Did We Learn the Right Lessons from The Primaries?

A Lot of Lessons Were in the Offing. Are We Adapting the Right Ones?

Happy Labor Day, America. Labor does not have much to celebrate at the moment, but hope springs eternal. Which takes us to today’s topic, lessons learned in the primary season.

It has been a remarkable primary season in many ways. Not that it is quite over. There are still a few stragglers out there, including the one for NY governor. But for the most part, the party is over. It is time to assess what to carry forward from the primaries into November and beyond.

Lessons are like most human endeavors. We tend to “learn” those that fit our preconceived notions of what should be. We saw a lot of that in this round. I will do my best to avoid that trap on this page. With that forewarning, what did we learn? A lot, for sure, but it comes down to 7 key lessons. Stick to those and we are up and running.

  1. Running Against Trump is Not Enough. Not that anyone should hesitate to point out what is so wrong about this administration. And while we are at it, with his congressional enablers. But the math is clear. A majority of the population has figured out that truth. On the other side, a core element will never accept it, no matter what evidence is in front of them. Give people you can reach a reason to turn out and vote FOR you. Give the others a reason to stay home. Persuasion is great. Turnout is essential. 
  2. Forget the Old Debate About Centrist vs Leftist. For the most part, this is a set of labels that is meaningless. More on the press role in a moment. There is a pretty solid consensus among much of the US population on what they want government to do. For a great many of them, they don’t care what you call it, they just want it done. Candidates across a broad spectrum of democratic candidates called for very similar platforms (more on that shortly).
  3. Which Brings Us to the Media’s Failure. The media seems unable to resist looking for a horse race. They did this in 2016, and here we are again. WAY too much went into talking about which candidates were from the Hillary or the Sanders camp. Enough, already. The winning candidate for governor of Florida is a perfect example of how the rest of us have moved on. He was an early and strong Clinton supporter. Sanders supported him in this race. His positions fit well with both those national figures. Knock it off, media, and move forward.
  4. Correct the Most Egregious Actions by This Administration. This is a long list, but it is important not to turn the next two years into an orgy of “whatever they did, we will reverse.” That is exactly what Trump has done and people have had enough of that. Pick the ones that are so obviously wrong, tell the story clearly, make the repairs. From the hollowing of the consumer protection assets, to siding with the worst of the for-profit schools in piling up student debt, to killing hibernating bear cubs, to opening our national parks for drilling, etc. The list is long. Let’s get to it. 
  5. Stand for Something: We like people who are clear about what they stand for, call BS when they see it, work hard to find some middle ground to work any given issue, and own it when they fall short. Many candidates to the left have done well this season because they followed this advice. They are likely to do well in the Fall for the same reasons.
  6. There is a Pretty Well-Defined Democratic Platform. We can (and will) argue important details of a platform. But almost all Democratic candidates in this season have the following positions. and you will not find many Democrats of any shade who disagrees with the fundamentals:

        — Wages. A replacement of the minimum wage with a substantially increased living wage, indexed to inflation going forward.

        — ICE. A complete clean up and refocus of ICE, whether you keep the moniker or call it something else. In my view, dissolving ICE is a distraction, as there are functions that must be performed. But reasonable people can disagree on that. I want it fixed, by whatever route. The episodes we are hearing should be unacceptable to all Americans.

       — Immigration. Most serious people would agree that a country needs border security. We are willing to support that as a national good. But we are not going to sign off on a ridiculous and expensive wall that no one needs. We want comprehensive immigration reform that establishes a path to citizenship. DACA gets codified in law. A real guest worker program that helps businesses and farmers while ensuring fair treatment of workers.

   — Taxes and Deficits. Trump has managed to screw the country royallyon both these counts. Soak the Rich is a fun slogan, but not a very useful policy. Let’s resist that battle cry. Instead, let’s just get some fairness in the tax system. Pretty well everything brought about by congress or this administration does the opposite. Kill it all, with legislation.

     — Anticorruption through Transparency. This must be the most corrupt administration in modern history. There are too many loopholes that made this possible. A bunch of people were/are ready to steal from the taxpayers. Elizabeth Warren’s bill looks like an excellent place to start. By the way, a lot of Democrats will say nice things about such a bill but will resist it behind the scenes. No one should get a pass on this, and if it ever does go forward, pay attention to the amendments offered. If you have not read it, do so. Here is a link: https://www.vox.com/2018/8/21/17760916/elizabeth-warren-anti-corruption-act-bill-lobbying-ban-president-trump

There is much more we should learn, of course, but you get the point. If you are not a rabid, “I will die with him in the bunker” Trumpanista, you likely agree with pretty much of the above. So, too, does most of the country.

The Republicans have taken the opposite track. The key to winning most of their primaries (but not all) was who could be the most like Trump. That worked in the primary. I suspect that by November this will recognized as short sighted. If the Republican party of tomorrow looks like their candidates for governor of Georgia and Florida, they deserve the place in history that awaits them.

There are 65 days until November 6. Use them to point out what is lacking elsewhere, but more to articulate what changes and why if a new sheriff is in town.

   Bill Clontz

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