The tape of Donald Trump bragging about sexual assault, followed by the testimony of at least eight woman confirming he engaged in it, may have finally done what his year-long attacks on Muslims, Mexicans, the disabled, war heroes, the leadership of the US military and oh so many others, along with his Putin bromance, had not yet done—disqualified Trump as President and Commander-In-Chief in the minds of enough voters that his chances of winning are increasingly unlikely.
But assuming Hillary Clinton does eke out a victory in this ugly and dispiriting election campaign, it will be from a sullen and angry electorate—a majority of whom don’t trust her—who pick the lesser of two evils, give her no governing mandate, and perhaps leaves the Republicans with a majority in the Senate.
A cautious Clinton Pre-Vent Defense could end up preventing the Democrats from winning the Senate which is the minimum pre-condition for a President Clinton to be able to govern and, in particular, win confirmation of Supreme Court Justices.
Clinton has a choice for what kind of campaign she wants to run for the final three weeks. She can win ugly by playing Pre-Vent defense and relying on Trump’s self-destruction. Or she can use the last debate and the remaining three weeks of the campaign to go full metal progressive policy and lay out a specific positive populist vision that will address the worries of the majority of the electorate and tell them how her Presidency will make their lives better.
Yes, I know Clinton’s website is packed with 10-point plans on 20 different issues. And her default answer to most policy questions in the first two debates, and on the stump, has been to tell the voters to go to hillaryclinton.com to find out her position on the issue at hand. But most voters aren’t going to do that.
The question of whether Clinton’s strategy should focus mainly on discrediting Trump or also emphasize a positive progressive policy message is highlighted by two new polls from Stan Greenburg and James Carville’s Democracy Corp, one of battleground states and one of millennials.
Per the poll, Clinton has not yet succeeded in consolidating Democratic and Democratic leaning independents behind herself and Democratic Senatorial candidates. In battleground states, Clinton is only winning 78% of Obama voters. And only 62% of Democrats and Democratic leaning independents are currently planning to vote for Democratic Senatorial candidates.
The problem is particularly acute among millennials. Clinton is only getting 40% of their vote while 31% say they are not now voting for a major party candidate. Moreover, in a parallel national poll, only 49% of millennials say they are extremely interested in voting at all. Nearly 60% of millennials say “we need a revolution in this country and we don’t have time for incremental change,” including 50% of millennials who voted for Clinton in the primaries.
Democracy Corps tested two alternative Clinton campaign messages—one primarily anti-Trump and one with a positive populist economic message. The positive populist economic message had a significantly greater impact on motivating the unconsolidated potential Democratic voters. It read as follows:
“We need to make our economy work for everyone, not just the rich and well connected. Too many CEOs move jobs overseas and use lobbyists to win the day. Democrats have a plan to rewrite the rules of the economy that limits the role of big money in politics. The wealthy must pay their fair share of taxes. And it provides affordable childcare, equal pay for women, making college affordable, and large infrastructure investments to create jobs. But if we want to get these things done, we need a Democratic majority in Congress.”
According to Democracy Corps, a large 61% majority found this a convincing reason to vote Democratic for Senate. Over half of the the unconsolidated Democratic voters who need the most convincing found this argument a convincing reason to vote for Democratic candidates.
Based on these polls, to guarantee victory in the Presidential race, a Democratic majority in the Senate, and big Democratic gains in the House that would allow Clinton to govern effectively, in the debate and the final three weeks of the campaign, Clinton should channel what Elizabeth Warren just told a large rally in Colorado:
“Now, thanks to Bernie Sanders, we have the most progressive Democratic platform in American history …The game is rigged. It is rigged for the Donald Trumps and the billionaires of the world. … We need your voices and power in this.”
Clinton needs to motivate voters with a handful of powerful positive progressive economic policy points repeated over and over for the rest of the campaign in the final debate, on the stump, and in campaign ads:
- Jobs, jobs, jobs: I’ll invest billions of dollars in America’s crumbling infrastructure, creating millions of new jobs and making America the green energy leader of the world.
- Trade: I unequivocally oppose the Trans Pacific Partnership and other corporate friendly trade deals that threaten American jobs, now, in the lame-duck session of Congress, and once I’m elected; no ifs, ands, buts or maybes. And I’ll take care of workers who’ve lost their jobs or seen their incomes reduced by bad past trade deals.
- Climate Change: Climate change is an existential threat to the nation and the planet. Unlike Donald Trump, who believes Climate Change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, combating climate change will be at the center of my domestic and foreign policy.
- Supreme Court: I’ll appoint Justices who will overturn Citizens United, protect voting rights, maintain a woman’s right to choose, and defend the legal rights of citizens against voracious corporations.
- Immigration: I support comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship for undocumented workers who obey the law, pay their taxes and contribute to society.
- Women’s rights: As I said in China, women’s rights are human rights. I’ll protect women’s health and insure equal pay for equal work.
That’s the kind of message that can win over undecided voters, drive a large turnout, and insure not only a large personal victory for Clinton in the Presidential election, but a Democratic Senate, substantial Democratic gains in the house, and a governing mandate to bring real meaningful change. As Robert Reich points out, if Clinton ekes out a victory without a progressive mandate, it will effectively be a win for corporations and the Paul Ryan wing of the Republican Party who will dictate what she can accomplish as President, insure that the real concerns that drove both the Trump and Sanders insurgencies go unaddressed, increase economic inequality, and make it likely that a smoother, less uncouth Trump takes power in four years.