If you are reading this, you probably watched the debate Monday night. And if you watched the debate, odds are, you share my view that Hillary slayed it — a CNN poll said Hillary won 62-27, while two focus groups went for Hillary by 17-3 and 18-2.
The news will likely get even worse for Trump in the days to come: Fact checkers rated him flat out lying as many as 16 times, and on a lot of those lies, there’s video of him as proof. Meanwhile, many of the things he did say will come back to haunt him: He pays no taxes even though he’s rich because he’s “smart”; he rooted for the housing bubble to collapse and millions to lose their jobs and homes because “that’s called business, by the way”; he called Obama “your president,” adding another egregious insult to a long list. He talked about how important it was to give rich people more tax breaks. He said that he stiffed the people who worked for him because they didn’t do a good job. Trump’s patently absurd defense of his birther lies was enough to offend every rational American. The list goes on.
So Monday night was a good night for my team. Hillary’s got the momentum and that will shore up some lagging support. But this campaign is not about one good debate. There’s something deeper going on in the numbers that make me hopeful about the bigger election.
First a personal note: While I am getting to be a little old to be going back to the days of working like crazy on the inside of a campaign or party committee, I am enthusiastically signing on to the DNC as a Senior Adviser to Interim Chair Donna Brazile. I will be focused on outreach to progressives because the polling is showing very clearly that energizing progressive constituencies and turning out the progressive vote is where this election will be won or lost. I figured I should tell you why, because I tend to be more of a progressive movement and issues guy, not a party person, and I haven’t gone inside a presidential campaign or a party committee in a long time.
I bet your first guess as to why is the urgency of beating Donald Trump, and that certainly is one of the things weighing on my mind. Donald Trump being president would be terrible for our country in a thousand different ways, and being part of the fight to stop that catastrophe from happening will be a great honor. But that isn’t the main reason I decided to go back inside.
Hope drives me more than fear. In spite of the ugliness of the election and the current dead heat in the polling, I believe that this could be a historic year in American politics in terms of progressives winning big victories up and down the ticket. The dynamics and the demographics favor us in this election. If people of color, young people, unmarried women, Bernie voters, union members, environmentalists, people with disabilities, LGBT people, and other progressives get excited about this election and vote their hopes, rather than get disheartened and distracted by all the pessimism, we will not only defeat Trump, but win a sweeping election for Democrats in 2016. I know this view flies in the face of the worry progressives are feeling right now.
While that great debate may change things, I get that a lot of progressives are feeling real fear and angst. One colleague told me that all his friends feel like even if we pull out a Hillary win, we probably can’t retake the Senate (let alone the House) and that even if we do, we’ll lose it again in a Republican sweep in 2018. Another friend sent out a memo saying there are only three equally likely scenarios: that Trump wins; that Hillary wins barely, but we don’t take the Senate or most other important elections; or that Hillary wins and we barely eke out the four Senate seats we need for victory. And I’ve had more than a few people tell me that while they want Hillary to win, even if she does, it will be a status quo presidency.
This kind of hang-on-by-our-fingernails pessimism is very trendy right now among progressives. Many were rooting hard for Bernie to win the nomination, and when he didn’t, they settled into a downer view of politics. And Trump seemed like such a horrible candidate, and things were going so well for us right after the conventions, that when things tightened up again and we weren’t winning in a romp, people were discouraged.
The biggest reason I signed on to the DNC is because I truly believe there is hope for something better, not just in terms of election results, but in terms of our American future. It’s not that I don’t have any fears: if we don’t get our act together and fight like crazy every day between now and November 8th, Trump could be our president. I am convinced that if we all shake off this paralysis-inducing pessimism and raise our sights, we can get the progressive votes we need to turn out to win the presidency, the Senate, the House, and a lot of these 14 state houses currently controlled by Republicans.
Why is this possible? History and demographics. The story of so many elections is that things move in one direction at the end and surprise the pundits. Seriously. If you compare what most pundits predicted to the final results, upsets happened in 1980, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2010, 2012, and 2014. In all of those years, one party caught a wave more powerful than what the conventional wisdom predicted. If you’ve been around as long as I have, you remember that everyone thought the Carter/Reagan election would be one of the closest in history; that the Republicans would only pick up about 25 seats (instead of 52) in the House 1994; and that the Democrats would never take back the Senate in 2006.
I believe 2016 will be another year where the pundits will be surprised. If Democrats do the hard work we need to do, we win this election up and down the ballot, and win it bigger than anyone is predicting right now. We definitely can’t take anything for granted: right now we are clearly lagging in terms of where we should be, compared with Obama, in terms of both likelihood to vote and percent of the vote with progressive base voters, in both the presidential races and further down the ballot. We haven’t yet won over a big enough margin among Latinos or unmarried women. We are way behind where we should be with young voters generally, and we still have too many Bernie supporters considering third party candidates or not voting at all.
This is all eminently doable, though, if we just put in the elbow grease. These are progressive minded voters on the issues, and they have voted for Obama and other Democrats in the past. They are part of the broader progressive community, our Facebook friends and Twitter buddies. They are family and neighbors, part of the extended progressive community. We need to pull them in and persuade them to get out and vote for Democrats.
We have to remind them that the Democratic Party is the only party that wants to get serious about fighting climate change; appoint Supreme Court justices that will overturn Citizens United and preserve reproductive rights; raise the minimum wage; expand Social Security; create millions of good new jobs by investing in roads, bridges, airports, green energy, and R&D; pass comprehensive immigration reform; pass a 21st century Glass-Steagall; tax Wall Street; lower student debt; and offer free college for most young people.
We have to reach people through traditional media outlets, but even more through the social media platforms they use. We have to knock on their doors, call them up, and engage them in real conversations about what matters to them. We have to get their friends and families to talk to them, too, because there is nothing more effective than hearing from people you like and respect.
The polling is clear right now: Democrats must consolidate the base. If we fire up our own loyalists, the demographic and ideological groups that have in recent history voted for Democrats, we win not only the presidency, but all the way down the ballot, and we win it going away.
The last time the Democrats controlled Congress and the White House, we got a major health care reform package that has meant coverage for 20 million more people; made hundreds of billions of dollars in new investments in green energy, education, school building, roads and highways, science and health care research; and passed the first tough regulations on Wall Street since the Great Depression, including Elizabeth Warren’s CFPB. The most progressive platform in the history of the party, a new generation of progressive leaders elected to Congress, and a big Democratic election sweep will put pressure on the party to deliver on its platform priorities after the election is over.
Hillary winning the debate last night was a great thing, and winning with a strong progressive message about jobs, increased wages, climate change, criminal justice reform, and being tough on Wall Street made it even sweeter. It will help us consolidate the Democratic vote, discourage the Republicans, and give activists an energy boost going into the last six weeks.
But there’s one thing it definitely doesn’t change: progressives will decide what happens in this election. It is the progressive vote and progressive activists that will decide this election. If we get involved, volunteer for campaigns, talk to our friends, post on our Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, we can make this election one of the most important and decisive election victories in history. Or... we can be depressed and stay home, or choose to protest vote because Hillary is not everything we want her to be, and as a result, empower Trump to become president and the Republicans to run our country into the ground. It’s our choice.
I’m coming aboard and fighting for the Democrats with every ounce of strength I have. Please join me.