Trump supporters told Diane Hessan the truth. Now, what should the parties do about them?

Photo: Sara Davis, Getty Images

About 40% of voters approve of the job Donald Trump is doing. I don’t care if this makes you upset or thrilled. My question is, what do you think we should do about it?

You should read Diane Hessan’s terrific analysis in the Boston Globe’s opinion section today, based on her ongoing conversations with a panel of 450 voters from across the political spectrum, half of whom voted for Trump. Diane’s work includes two unique qualities: it’s unbiased, reporting without taking a partisan position, and it’s full of actual quotes from voters.

She found that over 90% of her Trump votes still support him. Here’s a sample of what they told her:

“You have to admit, Trump has done more in the 14 months he’s been in office to further the best interests of the country than anyone on the left can accept.” — Jack, California

“The establishment is turning out to be the Titanic — and the rogue captain is off on a speedboat.” — Theresa, Virginia

“[Regarding the tax cut:] Maybe an extra $252 every month isn’t much to her or to the liberal elites, but to me, it has been life-changing.” — Hope, Ohio

“Down here, there is a feeling of momentum. In our churches and even in our bars, people are talking about more business, more pay and less taxes. I know that there are other issues in the country, but when you are in debt and trying to feed your family, not much else matters.” — Ron, Mississippi

“I think Trump lies daily, and by that I mean, he’s a classic salesman. . . . Do I think he has stuff in the closet that he doesn’t want out and may lie about? Yes. I couldn’t care less. He never preached he was a saint and then all of the sudden we found out he had horns. We all knew this and accepted it.” — Kenny, Louisiana

“To me, he is very immature, but performance-wise, he’s doing a great job.” — Lucinda, Kentucky

Your outrage bores me

Did these quotes make you upset?

I don’t care.

At this point, outrage is boring. If you’re a progressive, sure, go ahead, say how awful these people are. Tell me how upset you are with Trump. Tell me what a bad president he is.

It’s not that I disagree with you. I just don’t see the point. I don’t believe any of the president’s opponents are in danger of sliding back towards liking him. Nor do I think that any of the people like the ones that gave Hessan these quotes are going to suddenly join you in your outrage.

But I am interested in an exercise, not in more boring outrage, but in analytical thinking. If you can think straight when you’re upset, you’ll be much more effective.

So, imagine for a moment that you are a Democratic or Republican strategist. Accept that attitudes like the ones Hessan has described are real and that, if they haven’t changed in the year since Trump has been in office, they’re not going to change now. What should you do?

What should Democrats do?

You are a Democratic strategist. Here are some possible strategies for Democrats and the Democratic party. Which would you use?

  • Be as loud and outraged and resistant as possible. Nominate candidates in favor of single-payer health care, free state colleges, higher taxes on Wall Street, and repealing the Second Amendment. Take advantage of this moment to steer the country as far left as possible.
  • Make Trump the issue. Have all candidates talk about Trump and his transgressions as much as possible. Run against him, not against Republican opponents.
  • Seek the majority without enforcing ideological purity. Nominate candidates that match local constituencies. This includes pro-life and pro-gun Democrats that can win in balanced and conservative districts and states. Concentrate in winning back Congress, then thwarting everything Trump does.
  • Demonize the other side. Create a caricature of heartless, racist, greedy Republicans. Run against that.
  • Make impeachment the issue. Describe how we need to elect Democrats to impeach the president.
  • Identify policies that appeal to suburban and moderate voters. For example, talk about lower taxes for the middle class and higher taxes for people with higher incomes; an assault weapons ban; higher funding for education; entitlement reform; practical suggestions for fixing the Affordable Care Act. Be the “we can fix it” party. Run against Trump’s incompetence.

What should Republicans do?

You are a Republican strategist. Here are some possible strategies for Republicans and the Republican party. Which would you use?

  • Get behind Trump 100%. Focus on how Trump is radically dismantling government programs and regulation, and how, ignoring the tweets, he’s making progress.
  • Run on conservative priorities. Identify conservative issues, such as rolling back gun control pushes, busting public unions, reducing government spending, nominating pro-life judges. Run on the idea that progress on these is what matters, and a Republican congress can achieve them with a Republican president in office.
  • Run against Trump. Run as never-Trump Republicans. Hold up conservative ideals. Say that we need Republicans now as a bulwark against Democrats, but we can dump Trump in 2020.
  • Demonize the other side. Identify liberals, minorities, and immigrants as enemies of America. Create a caricature of greedy, bleeding-heart Democrats who want to take your money and give it to people who don’t deserve it. Run against that.
  • Make impeachment the issue. Describe how we need to elect Republicans to keep Democrats from impeaching the president.
  • Identify policies that appeal to suburban and moderate voters. For example, lower taxes for everyone; common-sense limits on gun regulations; entitlement reform; practical suggestions for fixing the Affordable Care Act. Be the “we can fix it” party.

I look forward to your practical suggestions for what either party should do.


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  1. I live in the UK. The Labour Party have went “be as loud and outraged and resistant as possible.” against the Tories. It hasn’t worked. In Scotland specifically, a number of years ago the SNP took a left of centre moderate stance against the then centrist New Labour. It worked well.

    As an outside to the US, Sanders or someone like him will not win in 2020. It has to be a moderate who will “Identify policies that appeal to suburban and moderate voters.”

  2. How about stirring up grassroots efforts? Especially among the young. They’re the ones who are inheriting this mess.

  3. As a Democrat, I would suggest the last option, but I would not frame it only in terms of “suburban or moderate voters” but rather as a strategy for making each race as local as possible, and running as the party that can offer both a broad-based vision for the future and solutions to the problems and issues that matter most to the people in that particular constituency. (Hey, it worked for the New Deal.)

    As you said, we’re not going to change the minds of Trump supporters, so making him the main issue is a loser. Although his recent actions on tariffs might offer an opportunity in rural areas that would suffer in a trade war. The way to leverage that opportunity, I think, would be the question of Trump’s trustworthiness. “You believed his promises and helped him win the election, and then he turns around and threatens your family’s livelihoods? Even when you agree with him, how can you trust what he says?”

    Besides, we saw what happened when Hillary made Trump the focus. Her campaign spent more money on anti-Trump messages than on telling people what she stood for. Only after the election did it occur to me that spending millions showcasing Trump’s transgressive behavior probably had the effect of cementing support among the people who were drawn to him precisely because he was transgressive (“He’s not afraid to say what he thinks”) and gave voice to feelings that no presidential candidate had expressed out loud since the days of George Wallace.

  4. Interesting that your list of options for Republicans doesn’t include what they are actually have done and are trying to do more: a) suppress the popular vote every way possible (gerrymander, voter ID, etc), b) utterly control the media message by making it profit driven enterprise and make sure that profits are tied to pandering to conservative opinion, and c) look the other way while foreign entities manipulate elections for their own interests via stealth funding, social media poisoning, and outright cyberattacks.

    Any analysis that doesn’t consider all these points is at best incomplete but most likely doomed to fail. “Demonize The Other Side” for Democrats is not a policy that correctly addresses any of this.

    There is reason to believe that these tactics are gradually losing their potency and I am hopeful about that but in no way should anyone count on it. We will never know if Hillary would not have lost had there been no 80%+ sure thing predictions about her victory caused people in critical states to not bother to vote but you don’t want to be anywhere near that possibility again.

      1. I didn’t mean to be negative but I still believe the current rules of the game always seem to set up Democrats to be show up with no more than a knife in a gun fight. There are no clean, correct answers but you can benefit from hard headed analyses.

  5. A lot of citizens on both sides don’t really care about politics as much as you and I do. That’s why a celebrity can seem like a friend, and voters can believe in their character rather than the individual actor behind the character. Many have a hard time seeing beyond their own neighborhood. In a perfect world, my advice to either party would be to create a vision that paints a solution-oriented picture of the near future for the audience they are speaking with — one that embraces their core values, shows a real understanding of their challenges, and gives them the motivation to vote. Realistically, it is difficult to win playing by the rules when an opponent is not doing so, and voters are cynical and apathetic. It is a system.

  6. Interesting question. My first reaction was : “how many am I allowed to choose?” The old saw used to be “all politics is local” ;strategy and tactics were set by your audience. Perhaps that has changed. Nice piece.

  7. I like the idea of a new party called the “Fix-It Party.” We’re sure not going to get that attitude out of the current two major parties, nor the current minor ones I’ve heard of, for that matter.

  8. Outrage is good for getting out the vote.
    Downunder we have compulsory voting, so we don’t have to worry so much about getting out the vote, just getting teenagers and migrants to register.
    We also have preferential voting, so a vote for a minor party is not just a protest vote. Voting 1 Fix It Up can be followed by 2 Democrat and after Fix It Up’s candidate is eliminated from the count, that second preference is just as effective in deciding whether a Democrat or a Republican wins the seat as voting 1 Democrat would be.
    It does give you coalition governments, though. The current governments both Federally and in our largest state are a coalition of the Liberal Party (confusingly for Americans our equivalent of the Republicans) and the National Party (our equivalent of the Dixiecrats), but in 2010 the Federal government was an Alliance of the Labor Party and the Greens.
    While we don’t have a separate election for the head of the Executive Branch of government (and our equivalent, the Prime Minister, who is the one to command a majority of votes on the floor of our House of Representatives, isn’t even mentioned in our constitution), there is a great deal of focus on the leaders of the two major parties, Labor and Liberal, at elections both for the House of Reps and for our Senate (even though Senators theoretically have no say in who our PM will actually be). Plenty of demonising the PM or alternative PM, and running against that.
    Most of those strategies still manage to have their equivalents here, and if you look at exit polling to see why people who actually changed their vote did so (and thus were the only ones to actually change the government) most of those strategies failed.