How Sanders can help Democrats lock up the general electionPolitically Aware Thursday, April 14th, 2016
Commentary: Politically Aware
In his book What’s the matter with Kansas, Thomas Frank describes how a state with a proud progressive tradition became reliably conservative. Part of the process involved persuading middle income voters to choose their heavenly prize over their own economic interests. Business elites accepted their religious and culture wars to keep their votes, but never really joined the fight.
Changing demographics and Donald Trump’s campaign have put a crack in that alliance. Sen. Bernie Sanders should drive a wedge through it.
The most recent round of anti-LGBT legislation highlights the changing corporate interests. With a majority of Americans favoring marriage equality, homophobia has become bad business. The movie industry helped kill Georgia’s religious freedom bill, and the financial industry has already forced Gov. McCrory to modify North Carolina’s legislation. Few who market to Latinos want any part of Donald Trump’s wall, and pulling Planned Parenthood funding causes a media firestorm.
Trump hits some of these notes on the stump, pointing out how little Republicans in Washington have done to stop gay marriage or build a border wall. More importantly, Trump has used trade policy to convince middle class Republicans that they have been bamboozled by the business community. Realizing their party isn’t helping them in this life or the next, nearly a third of Trump voters don’t plan to vote for any other Republican nominee.
Democrats need to make a run at these voters, and Sen. Sanders is uniquely qualified to lead the charge. He already echoes Trump when talking about trade policy, the media and the rigged political system. Like Trump, he runs well with middle class white males, and he isn’t as tightly tied to recent partisan struggles as Secretary Hillary Clinton.
Sanders doesn’t need to empathize with their fear and anger; he need only sympathize with their lot. “You know who I feel sorry for?” Sanders could say. “Trump voters. They let the business cartel send their jobs overseas so that they could stop gay marriage, end abortion and build a border wall. Instead, the elites are using the money they made to steal the nomination from their candidate. Ouch. Maybe they should vote for a Democrat. We won’t fight their culture war either, but at least we’ll fight to protect their jobs and votes.”
Trump voters who are drawn to fear, anger and discrimination won’t be moved, but those who are truly weighing the issues that affect them just might. If Sanders could pull even 10 percent of Trump supporters across the aisle, Democrats probably gain the 1-2 percentage points they need to lock up the general election. If another 10 percent stay home, the Republicans could lose in a landslide.
Sanders has been knocked for not raising money for other Democrats. If he would adjust his stump speech to target Trump supporters, he might give them something more valuable: votes.
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