantial edge to the Democrat in any presidential contest these days. From 1992 to 2012, the Democratic nominee always won 18 states, plus the District of Columbia, that are worth a combined 242 electoral votes — just 28 short of the 270 needed to win the presidency. Over the same six elections, Republicans have consistently won 13 states with a total of 102 electoral votes. That means a generic GOP candidate has a much narrower path to victory than a generic Democrat. Add in The Donald's distinctive negatives, and it probably looks like you'll be facing a cakewalk in the fall.
Don't believe it.
For starters, I hate to break it to you, but you're not especially popular either. Sure, Trump's unfavorables are higher than yours — but yours are pretty damn high! And it's not like those numbers are likely to move very much. You've been a fixture on the political scene for close to a quarter century now. And those young people who know the least about you have been Bernie Sanders' most passionate supporters in the primaries. That might not prove fatal in the general election, but it's not exactly good either.
And then there's Trump.
With 10 contests left to go in the primaries, Trump has already surpassed Mitt Romney's vote total for the entire 2012 primary season by roughly 700,000 votes. And he did it against a more sharply divided field, and while winning a smaller portion of overall votes cast (though that number will narrow between now and the end of the primary season on June 7). Republicans are energized, with turnout up sharply from four years ago. This means that the baseline assumptions that have held since 1992 may not pertain this time around.
In every single one of those elections, the Republican candidate has run on pretty much the same cluster of issues: tax cuts, especially for the wealthy; muscular internationalism; social conservatism; free trade. That's also the matrix of positions Democrats of your generation are conditioned to respond to and attack.
But Trump is different. He will hit you from the populist far right on immigration and free trade. He will hit you from the far left on the Iraq war, Libya, and Syria. He will directly challenge you on economic policy by supporting an increase in the minimum wage and higher taxes for the wealthy.
And he will relentlessly, mercilessly attack you (and your husband) personally.
How will you respond to the onslaught? I sure hope the answer is that you have no idea yet. Because if you think the answer is obvious or simple, you're deluding yourself.
It's certainly going to take more than selling merchandise emblazoned with utterly lame slogans like "Dangerous Donald" and "America Is Already Great." Isn't it a tenet of progressivism that America isn't already great? That our national greatness is always a work in progress, a goal achieved only in the fullness of time? If conservatives are prone to nostalgia, the left is inspired by eschatological hopes for the future. Barack Obama, with his frequent references to the arc of history bending toward justice, certainly knows this, and I'm sure you do, too. After these feeble gestures, I can't say the same about DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. You might need to have a talk with her.
No Democrat has ever run against a candidate like Trump. He overturns every settled ideological and temperamental expectation of normal politics. He will go after you with a ferocity we’ve never seen before, and the assault will be unremitting — yes, on the stump, in TV and radio ads, and in the debates, but also in 24/7 cable news coverage and an endless stream of infectiously quotable tweets, half of them capped by what's become this election cycle's all-purpose three-letter dismissal: Sad!
So don't be cocky. Fire anyone on your staff who tells you this is going to be easy.
Then tell the staffers who remain that they need to be nimble, thinking on their feet and outside of the proverbial box. Yes, the Democrats have very real demographic advantages, and that will help — but not as much as the usual consultants and data crunchers want to assume.
Don't try to define Trump, whether by labeling him "dangerous" or anything else. He's a master of rhetorical jujitsu, instantly turning criticisms and insults into honorifics. Let Trump define himself. Of course he'll try to define you, too — as "Crooked Hillary," among other things — but your self-definition needs to prevail over the one he tries to pin on you. If it doesn't, you'll lose.
Most crucially, you need to show voters by your words and actions that you're everything Trump is not: sober, smart, informed, sensible, level-headed, presidential. Yes, a lot of Americans at all points on the spectrum are angry these days. But are they so angry that when presented with a clear and obvious choice a plurality of them will actually opt for the candidate who is manifestly less sober, less smart, less informed, less sensible, less level-headed, and less presidential?
I don't think they will.
If I'm wrong, your bid for the presidency is doomed — and so, perhaps, is the country.
A concerned anti-Republican