(Opinion) Let's Talk Elections
What The Democrats Can Learn from Trump
Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 US Presidential elections confounded people across the political spectrum. With less than a year remaining for Trump’s re-election bid, we look at what the current crop of Democratic party candidates can learn from the President himself as they prepare to deny him another four years of control of the White House.
It pays not to be a part of the establishment.
Over the last few years, people's faith in the political establishment has gone down. They are much likelier than before to believe that the establishment only furthers the interests of the elite while neglecting the rest.
Back in 2015, Donald Trump, then a candidate for US President, understood this sentiment and used it to separate himself from other candidates. In the Republican primaries, he constantly attacked his opponents for receiving funding from special interests and donors. The republican primary voters lapped up those attacks and gave Trump the nomination with the consideration that he was the only candidate who could take on the establishment.
In the general election, too, Trump employed the same strategy. He portrayed Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, as an embodiment of the establishment and someone who the deep state wanted as the president. This energized his own base of support to vote for him and also helped him win over the swing voters - both of which proved decisive in his victory.
The same anti-establishment sentiment runs among voters of the Democratic party as well. The lackluster enthusiasm among Democrats for Hillary Clinton’s ill-fated Presidential campaign was a symptom of that sentiment. Furthermore, the rise of a strong progressive movement within the democratic party - Sanders, Warren, ‘The Squad’ - shows that the demand for changes at the top cuts across party lines.
Therefore, by nominating a presidential candidate who doesn’t come with an establishment baggage, the Democratic Party would energize its own supporters, attract swing voters and, most importantly, take away from Trump his most appealing quality.
Promote policies that lead to visible improvements in the lives of people while not having a major impact on the status quo.
The economic policies that Trump endorsed in his 2016 presidential campaign aimed at directly benefiting the working class while keeping the wealth and power of the rich intact. Thus, with policies like tax cuts, immigration controls and renegotiation of trade deals, Trump was able to win the support of people across all income levels - including the working class, a group that Republicans had been struggling with at that time.
Much like the developed world, the working-class population of the US, too, faces challenges from globalization and technological advancements. In recent years, they have seen their jobs getting shipped off or automated. Trump's economic policies, apart from bringing short term relief, however, fails to address any of the structural factors responsible for the economic anxiety felt by this group of people.
A lot of the progressive policies of the new field of democratic candidates, though, address the underlying factors and provide meaningful solutions. Policies such as - job training, decrease in cost of college education and higher quality of public education - improve the capability of people in dealing with the structural changes taking place in the economy. They also make the capitalist mode of economy fairer and more equitable.
Some of the candidates, however, tend to overreach with their progressive policies. Both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren promote some policies that would inevitably lead to drastic changes in the lives of the people. For example, Medicare for All, a public health insurance policy supported by both Sanders and Warren, would take away people's current private health insurance plan and enroll everybody in the same insurance plan. This is in addition to increased taxes for the middle class to pay for the insurance.
In most countries, it is usually difficult to garner widespread support for policies aimed at redistribution. The situation is even more dire in the US, whose citizens cherish individualism and are repulsive towards anything socialist.
The Democrats are therefore advised to vote for candidates whose policies do not alienate entire classes of voters. In that case, the best bet would be to play it safe, like Trump.
Drop policies that no longer enjoy public support.
All throughout his campaign, Donald Trump attacked the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), promising to repeal it and replace it with something better. After winning the presidency, however, Trump saw his move towards repealing Obamacare fail as a result of opposition from the Republican members of the Senate. At that point it had become clear that many Republican voters were content with Obamacare and no longer wanted it replaced. Trump understood the message and subsequently stopped mentioning his prior opposition to Obama's health care policy.
A similar pattern was observed in the case of tax cuts, with Trump gradually stopping boasting about introducing tax cuts as it became clear that the policy no longer enjoyed public support.
Nevertheless, the Democrats have refrained from displaying such flexibility in their stands.
From the growing strength of anti-immigrant politicians across the west, including Trump himself, it is now evident that public support is in favor of controlling immigration, and especially illegal immigration.
The Democrats, however, have moved towards a more pro-immigration stand. Some of the Democratic Presidential candidates have even gone on to vouch for free healthcare for illegal immigrants and a ban on deportations.
While it is entirely reasonable, and morally correct, for democrats to condemn the Trump administration for some of its hateful anti-immigrant rhetoric, it would eventually lose them political support if they continue to sidestep public opinion in forming its policies on immigration.
Furthermore, such a divide inevitably ferments disconnect between the public and their political representatives, something which populists like Trump have become extremely adept at taking advantage of.
WRITTEN BY ADITYA VAGHELA FOR BESA
PLEASE DIRECT ANY INQUIRY TO AS.BESA@UNIBOCCONI.IT