Politically speaking, I am a party of one. I know that political ads are not designed for me, and that most political rhetoric is not addressed to me. Still, I find it all mysterious.
During the 2016 presidential election, we were introduced to a new character in American politics: the Reluctant Trump Voter. (I feel the president’s pain; one of my favorite genres of social-media posts is the missive from my reluctant fan club, e.g.: “Kevin D. Williamson obviously is a monster and beyond redemption, but you should really read his essay on . . .” Makes me smile every time.) If you are a conservative, chances are you know one or two of those Reluctant Trump Voters. They generally explained themselves in this way: “I don’t know about Donald Trump. But I do know about Hillary Rodham Clinton, and I’ll roll the dice on Trump.”
For a hot minute there, the Democrats’ great hope for the midterm elections was going to be the Reluctant Trump Voter evolving into a different kind of RTV: the Regretful Trump Voter, the Remorseful Trump Voter, the Repenting Trump Voter hoping to become the Redeemed Trump Voter by pulling the lever for the party of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. It wasn’t that weird a theory: Stranger things have happened in politics.
But the Democrats have a funny outreach strategy.
Imagine that you were someone who had had reservations about Donald Trump in 2016 but still preferred him to Herself, being as you likely are a moderate-leaning voter and not especially ideological, perhaps one who found many things to admire about Barack Obama but who thought that he pushed things too far during his administration, exceeding his mandate and causing instability in the process, and that electing Herself was likely to make things worse rather than better. Maybe there were personal things you found distasteful about the Clintons, such as their dynastic ambitions and their jaw-dropping sense of entitlement to national political power. On the other hand, Republicans want to cut taxes and reform regulations, which are things you probably approve of in general; and they’re less likely to create expensive new entitlements (socializing health care, making college “free,” as though those costs weren’t going to be borne by somebody); and their old-fashioned belief that the law pretty much says what it says and judges should stick with that rather than make stuff up on the fly is more appealing than the alternative. You found it relatively easy to imagine President Trump signing those tax-cut bills and maybe putting a leash on the EPA, and you figured that Mike Pence or somebody would whisper the right names in his ear when it came to judicial appointments. Whatever reservations you may have had about Trump, chances are that, if the above is pretty close to what you were thinking in 2016, then you aren’t terribly disappointed.
What the Democrats needed, it seemed, was a way to get those Reluctant Trump Voters to turn into Regretful Trump Voters and join up, however temporarily, with Team Donkey.
From the vantage point of October 2018, I have to wonder: Why on Earth would they?
The Democrats’ outreach to those Reluctant Trump Voters has been peculiar indeed, e.g. insisting that they must have been motivated by racism, that they are closeted (or out-and-proud) white supremacists, that they hate women, that they are motivated by bigotry against Muslims and revulsion against homosexuals, that they are dumb (so surpassingly stupid that they “vote against their own interests,” as the Democratic mantra goes), that they are one moral degree of separation from Heinrich Himmler, if that, etc.
Further, any Reluctant Trump Voters considering signing up to make common cause with contemporary American progressives have to understand that they may have been reluctant participants in the nationalist-populist wave of 2016 but there is no reluctance permitted to them in 2018. If you’re going to be marching alongside Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein, et al., then you’re also going to be marching with NARAL and Planned Parenthood, anti-police radicals, people who gleefully advertise their hatred for white men, people who believe that the cause of justice demands publicly funded sex-change procedures on pre-adolescents — the whole smelly poopburger. If you are an up-and-down-the-line Democrat like Joan Barry, 100 percent on board with the party orthodoxy with the sole exception of our current anything-goes abortion regime, then you’re going to get death threats. Stray a little bit from the party line and people like Maxine Waters and Eric Holder — a sitting member of the House of Representatives and the former attorney general — are willing to justify and encourage mob attacks against you. Try that on a college campus and the powers that be will twiddle their thumbs even in the face of arson and fire-bombings. Make a donation to a politically unpopular cause and our so-called liberals will do everything they can to personally destroy you, starting with working to get you fired from your job. If they need to make up stories about your being a serial gang-rapist, so be it. And the so-called liberals in positions of institutional power will either collaborate with them or cower in the face of the mob.
Any of that make you want to sign on the line which is dotted? I talk to those Reluctant Trump Voters on a fairly regular basis. You know what a lot of them are this October? A heck of a lot less reluctant.
The extent to which presidents claim credit for the state of the economy — and the state of the world at large — is absurd. But that’s the little game we insist on playing, for whatever reason, and there isn’t much on that front that’s likely to make a Reluctant Trump Voter sign up to join a mob dedicated to chasing people out of restaurants, public places, or their jobs for holding non-conforming political ideas.
So what do the Democrats have? That the president is guilty of “treason”? Grow up.
Instead, here in the run-up to the midterms, they have pretty much abandoned any serious effort to reach out to those voters. Instead, they’ve embraced a strategy of trying to convince Americans that their neighbors are Nazis, and that screaming at them on Facebook is the moral equivalent of fighting with the French Resistance.
Like I said: mystifying.