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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Teixeira: Dems Must Mobilize Base, But Also Strive to Win More Working-Class Voters

Alex Carp has a revealing interview with Ruy Teixeira, author of influential political books, including “The Optimistic Leftist: Why the 21st Century Will Be Better Than You Think” and (co-author with John Judis) of “The Emerging Democratic Majority,” at New York Magazine’s Daily Intelligencer. In one section of the interview Teixeira talks about the problems of the Clinton campaign messaging  strategy, and the implications for the future.

…Look at Hillary Clinton’s platform, for example, and the things she was supposedly running on. She actually had a lot of pretty good ideas for things that would benefit white non-college-graduates, even ideas that were specific to those areas of the country where they’re concentrated. But she didn’t talk about them; she didn’t even go to these places, by and large.

In fact, she didn’t really talk about policy. There’s a now well-known study of campaign advertising that showed Hillary Clinton was at a historically low level. She spent money like crazy — she way outspent Donald Trump, but the advertising was all about how Trump was not a progressive, he wasn’t a good guy, he didn’t like black people and Latinos and immigrants, and he’s intolerant, his issues with women, and so on. But very little of it was about what she actually would do for people, what her policies were.

As far as messaging goes, Clinton talked quite a lot about economic issues and reforms in her speeches. But, as Teixeira points out, her ads were much more focused on criticizing Trump. Perhaps one of the lessons of the 2016 presidential campaign is that campaign speeches are generally not well-covered. Indeed, when you see campaign speech coverage on television news, it’s usually a very short soundbite, and not always the best one. Clinton’s speech coverage was further undermined by Trump’s almost daily bomb-throwing tweets. Thus, speeches are good for rallying the host audience, but not so much for influencing swing voters nation-wide. Ads may be more powerful for meeting this last challenge, and candidates must use them to pitch their policies and vision, not just to beat up on the adversary.

Teixeira is more hopeful about the future:

I think that’ll be corrected. Is there a single policy or two policies that they’ll talk about? I don’t know. But I think there’s going to be a lot of ripe targets from the first two years of the Trump administration, in terms of them doing and saying things that are directly an attack upon those people. And these voters voted for Trump because they thought he was going to solve their problems. This is something that the left should hang on to with tenacity. Don’t typecast these voters as voting for Trump just because he had reactionary views on immigration or race or what have you. These voters want their lives to be better, and they thought that Trump could make it better. When this doesn’t happen, when things don’t get a lot better, and in fact when things might even get worse in some ways, that’s an opening.

Asked “Do you think the recent wave of outreach to white working-class voters by Democratic strategists and thinks tanks is smart?,” Teixeira responds:

I do, I do. There is some debate about this, obviously. There are people who have made the case that essentially these voters are hopeless and that the real problem is not investing enough in mobilizing base Democratic voters, but I think that’s crazy, basically. Clearly, you can and should do both!

Any party worth its salt mobilizes its base, and it would be silly not to. But I think it’s political malpractice not to go out there and try to narrow your deficits among these very large groups of people in very important parts of the country. And if it requires somewhat more resources than you’ve been investing to do it, of course you should do it. I mean, I don’t even think it should be much of a debate.

Earlier in the interview Teixeira acknowledges that “even though the Democrats represented more people, they were inefficiently distributed for political purposes,” as a result of systemic problems, including gerrymandering, the small state advantage Republicans enjoy in the Senate and the distortion of voting power in the Electoral College — all of which have undercut the political advantage of demographic trends favoring Democrats.

Democrats now appear to be much more attentive to addressing these structural problems, and hopefully, a little wiser about what issues and vision to emphasize in campaigns. Add to that the growing rifts in the GOP, and Democratic prospects for 2018 and 2020 look much improved than was the case just after the election.

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