There were many lessons from the stunning Conor Lamb victory in Pennsylvania this week. Here is a great overview of Lamb’s campaign and victory from Dick Polman at WHYY:
Of all the lessons, it seems increasingly clear that to succeed in the midterm, our congressional candidate should not spend much time attacking Donald Trump, as Polman points out in his article. His advice reminded me of an article early in the Trump disaster by Andrea Carugati, an Italian who wanted to teach Americans how to combat billionaire authoritarians, lessons learned from the decades-long fight against Silvio Berlusconi, who is Trump’s European doppelganger. The similarities between the two are uncanny.
Carugati describes the Berlusconi style as “personalized politics” and that surely fits Donald Trump. Trump doesn’t attack the policy, he attacks the person. He personalizes everything. The conversation is always about him versus his enemies. Carugati notes that using ridicule and shame against this kind of bully only solidifies support for him. The way to beat him is to stay focused on the policies that are actually hurting people.
It’s clear that the Democratic base is highly motivated, so our candidates don’t need to stoke the fires of their anger. They don’t need to play the Trump game of ad hominem attacks to increase turnout. Indeed, the challenge is to make sure that the voters in the middle, the moderate Democrats and Independents who went for Trump, can feel comfortable with our Democratic candidate. And that comfort comes not from anger at the disgusting personality of Donald Trump and his reprehensible enablers like John Faso, who they may have voted for in the past, but from offering policies and positions that will help them keep their healthcare and pensions and jobs.
It will be impossible for Democratic political candidates in 2018 to completely avoid faulting and attacking Donald Trump because his presidency is such a vile, abnormal train wreck. But the majority of their campaign messaging must center on issues, not personalities. And that is what Conor Lamb demonstrated in PA. He constantly supported the ACA and the people in his district who rely on it. He constantly denounced the Tax Scam and pointed out that it only helped the rich. He consistently supported unions and the security that they created.
As Polman noted, it’s not enough for Democrats to scream about what they are against. They must be clear, passionate and consistent about what they are FOR. The personal attacks detract from the affirmative plans we care about that will put our nation back on a sane and safe track. It often feels cathartic to vent our rage and anxiety at Trump and his supporters, but it’s not a winning strategy. Sticking to the issues and letting people know what we stand for is the path to victory in 2018. That’s how we will fire Faso, and eventually fire Don the Con.