The morning after Democrats flipped two very pro-Trump districts in special elections- a fact pointed out by Nate Silver, “Teflon Don” was trending. No matter what Democrats do, Trump keeps winning, is the false idea.
Dems flipped two very pro-Trump districts in special elections last night, There was a 28-point swing to Dems in NH. A 31-point swing in OK. pic.twitter.com/7nJuzpSjdf
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) September 13, 2017
Teflon Don refers to a Politico article about how none of the attacks Democrats are waging against Trump are sticking. He is “teflon” with his voters.
The concerns raised come from data, not just pundits talking. The data from focus groups and internal polls in swing states, Politico reports, “paint a difficult picture for the Democratic Party heading into the 2018 midterms and 2020 presidential election. It suggests that Democrats are naive if they believe Trump’s historically low approval numbers mean a landslide is coming. The party is defending 10 Senate seats in states that Trump won and needs to flip 24 House seats to take control of that chamber.”
The concerns are that the issues Democrats hold near and dear aren’t resonating with the voters. The attacks on Trump aren’t sticking. Pollsters are “shocked by how many voters describe themselves as ‘exhausted’ by the constant chaos surrounding Trump, and they find that there’s strong support for a Congress that provides a check on him instead of voting for his agenda most of the time. But he is still viewed as an outsider shaking up the system, which people in the various surveys say they like, and which Democrats don’t stack up well against.”
This last point is the real danger Democrats face in 2018, on top of a map favoring Republicans. But it is also the key to winning.
People are checking out of the news and politics because it’s too upsetting. They don’t see anything happening, they don’t see movement, all they see is Donald Trump getting away with things they know they couldn’t get away with, and they don’t see him being held accountable.
Demoralization has always been a key tactic used by abusers and dictators alike. Donald Trump knows how to push and grab until he wins by default.
But Democrats winning state races is a sign of change.
It is also a mistake to think that Trump will be teflon Don forever. Yes, he gets away with a lot and his base will never hold him accountable. But the overarching narrative he has created about his presidency is one of failure, as evidenced by his historically low approval numbers in his early presidency.
Democrats can’t appeal to Trump voters with issues.
Until our media is held accountable for the way they gave Donald Trump predominantly more coverage than Hillary Clinton and did not hold him accountable for the various horrible things he said and did, much less his lack of detailed policy knowledge and ideas, Democrats will have a harder time in elections because they are always trying to run on policies.
The public really doesn’t get it, they don’t really care. Sure, they care about healthcare, they care about gay marriage rights, they care about neo-Nazi hate groups, but they don’t really care about “economic issues”.
They’re too busy feeling overwhelmed, disempowered, dispirited, and exhausted to respond to individual policy issues. This is an emotional fight, not a policy fight. A fight about feeling like your vote matters, your voice is heard. This is why President Obama was such a successful campaigner; he empowered people. He made sure it wasn’t just about him. He made people feel hope. Hope is the secret ingredient against abusive power.
Getting lost in the policy weeds isn’t going to win elections, so why would it poll well.
America is deep into a cult of personality contest. It won’t be won with promises of free college. The people need someone they can believe in to champion the people running. Sure, it sucks and it’s not smart or cool to give up discussions on ideas and policies as a way to win elections, but it is reality.
People say they want policy prescriptions, but most people were not even aware that Trump didn’t really have any. Trump is running a reality TV show, and he knows drama and personality win ratings. Promises of a Trump road block are a good start.
But hope. Hope and the resulting empowerment and thus engagement of the electorate are the keys to winning elections.
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.