Democrats continue to struggle with what went wrong in 2016. Some blame Russia and Trump, others Hillary and, still others, of course speaking privately, on the “stupid third of American that don’t get it.” Campaigns and political agendas are targeting these voters in the hope that they will return to “their natural home,” the Democratic party. Some Democrat friends of mine express confidence that this will guarantee victory next year.
Don’t be so sure. Could it be that some of us don’t like being told what is good for them by “political professionals” in Washington? They prefer “outsiders,” preferably people with little or no Washington or political experience. They assume outsiders (it means different things to different people) will not take them for granted or lie to them. A flag I saw flying from a crab boat in Oxford this past weekend epitomizes what these voters are thinking. It read, “2020 Trump: No More Bullshit.”
The crabbers working on this boat like Trump, however unlikely it is that they benefited from his tax cuts of last year. I don’t know how they feel about the Russia investigation, but I suspect it pales in comparison to concerns about the weather or about whether they are catching and selling crabs. Whatever the “Democratic message” is, the crabber with the flag appears not to hear it.
If I am right, many blue-collar voters that voted for Trump were, and remain, skeptical about the “kitchen table issues” at the heart of the Democratic message. Why? These voters are disgusted with Washington and what it stands for. Loss of faith that anyone, Democrat or Republican, can help them. And the fact that issues like LBGTQ rights, selections for future Supreme Court justices, and even climate change, make them yawn. That may be unfortunate, or even tragic, but it is happening.
Convincing voters-any voters- that electing a different President will solve their problems is a tough sell. It takes a large leap of faith to believe that an election outcome can assure the success of your children or right the world’s wrongs. You don’t need an expert to know that reality is more complicated. Thus, some voters are effectively putting flags on their boats to proclaim their rejection of “Bullshit.”
Assuming I am right, it is questionable whether Democrats can win the voters that abandoned them in 2016 back. Without being an outsider, it’s hard to convince voters you are. And that is what Democrats should do—appear to eschew “Washington Ways” or at least present themselves as authentic. Right now, Joe Biden, despite having spent more than 40 years in Washington as an insider appears to be the Democrat most capable of pulling this off. Will he get the chance? Will the other two dozen Democrats running for President let this happen? Will the credibility with working people he is enjoying now survive the all-but-certain attacks of Trump? Stay tuned.
J.E. Dean of Oxford, writes on policy and politics based on more than 30 years working with non-profits and others interested in domestic policy. He is an advocate for the environment, civil public debate, and good government.