Dear Democrats

In your own language

Eduardo del buey
Foto: Reuters
La Jornada Maya

Martes 2 de diciembre, 2019

Last week, I addressed the many questions that I have received recently from audiences in Mexico about what makes Donald Trump tick.

Another question that I have received from many people is how can the Democrats dislodge him from the White House in 2020.

Here is my letter to Democrats addressing the challenges that they face and how they can win the election next November:

“Dear Democrats,

Many years ago, a wise man told me that, “the perfect is the enemy of the good”.

The perfect never has existed on a human level and probably never will.

Absolutist positions rarely if ever work in politics since politics is the art of the possible, and the possible can only be achieved through dialogue and compromise. These are essential if Democrats are to achieve the unity required to defeat an incumbent president.

As I look out towards the field of candidates vying for the job of Democratic leader next year, I am concerned about the extreme divisions that continue to plague the party.

This leads me to conclude that Donald Trump may not so much win the next election as you, the Democrats, may lose it.

Unless you Democrats get your act together and change your behavior from the 2016 election when you ran a poor campaign with a divided party, poor messaging, a deficient election strategy and a candidate with too much political baggage, you will lose in 2020.

What might you do to avoid repeating the same mistake?

A number of things come to mind:
First of all, the candidate.

The candidate must have the credibility and wisdom to craft a policy platform that deals with real concerns facing voters. S/he must be able to unite the left and center of the party, and to attract disenchanted Trump voters and motivate those who sat out the 2016 election, because of their dislike for Hillary Clinton, to not do so again.

The candidate must speak the language of the voters. S/he must have both passion and deliver positive messages to attract voters. The candidate must have empathy for all, not only for followers.

In this regard, the candidate must be able to convey an understanding of the voters’ frustrations and needs and how s/he not only shares them, but also plans to address them with better ideas.

Finally, the candidate must be able to connect with voters, appealing both to their hearts and their pocketbooks rather than their minds. Minds are good, as Clinton once believed, but hearts and pocketbooks have proven their worth every time. The first concern of voters is “what’s in it for me?” and not the complexity or brilliance of a policy proposal.

Secondly, the policies.

The policy platform must identify and speak to the real needs of voters rather than subscribe to ideological statements or radical ideas. Voters on the whole tend to be conservative and need to feel secure with electoral proposals. For example, the millions of Americans who have private health insurance and are happy with it are not going to buy into a platform that removes this choice – especially if this results in fewer options or inferior services.

Recently, former President Barak Obama said that, “Even as we push the envelope and we are bold in our vision, we also have to be rooted in reality”. He warned that most Democrats might not share “certain left-leaning Twitter feeds” or “the activist wing of your party”.

While more radical rhetoric and proposals may be therapeutic, they will not motivate the great majority at the center of the political spectrum to get out to campaign or at least to vote enthusiastically.
Provide real choices with clear and simple messages that you can show will work.

Don’t dwell on complex ideas. Clinton did that and alienated a good number of voters in key electoral states.

Rather, pick two or three key ideas that are positive, easy to understand and to remember, and that contribute directly to the voters’ well being.

Many Americans are tired of Trump’s antics and caustic rhetoric, but they acknowledge that his economic policies have increased many of their retirement savings and investment portfolios.

However, many others have suffered from his abrogation of various trade deals and international confrontations that have created some political vulnerabilities. They will be ripe for the picking with solid messages showing how a Democrat administration will reverse these trends, maintain stock market growth, and benefit more Americans than Trump’s current strategies.

Thirdly, messaging.

Do you remember any of Hilary Clinton’s messages from 2016?

I don’t.

But I remember Donald Trump’s four key messages clearly: Make America Great Again, Build the Wall, Clean the Swamp and Lock her Up.

And he continues to repeat them incessantly.

Short, simple, easy to digest and remember, and connecting directly with the hearts, souls, and fears of his core supporters.

Clinton’s supporters never quite grasped where she wanted to take the country or how they would get there. Nor did they fully grasp how her policies would contribute to their wellbeing. To many, it appeared as four more years of Obama but with a baggage laden Clinton who did not even enjoy unanimous support from your party. The result was that, while Clinton proved her policy chops, Trump quickly created and connected strongly with a base and campaigned effectively in the electoral states that he needed to win the presidency.

Fourth, the upcoming campaign.

As I have often stated, Donald Trump is motivated by one thing – his ego.

If you are to run a strong and viable campaign, you must avoid playing his game.

I would avoid when possible referring to him by name. Refer to him only as “my opponent” and as rarely as possible. Avoid replying to his attacks or insults. Non-Trump voters are tired of four years of negative and divisive rhetoric – the rhetoric that appeals to Trump’s base.

When questioned about Trump or his statements, show briefly where he has failed and then pivot to what you plan to do and where you plan to take the country, using quotable comments that journalists will likely use.

Don’t argue with the Trump base. Let them ride, since they will never be convinced to vote for your party. Rather, focus on the three or four clear and positive messages that you have and on getting swing voters and your core base out to vote for your candidate.

Your strength will come from honest and positive messages spoken in simple language and sound bites. By not engaging in his distractions, Trump rather than you will appear weak and floundering.

And that is your objective.

You must push Trump off from his game plan. If you ignore him, it will likely drive him to distraction. He will have to waste his time with pointless Tweets that will only appeal to his base, whose vote you will never get anyway. He will also have to waste precious media time attacking you, while your constant shifting to your own agenda will help reduce his media impact.

This strategy will force the media to focus more on your messages rather than on quixotic battles with Trump since this will be the only news that they get from you. This will not work for FOX News whose viewers will not vote for you anyway. But it will work with viewers of other news networks and fire them up to go our and vote for you.

It will get pundits talking about your messages rather than Trump’s.

A positive campaign with excellent messages will contrast with Trump’s negativity and vulgarity and show American voters that there is a better way, a way that creates unity of purpose and positive goals rather than division and hatred.

Finally, electoral strategy.

Donald Trump got three million less votes than did Hillary Clinton in 2016. She sits at home while he sits in the Oval Office.


His campaign strategy focused on the Electoral College, not on the popular vote. Clinton paid limited visits to so-called swing states – states whose voters shift from one party to the other in presidential elections and ultimately determine the final composition of the Electoral College and, as a result, who will be President.

Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida barely registered on her campaign itineraries. And when she did visit, her messages did not resonate with the tens of thousands of voters who felt that they had lost their jobs to NAFTA or technology. Complex, absolutist ideas about climate change did not register with coal miners in West Virginia, and more free trade deals did not motivate those in Ohio or Pennsylvania who had lost their manufacturing jobs.

Rather, Democratic strategists must take a micro-electoral approach to campaigning. Figure out what motivates different groups of voters in each of these key states. Meld findings into strategically developed campaign promises and messages focused on their local issues and concerns. Use data analytics effectively to target voters with messages individually, connecting with them in a way that motivates them.

Minds are good.

But in the passionate heat of a political campaign, feelings must be addressed and cannot be ignored.
And these feelings are tied to pocketbooks.

They are tied to fears and hopes.

Clinton’s visceral approach to campaigning did not connect with voters.

Trump’s emotional tactics and targeted messages did motivate voters in key states.

This election will be about creating a strong base that is fueled enough to go out and fight for a different vision of their country, under a leader who not only understands them but also makes them feel understood.

I often quote Maya Angelou who once said people will forget what you did or what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.

Next year’s Democrat candidate has to touch their souls with strong and effective messages, and make them feel.

Once they feel, they will believe.

And, once they believe, they will vote.”

Mérida, Yucatán