Democrats: Fight For One Cause, Speak With One Voice

Party unification and an agreed-upon common defense are keys to beating Trump

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(illustration: Shutterstock)

Democrats must not let Trump define them

The State of the Union is troubled

I don’t know what tonight’s State of the Union speech will reveal about President Trump that we don’t already know. The content of his speech will be inconsequential — we’ve been here before; we’ve seen most of it in his tweets, and the mainstream news media has been generally thorough in defining the picture Trump is likely to paint with his always awkward phrases, his reliance on a modest dose of bombast, a soupçon of lies spiced with alternative facts, and his fallback modus operandi of pointed barbs tossed at the Democrats gathered in the House chamber. Been there, heard that. So let’s move on to the real issue at hand: the creation of a truly navigable path toward Trump’s political demise on November 3.

Get over the Iowa screw-up

Given that the Iowa caucus mechanism suffered a near fatal hemorrhage last night, reducing an already convoluted candidate selection process to a shambling wreck from which emerged a few bruised and financially-battered potential front-runners, the Democrats must devise a more cooperative strategy, in a more reliable campaign vehicle. This is no time to have the Jaws-of-Life on standby. The key is cooperation, and the sooner the Democratic candidates come together as a team of rivals (in the best Doris Kearns Goodwin Lincolnian-model sense), the more likely a ballot-box victory will become.

Cooperation does not mean consensus

I’m not suggesting the candidates reach consensus on all issues and hold hands around a New Hampshire campfire; I am suggesting that over the next few weeks the Democrats’ campaign organizations agree on one basic strategy, and hold to it: joint defense against a common enemy.

There is no question that after Wednesday’s forgone acquittal in the Senate, Trump will come on strong with renewed outrage and self-righteousness, his guns blazing at every Democratic contender who shows signs of traction. From debate to debate, from primary to primary, Trump will attempt to take apart any threatening messaging broadcast by the teeter-tottering field of poll leaders. The Republican National Committee’s writers, surrogates, and media proxies are already filling hundreds, if not thousands, of opposition handbooks filled with half-truths, complete lies, and social media links designed with one purpose — to cast doubt in the minds of that slim margin of voters whose ballots in November could quash any Electoral College advantage.

Understanding Trump’s strategy is key to defeating it

One of the most effective methods of sowing doubt is to leverage the opposition’s innate inclination toward internecine warfare. Trump does not have to have a better message than the Democrats; he simply has to make swing voters doubt the Democrats’ ability to deliver on any of their myriad campaign promises by showing the Democratic Party as fractured, fractious, and incapable of unity. So far, the Democrats are playing right into the Republican’s hands. And they have to stop it soon.

Going low is not the answer; resisting temptation is important

Trump will use tried-and-mean methods

I don’t have any favorites this early in the donkey race, and, as someone who was an opposition researcher and campaign writer in the Nixon/Ford/Carter years, I can say with confidence that the old divide-and-conquer method of counter-campaigning is still the most bang-for-the-buck approach to seeding the opposing field with poison pills of doubt and discord. The frustrating thing is, the Democrats, particularly those with seasoned political chops, know how these wars of attrition work, and how image-shattering (personal and party) these winner-take-all techniques can be, yet they still cannot resist the temptation to take shots at their Democratic rivals. Under any other normal political season circumstances, such resorts to venomous violence would be transient, and a make-up session following the campaigns would be a modestly soothing balm. Not this time.

Dems must hold the center

Trump and his ilk are going to employ every tool in their misbegotten bags of trickery to encourage Democratic disharmony, divisiveness, and doubt in order to splinter beyond repair any hope the Democrats have of building a winning coalition. Remember: the Republican’s don’t have to have a better message; they just have to make the Democrats appear disjointed and internally distrustful.

A common defense against a brutal offense

In the coming weeks and months, whoever the Democrats post as front-runners must be unassailable within their own party, and fully defended from attack by Trumpian forces. This means that name-calling, potshot-taking, policy-poo-poohing, and electability doubting cast on their Moderate/Progressive/Socialist rivals from their respective podiums must be resisted at all costs. It is fine to call into question an opponent’s facts, premises, and forecasts; it is not fine to resort to back-stabbing, damage-by-proxy, media-manipulation just to score a few points. That is not what voters want to see — they have had enough of that from the White House.

It is also crucial that Democrats learn how to circle their wagons around one of their own who may be the insult-of-the-day focus of Trump or his advocates here in the U.S. and, increasingly likely, from abroad. If one candidate comes under fire, all candidates come under fire, and they need to respond as one shield and as one force in returning the fire.

Speak truth to tyranny, in once voice

There is nothing Trump likes more than picking out the weakest in the herd with the assumption that the herd will move along and let the straggler pay the price. It is also true that Trump is afraid of those who speak truth to tyrannical monarchs, and if the Democrats hope to dethrone the Constitution’s usurper, they must speak with one truth: America will not yield to a would-be king.

Journalist, former Capitol Hill staff (House and Senate), former Cabinet speechwriter, editor, photojournalist and bird photographer. Top Writer Quora 2016–2017

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