When you have an opportunity as a journalist to speak directly with the person running a political campaign, you jump at it. So it was that I was speaking, just after the Democratic Convention with John Minor, campaign chairman for Democratic Party presidential candidate Jane Barron, a recently-elected Senator from Maine. The election of 2016 had been a disaster for the Democrats. Losing the White House was only part of it. Making so little progress toward taking back control of the Senate, let alone the House, had been disappointing. So I had to ask if they hadn’t learned the wrong lessons from that experience. “John, after the level of anti-woman sentiment that worked against Hillary Clinton in 2016, what was the thinking behind having another woman candidate in the next election? I’m not saying a woman can’t or shouldn’t be President, but are the people…the voters…likely to change that quickly?”
“So, Ryan…I hear what you’re saying. But Jane was selected in the primary process. Voters in a wide range of states voted for her…selected her to be the nominee…believed in her programs.”
“Of course. We have the system of primary elections to narrow down the candidates to one, but can’t we agree that, because of the way the electorate has been fragmented by partisanship and hot-button issues, that primary voters of both major parties are more extreme than those who vote in the general election? And it’s only gotten worse since the Republican Party has so severely shifted to the right.”
“You’re right, Ryan, but you’re also right that this started with the GOP being taken over by the Tea Party and the extreme infusion of dark money. I read what you wrote about that. The GOP is addicted to Koch dollars at all levels. We want to speak directly to the people…but we have to compete with far less money to work with. There are, of course, liberal millionaires donating to the party and to PACs, but the big money goes to the GOP. That’s why one item on our platform is an amendment to overturn Citizens United.”
“Do you ever think that maybe the multitude of goals your platform lists are too much for the average voter to grasp and get on board with?”
“We prefer not to insult the intelligence of our voters, Ryan. The GOP reduces everything to a bumper sticker slogan. Think about how simplistic Trump’s slogan was…’Make America Great Again’. What did it mean? We know he was assuming our country was in decline. And maybe it was, but not for the reasons he stated. He picked up a lot of disaffected whites who blamed their troubles on people of color and immigrants. He spent the entire time of Obama’s two terms accusing him of not being an American. If you were looking for a scapegoat, you might believe Trump…and vote for him. We know that wealthy extremists on the right have worked hard and long to get us where we are. And they’re still not going to be satisfied until they control everything.”
“Hillary called them the vast right wing conspiracy. She was right about that. But, again, if you assume that the average voter in the general election is as partisan or as well informed as a primary voter, I think you’ll have a hard time reaching them. When it came down to it, Trump’s voters believed he’d bring back the jobs…factory jobs and coal jobs, especially. We know that was a lie. The President has no such power…and a GOP Congress wasn’t about to overturn free trade pacts…if anything, they’d make them less beneficial to workers. So why not concentrate on the major issues?” I wasn’t playing gotcha with Minor, but I wanted to see how he responded to things some of us in the media were finally focusing on.
“Like I said, Ryan. We believe the voters can see through the simplistic promises the GOP platform makes. And many of their platform planks are just mean-spirited.”
“I’ll leave it with this…and not to be offensive, but I think the complicated message will work against your candidate, even in the absence of the Clinton baggage.”
“I guess we’ll see in November.”
I thanked him for his time. I was certain I hadn’t been an effective devil’s advocate…how do you convince a true believer to consider an alternative? Having a vantage point further away from the issues gave me an insight he was unable or unwilling to accept. Fighting the last war is never the best tactic.
© 2017 Robert Mihaly
Note: This story is intended to become part of a political novel that is underway. It’s topical, so I hope current events don’t leave my story in the dust.
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