Donald Trump Can Teach Dems Some Lessons
November 3, 2015
Regardless of whether Donald Trump wins any primaries or the Republican nomination for President, he has contributed five positive insights to Democrats. First, Trump has shown that plain talking is valued by voters. Plain talking means more than using one syllable words, although Trump seems to prefer them. It means more than simply saying what the audience wants to hear. Plain talking means connecting to the reality of the people with whom one is trying to communicate. Saying what they share shows how they are related to the same reality and builds credibility. Trump, for example, builds credibility with his audiences by saying many of those things the audience already knows: “Bush has low energy;” “Carly ran Hewlett-Packard into the ground;” and “A hero is more than being captured.” Many of Trump’s best lines announce that the emperor has no clothes.
Second, Trump disputed the notion that George W. Bush kept us safe, an issue Democrats had feared raising for years, even though it was demonstrably true. Numerous reports and books by former administration members found that the Bush administration had enough information to take some preventive action even if they lacked enough specific information to be certain of countering the threat. Democrats seemed content to avoid this topic, despite its relevance for current national security policy debates. Trump on the other hand, attacked Jeb Bush for saying that his brother kept us safe, and thus, re-opened the issue for further debate by pointing out the obvious fact that September 11, happened 9 months into his brother’s administration. Voters were well aware that President Bush did not keep us safe; they suspected the integrity of politicians who seemed oblivious of the fact.
Third, Trump has blasted campaign donations as thinly veiled purchases of the politicians who take the money and run. Although Democrats have also criticized the massive increase in campaign donations, their criticisms have been more general and less pointed than Trump’s. Trump has named politicians who took money from him, admitted he gave them money to get favors, and then said he got what he paid for. Trump’s admission about the impact of big donors on politicians help progressive Democrats make the case that campaign finance reform is sorely needed.
Fourth, Trump has shown that the media can be challenged and confronted for their perceived or actual misbehavior. After a verbal confrontation with Megyn Kelly during the first Republican debate, Trump attacked Kelly and forced Fox to suspend Kelly by threatening to boycott Fox. After suffering through a three hour CNN debate, Trump orchestrated a reduction in CNBC’s planned three hour debate by threatening to boycott it. Democrats are disadvantaged relative to Republicans on Meet the Press, according to the host, Chuck Todd. Todd admitted that he goes easy on Republicans to prevent them from boycotting his show. Democrats should learn from Trump and demand fairer treatment from the Meet the Press and other mainstream media than they have been getting.
Fifth, Trump has pronounced U.S. trade policy to be a part of income inequality and the country’s economic woes especially impacting many Democratic Progressives and half of Republican voters. Trump’s views on trade are different than those of other Republican Presidential candidates because of the extent to which he attributes the ill effects of inadequate tariffs. According to Trump a significant part of moving jobs offshore and the associated job losses are due to inadequate tariffs. According to Trump, a car manufacturer making cars in Mexico for importation to the U.S. would have to contend with a 35 percent tariff. Because of Trump’s reputation as a business man and his tough talking promises to stop it, voters have responded positively to this economic message.
Because of the credibility Trump has established with voters, he is, unfortunately, able to mislead voters and all too often does. Building a 1000 mile wall; removing 11 million undocumented immigrants; and eliminating ISIS by “taking” their oil are fantasies that do not contribute to the political discussion. The way in which Trump establishes and uses credibility can, however, inform Democrats.