Saturday, May 5, 2018

Can Trump Voters Be Reached?

Clinton lost the 2016 Presidential election for a million different reasons. And she will explain in detail to you that almost none of them were her fault. But a major reason for the shocking Clinton loss was that voters in the upper Midwest and interior east didn't vote for Clinton. States such as Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania that had given their electoral votes to Obama in 2012 switched to Trump in 2016. These states are less diverse than the U.S. as a whole, certainly less cosmopolitan than California or New York. There were enough white voters who had voted for Obama in 2012 but switched to Trump in 2016 to put Trump over the top. Some of these voters are having second thoughts about their 2016 decision; others are not.

RITTMAN, Ohio — In the daily race that is her life, Sharla Baker does not think about politics very much. She rises early, drives to the gas station to buy coffee, feeds her baby, dresses her two other children, ages 3 and 2, and hustles them all off to day care. By 9:30 a.m. she pulls into a hair salon 45 minutes away, where she is training to be a cosmetologist. She waxes and cuts all day long, making only the money she earns in tips, which on a recent day last month was $8.41.

But Ms. Baker does vote. She picked Barack Obama for president in 2008 and 2012. He seemed sincere and looked like a happy family man. But most important, he was a Democrat. Her great-grandmother, who grew up poor in Pennsylvania, always said that Democrats look out for the poor people. In 2016, though, she voted for Donald J. Trump. Yes, he was rich and seemed mean on his TV show, “The Apprentice.” But she liked how he talked about jobs and wages and people being left out of the economy.

Now, more than a year later, she is wavering. “I voted for Trump because I wanted some change going on,” said Ms. Baker, 28. “But then again, maybe he’s going to do the wrong change.” The swing of Obama voters to Mr. Trump proved a decisive factor in the 2016 presidential election. Of the more than 650 counties that chose Mr. Obama twice, about a third flipped to Mr. Trump. Many were in states critical to Mr. Trump’s win, like Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.

John Sides, a political-science professor at George Washington University, has estimated that 9 percent of voters who cast ballots for Mr. Obama ended up voting for Mr. Trump. Among white voters who had never been to college, it was 22 percent.

Now, as the country lurches into another election season — this time the prize is control of Congress — a crucial question for Democrats is whether the party will be able to lure these voters back. Democrats have had some early successes. Wins in Alabama, Pennsylvania and Virginia have given Democrats hope that voters might be souring on Mr. Trump — to the point that the party might flip control of the House and possibly even the Senate. Next week’s primary races in Ohio and West Virginia, both states that went for Mr. Trump in 2016, will also serve as tests of voter enthusiasm for Democrats.

Donna Burgraff, a registered independent in Chillicothe, in southern Ohio, said she finds Mr. Trump boorish. She said that he judges women on their looks and seems to thrive on embarrassing people, behavior that Ms. Burgraff, an associate professor of education at Ohio University, disapproves of. Ms. Burgraff did not like how Mr. Trump kept falsely asserting that Mr. Obama was not born in the United States.

“How could that have been anything but racism?” she said.

Still, on Election Day 2016, Ms. Burgraff voted for Mr. Trump, if reluctantly. She believed he was the better choice. And looking back she does not regret it. The tax bill has given her an extra $400 a month in her paycheck. “I pulled the lever for Trump, and I’m not sorry I did,” she said over lunch in Chillicothe in March. She said she planned to vote this fall for her Republican congressman, Brad Wenstrup.

But others regretted voting for Mr. Trump and are less certain how they will vote this fall. Brad Zeigler, 68, a retired police chief in Warren County, Ill., said he has not liked anything Mr. Trump has done.

I don't have any immediate answer on how to win these voters back. If I did I'd be a well paid consultant instead of a blogger. But I do know that constantly verbally berating people for racism and sexism and doing so in a way that suggests that those sins are congenital is probably not the best way to win their vote. Letting Hillary Clinton or her surrogates pop up every three weeks on tv or twitter to blame a different "-ism"  or different subgroup for Clinton's loss to a reality show tv clown is also not a way to win future votes. 

These people have shown in the recent past, despite their very real or alleged racism or sexism or homophobia or transphobia or (insert social ill here) that they are willing to vote for a Democrat. The Democrats don't have to love these folks. The Democrats just need to go close the sale and win their vote. Some Democrats may not like that some people in "flyover country" or rural areas or in jobs that aren't highly dependent on trade or brainpower get to have a say but that's the system we have. These people all vote. They aren't going away. The system isn't changing any time soon. Democrats have to identify those people who have buyer's remorse and target them.

Now obviously Democrats aren't going to reach the Nazis (self-identified and in the closet), the people who think that white people are oppressed, those who think women should stay at home, people who think gay marriage should be outlawed again, people who think that the Constitution permits state establishment of churches and so on.

But not everyone who voted for Donald Trump fell into those categories. The Democrats don't need to buy in to nasty white victimology politics that are animating a large portion of the Republican base. Not at all. But the Democrats do need to go speak to voters where they are and do so in a way that attempts to find common ground. Ironically the Trump tax law SALT limits may have the unintended consequence of moving some wealthier Democrats from wealthier and higher taxed "blue" states to poorer and lower taxed "red states".  If that happens there could be more interesting and compelling congressional and Senate races in years to come.

Democrats must put the interests of American citizens over those of others and recognize that not every Democrat voter or candidate needs to sing every last note from the UC Berkeley hymm book. This is not a question of ignoring the base to chase after the swing voter. It's merely recognizing that you need to animate your base and do a better job of attracting swing voters. Instead of worrying about impeachment and every last smelly Trump diaper load, Democrats should be getting people registered and excited to vote. If they do all this, Democrats win.
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