Why Trump Won the White House - Sunday Political Brunch May 26, 2019

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MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin – This past week I visited my birthplace and the city where I grew up. It will be hosting the 2020 Democratic National Convention. It was a good choice since Democrats must win back this blue-collar state if the party hopes to defeat President Trump’s reelection bid. A lot of my Democrat friends believe it’s already a done deal, but I say over confidence sunk the arty in 2016 and could again in 2020. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“Why Trump Won: The Disenfranchised Factor” – 2020 marks the 16th presidential campaign in my lifetime and the 11th I will cover as a reporter. I can think of only four elections where the winning candidate successfully appealed to a large block of voters who felt disenfranchised by the system. Those victors were Richard Nixon in 1968, Bill Clinton in 1992, Barrack Obama in 2008, and Donald Trump in 2016. The fact that we’ve had two back-to-back presidential nominees do this - albeit from both ends of the political spectrum - is fascinating. Both Obama and Trump were able to reach and inspire large numbers of people who felt left out of the political process.

“Why Trump Won: The Immigration Factor” – Exit polls show one of the strongest issues for Trump voters was the problem of illegal immigration. Various studies put the estimated number of people in the country without legal permission to be about 12 million and growing. The two parties offered very different priorities. Democrats sought a path to legal citizenship for millions of children brought here illegally by their parents, while Republicans offered to build a wall. The GOP plan was embraced as tough (and by critics extreme), while the Democratic plan was looked at as fair and practical for the co-called “dreamers” (but weak on all other immigration policies). Trump won this issue going away on tough talk, whether a wall is plausible or not.

“Why Trump Won: Democrats Overconfidence” – It seemed to so many people to be a slam dunk. Donald Trump was fading in the polls, but he was out campaigning hard. Hillary Clinton took on an air of inevitability and campaigned less in person. Clinton had won the Wisconsin Primary in the spring, and never set foot in the state for the remainder of the campaign. It was a strategic blunder. Wisconsin is one of those states where retain politics still matters. As I passed factories and bowling allies on my trip this week, I thought of all the candidates who visited those spots at midnight, noon or in between, shaking hands and asking for votes in sub-zero temperatures. Hillary Clinton declined to do that, and it cost her Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania (the three states that put Trump in the White House.

“Why Trump Won: The Strategy” – About six weeks before the election, a high-level Trump campaign operative laid out the battle plan for me. With about three weeks left on the campaign, the Trump team would pull major assets out of Florida, North Carolina and Ohio. Internal polling showed them winning all three. Those resources (and money) would be re-deployed in the toss up states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. The Clinton campaign largely believed only Pennsylvania was vulnerable, so it did not take seriously the Trump threat on Michigan and Wisconsin. Having grown up in Wisconsin, but with a close eye on Michigan politics, I thought Clinton was safe in those two, but felt strongly that Trump would carry the largest prize of Pennsylvania. Still, by my math, that would fall short of the White House keys. Boy was I wrong, as he won all three states.

“Why All of this Matters” – It matters because I watch a Democratic Party that may be about to repeat every mistake I laid out here from 2016. Party faithful I speak with assume it’s over for Trump whether the nominee is former Vice President Joe Biden or a far lesser-known candidate such as Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D) Hawaii. The Democrats need to find an appeal to people who feel cut out of the system, who usually don’t vote, and motivate them to get to the polls. Democrats must put forth a tough plan on illegal immigration, even if there is no wall funding. They can’t look passive on this issue, while Trump talks tough (even if he can’t do what he promises). They also need to have a coherent strategy to win back other potential swing states such as Ohio and Iowa, both of which Trump won in 2016. You just can’t assume you’ll win states where the party has performed well before. You must fight for every inch of ground.

Have you made up your mind on a Democrat candidate for 2020? You have at east two dozen from whom to choose. Tell us your pick, by clicking the comment button.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is a nationally-known political writer and author. These days he’s the Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving the State of West Virginia the five surrounding states, including most of the Washington, D.C. media market. He’s a National Contributing Writer for the White House Patch on www.Patch.com.

© 2019, Mark Curtis Medi, LLC.

Photo Courtesy: Tracy Curtis/Mark Curtis Media, LLC

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