Trump may be the issue, but Democrats should still not campaign on him

Rahm Emanuel, current Mayor of Chicago, former Democratic Congressman, and legendary political organizer recently said that “Trump is the issue...”

Emanuel, as usual, is right. To most voters, Trump is the issue. He has determined the landscape upon which this midterm campaign will be waged. His personal unpopularity and controversial policies and erratic behavior mean that what should be a great year for Republicans — with the economy booming and all — might well be a wipeout.

Driven by their seething white hot hatred of Trump, Democratic activists encourage Congressional candidates to emphasize their opposition to the President and to commit to vote in favor of impeachment. Many of these activists are outraged at the position of the Democratic leadership that candidates should avoid the impeachment issue, and instead focus on pocketbook issues that matter to their constituents.

The problem is that running a campaign on Trump is not much of a campaign. As one of my political mentors once said, “politics is a game of addition, not of subtraction.” Pretty much everyone has made up their mind about Trump. As Rick Bloomingdale of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO said, “People don’t want to hear you tell them how bad Trump is. They either know or they don’t care.”

So the point is that people have their minds made up. If Robert Mueller were to indict Donald Trump and in so doing release to the media a tape of Trump talking with Putin about affecting the 2016 election, his supporters would not budge. He would still get 42% or so of the voters who would say that this is fake news. As Trump himself pointed out, publicly, he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his supporters would still stand by him.

And at this point, if Kim Jong Un were to announce that he was giving up his nuclear weapons due to the superior negotiating skills of Trump, the 54% of voters who hate him will not dislike him any less.

Doing the math, that means that only 4% of voters have no opinion of Trump. At this point, if they still have no opinion on him, they really don’t care and don’t want to hear about it.

In short, a Congressional candidate making a case for Trump’s impeachment will not win one additional vote as a result of attacking Trump. Again, part of the reason many Republicans have an uphill battle is because of Trump, thus, he is the issue, but with so few people undecided on him, nobody will change their mind at this point based upon a candidate’s attacks.

What’s more is that Trump does a great job of spreading word of his craziness himself. His tweets, his contradictory statements, his meandering interviews on Fox News all regularly remind voters why they do or don’t like him. Again, there is no need for a Democratic candidate to remind them of these facts.

It’s worth remembering that political campaigns, no matter what the size, struggle with limited resources. There is always something more that can be done, another phone call that can be made, another door that can be knocked on, another piece of literature that can be mailed. No campaign is able to do everything it wants to. Thus, the essence of successful campaigning is to focus your limited resources where they will have the greatest impact.

Just consider the following. There are many Trump supporters who rely upon Obamacare. If a Democratic congressional candidate spends his or her time attacking Trump, those voters will simply ignore the Democrat. If, on the other hand, the candidate does not focus on Trump and instead focuses on protecting the voters’ healthcare from attacks by the Republicans, those Trump supporters might vote their own economic interests and support the Democrat. In this way, the Democratic candidates will actually add voters to their total, including voters who might otherwise have voted Republican or stayed home.

Some may say that Democratic dislike of Trump will motivate liberal voters to the polls who might otherwise not have voted in an off-year election. Those analysts are correct. However, a Democratic candidate need do nothing to give those liberal voters ample motivation. As I wrote earlier, Trump himself will do that job plenty well.

It seems that the candidates intuitively understand this logic. Most of them focus on the issues rather than Trump. In effect, they are campaigning on the needs of their future constituents while allowing Trump himself to drive liberal turnout. That is a great way to maximize limited campaign resources.

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Mike is an Assistant Professor of Management for Legal and Ethical Studies at Oakland U. Mike combines his scholarship with practical experience in politics.

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