7 ways you can help beat Trump in 2020

By Election Day, Tuesday, November 3, Donald Trump will have been in office ENTIRELY TOO LONG. 

If Trump has not been removed from office first, we must be certain the voters remove him in the 2020 election!  We can be certain that Trump and the Russians will do everything possible to besmirch our candidates with lies, tweets and social media to excite his base and depress our turnout–just as they did in 2016.

Based on decades of political action, this post is my best effort to survey the broad landscape for winning the 2020 Presidential election and provide an outline of my suggestions for the 7 ways to beat Trump and the Russians in 2020.  These are the personal opinions of  a grumpy old man, and do not reflect the opinions of anyone else.  If you disagree with me, send me a comment.

THE Seven WAYS TO BEAT TRUMP IN 2020:

  1. Build state and local Democratic Party organizations
  2. Strength throughout the nominating process
  3. Monitor negative social media activity daily
  4. Develop and support volunteers
  5. Register voters, especially renters
  6. Target turnout
  7. Go to enemy territory

            Build state and local Democratic Party organizations

National presidential campaigns often destroy local organizations.  I have seen that happen time and again.  National campaign managers seem to find most state and local organizations to be difficult to organize into the national campaign.  For this reason,  they often build their organizations at the expense of  state and local organizations, sapping their financial strength and their volunteers.  This weakens their ability to support local candidates and legislative candidates during the presidential election. It can take years to recover.   In my opinion, this was one of the reasons for the terrible performance of Democratic candidates in 2010.

Weakening state and local organizations hurts the chances for a national victory while damaging campaigns for state and local offices.  Certainly, the “coat-tail effect” brings out more Democrats than in off year elections.  But ignoring local organizations can also lose the national contest.  An example is Flint, Michigan, where local leaders were bypassed and Clinton lost the city by a margin big enough to have turned the presidential race in Michigan.

If you cannot change the national campaign, how can you help strengthen your state and local parties?  In one election, we organized a parallel group of a thousand volunteers to work on registering renters.  This group became the corps needed for local, targeted  GOTV efforts that elected a majority in both houses of our legislature.  You can organize similar efforts around Democratic women’s clubs, Sierra Clubs, Young Dems or campus groups.  Some of these efforts can be legally coordinated with party organizations and candidates, as long as campaign contribution rules are observed.*  By starting early and keeping active, you can build a group that supports the national campaign without being overtaken by it.  And then, there is no prohibition in your telling your volunteers it is now time to work with the Democratic organization on GOTV.  (*As a general rule, any expenditure of funds for materials or services that mentions a candidate or organization must be reported as a contribution by that candidate or organization; and making an independent expenditure for any effort in coordination with a candidate must be reported.)

Many thought leaders have also given up on state and local party organizations, but I think this is a mistake.  These groups are faced with many challenges like scarce resources, diverse leadership, and internal squabbles.  They also have little prestige, no media access, and conflicting demands from officeholders, from active members, and from regulators.  However, they have earned a degree of loyalty from a very large base of voters who were either born into the partly or who have joined because of shared beliefs, shared friendships, and a desire to have a positive impact.  Having the good will to help these organizations where you can will go a long way to winning important elections.

I believe it is especially important to support Democratic state legislative races in 2020, as these legislatures will often be important to state and federal redistricting in 2021.  Our state and most other states have very active organizations who support legislators in key races.  Our two groups, the House Majority Project and the Senate Majority Fund, each has a paid director, helps recruit and train campaign managers, and helps raise money, usually to match funds raised by candidates in a limited number of winnable, marginal seats.  Our legislators in these seats need $60,000 or more to win, and most are not wealthy and will lose money on their legislative salaries of under $40,000.  Helping these carefully selected candidates win will contribute to the margin for the presidential candidate, but I have never heard of a national campaigns ever providing support to these legislative organizations.

            Build strength throughout the nominating process

            State and local organizations are often silent during their nominating processes in order to avoid seeming to favor one candidate over another.  Unfortunately, this is the very best time to start to identify and mobilize volunteers.  At the same time, this is too early for most candidates to have an effective ground game; they are also focused on party activists and voters who have voted in most past elections. 

            You can use this to your advantage.  Go to rallies and recruit volunteers.  Get volunteers from party headquarters and other groups affiliated with Democrats or with liberal causes like the Sierra Club.  Get these volunteers mobilized to register voters to participate in their caucuses or their primary elections. 

            Newly registered voters are supposed to be hard to turn out in the nominating process, and this may be true.  But it gives you an excuse to mobilize volunteers, and some fraction of their efforts will be successful.  More importantly, you will have time to build your cadre of volunteers and test for those with leadership potential.  You will build excitement and increase chances for victory in the November election.

            Monitor negative social media activity daily

            Social media is a growing force in American elections, and we need an  effort to prevent it from stealing the 2020 election for Trump and the Russians.  Negative social media is being targeted down to individuals in very small geographic areas and demographic groups.  According to one negative news outlet, progressives are less likely to transmit hostile news, while hard-right conservatives are much more apt to respond to conspiracy stories and other negative gossip, resenting to their social groups.  As yet, there is no progressive antidote to negative news from Trump and the Russians, but having volunteers monitoring conservative Facebook groups, tweets and other social media could gives us a start at self help.  Candidates cannot deny a negative rumor; that only makes them news and multiplies the gossip.  But volunteers imbedded in conservative social media could be helpful simply by calling liars out  and calling attention to the truth.  It may take a tough skin, but it may be worth it.  There may also be legal remedies.

            Develop and support volunteers

            Excited volunteers are the key to defeating Trump and winning other elections in 2020 and beyond.  Excited volunteers will accomplish their tasks happily and will come back again and again.  Some will devote hundreds of hours, becoming leaders, and a few will become party officials.  I have personally seen several groups of volunteers over the years replace former officers and take over much improved party organizations.  Excited volunteers will also recruit other volunteers.  They will excite their friends, family members, social groups and social media followers, increasing eventual voter turnout.  This is what I call “volunteer enhancement” below.

            The first key to making an excited political volunteer is to have an appropriate set of volunteer tasks.  The tasks must be relatively easy and without undue stress.  Unfortunately, national presidential campaigns have adopted high-stress uses of volunteers   One of these is called “voter preference identification,” where the volunteer is expected to go door to door with a long list of questions to ask prospective voters.  This is trying to turn volunteers into “Fuller-Brush Salesmen,” a mode of door to door selling that died because it is so stressful.  Most volunteers are burned out after a few blocks because of the anxiety of knocking on a door and then waiting for an unknown response from someone who may be eating, watching TV, napping, or not even home.  The other use of volunteers is calling “lazy Dems” to identify their preferences or to get them to vote.  This is not quite as hard on the volunteer, but because it is so ineffective and stressful, most volunteers will only put in an hour before they make an excuse to go home and not show up again.

            The second key to making an excited political volunteer is to have an appropriate set of tasks ready within minutes after he or she indicates an interest in volunteering.  Most political organizations put potential volunteers on a list and tell them, “we will call you back.”  I have seen lots of those lists where the follow up was after a month or two.  More than half the time, the potential volunteer has found something else to do.  They are no longer excited.

            RegisterRenters provides both appropriate tasks and immediate action.  A volunteer can go to any open apartment building and deliver 200 registration packets in an hour.  Or a volunteer can print and organize 200 packets in an hour for someone who wants to deliver them.  Or a volunteer can help by calling Democrats registered in a locked  apartment building and arrange for someone to show up and deliver the packets.  These three volunteers can join into a  team of volunteers  and encourage each other.

            The final key to developing and supporting volunteers is to provide them with clear instructions, helpful direction, encouragement and social interaction.  I have seen a pot-luck dinner provide the catalyst for organizing a hundred very excited  volunteers.  This keeps anxiety low as people are able to identify with others who are excited about doing similar tasks.

            But most importantly, the volunteer leader should a person who is willing to invest his or her  time with others.  This is not a common personality trait.  Volunteer organization means your attention must be on your volunteers.  You cannot be too busy writing speeches, raising money or discussing policy positions.  You must be willing to talk to your volunteers, spend time going out with them, being cheerful and undistracted, and listening seriously to their suggestions and complaints.  If this is not you, recruit a volunteer coordinator who fits this description.

            Register voters, especially renters

            The backers of National Voter Registration Day claim they registered 800,000 voters in 2018.  One social media site registered another 800,000 voters.  One million, six hundred thousand voter registrations is substantial.  But considering there are over 50 million estimated unregistered voters, 1,600,000 is just a good start.  There are dozens of other major voter registration efforts, but they hardly dent the number of voting age renters who move every year and need to re-register.  The bottom line is that we still have almost more unregistered voters than the entire population of England.

            Hillary Clinton, who won the popular vote by millions in 2016, only lost in three key states–Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin by 80,000 votes together out of 128 million votes cast.  There are a dozen possible reasons why Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, lost the election.  He had a model, he insisted on sticking to his model.  So he refused to listen to any outside criticism of his model.  And his model was wrong.  And the Clinton campaign and supporters wrung defeat out of the jaws of victory after spending a billion dollars and having a reported $62 million left in cash after paying all the bills.

            There were reportedly large numbers of potential volunteers available in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, from labor unions to women’s groups.  If a few thousand had been independently organized to register voters, Clinton’s losses could have been reversed.  To paraphrase Ben Franklin, “for want of a nail, the shoe was lost, the horse was lost, the battle was lost and the war was lost.”

            According to estimates based on RegisterRenters experience, three thousand volunteers could easily distribute a million voter registration packets at a cost of $100,000, resulting in 85,000 new voters and a net increase of roughly 70,000 Democratic votes plus up to 10,000 additional votes from volunteer enhancement–the three to one increase in voting because of volunteers exciting their base and working on targeted GOTV.  RegisterRenters alone might have reversed the Clinton loss.  That is why we want to see RegisterRenter type campaigns in every state.

            Target turnout

            Every presidential campaign works to increase turnout, but my experience suggests their model is flawed.  I was involved in one campaign where the flawed GOTV model actually reduced voter turnout by over 10%.  How can campaigns with a  billion dollars to spend make such a mistake?  By insisting, as Mook did, that campaigns be run from the top down using a “voter identification” model adopted from union elections, and by failing to spend effort to get out “likely Democratic voters” unless their preference have been identified, national Democratic campaigns will continue to underperform.

            When we began organizing our county, it was completely red.  We had one elected officeholder out of 12, and she was a conservative Democrat.  It was hard to get good candidates to run for local partisan office or for the state legislature.  After 10 years of volunteer development (over 40 pot luck dinners), voter registration, candidate recruitment and targeted GOTV, the county started to turn around.  Now, a few decades later, it is hard to get a Republican to run against our Democratic candidates–even though we have not all been saints.

            It took a lot of work to turn our county around, but the “secret sauce” was targeted GOTV.  The formula was simple:  get a list of all voters by precinct.  Have volunteers call or visit and get out all voters who were not registered Republicans in precincts that had voted 60% Democratic in the prior general election.  In precincts where performance was less than 60% Democratic, get out every voter who was listed as a Democrat or an unaffiliated voter living with a Democrat (called a DU), or an unaffiliated voter living with another unaffiliated voter (Called a UU).  Of course, we got out some Republicans, but they had a high turnout anyway, and we had found the UU voters (two unaffiliated voters living together) leaned to vote Democratic enough to make it productive to get them to the polls.  And since we started RegisterRenters, we get out every new voter who is not registered as a Republican.

            Perhaps this formula will not work in every state.  But it is certainly not a formula I have ever seen a national campaign use.  And I have seen that cost votes for the presidential candidate.

            Go to Enemy Territory

            In addition to the above recommendations, I realize there is one, overall recommendation that applies to each and every one of the others.  Go into enemy territory!  Campaigns, especially data driven Presidential campaigns, hate to spend money and time on “low performing” areas and states.  The more these areas are ignored, the lower the turnout of Democratic voters.  This makes it important to focus on cost effective campaigning in these areas.  We saw this happen in El Paso County, Colorado, where Democrats could not hope to be elected at one time.  After a few years of targeted RegisterRenters efforts, the development of a cadre of excited volunteers, the election of strong party officers, and the recruitment of excellent candidates, we have three state legislators and improving Democratic margins for statewide elections there.  Once, El Paso County was “enemy territory.”  Today it is a “land of opportunity.”

            Why are core volunteers so important in this post?

            Connections, group behavior and mob psychology.   In our era of mass communication, the political community has come to believe legitimacy consists of public image, framing and issues.  Thus, they believe candidates can be packaged and sold to the electorate like soap.  The brand of soap that most excites the electorate wins.  There is a huge financial incentive for political consultants to foster the belief that name recognition wins, even though little correlation can be shown between “spend” and results.  The consultants often get a percentage of the “spend.”  It can make them very wealthy. 

            Political  pundits and pollsters agree that most of the dwindling group of voters who show up at the polls have already established their preferences before the advertising blitz starts in August or earlier.  So the money spent on advertising to sell candidates like soap is really intended to influence a small percentage of “undecided” voters.  Often thousands of dollars are spent to sway each of these “undecided” voters with little verifiable result.  Given this mindset, volunteers have been folded into the mass marketing approach as part of the “ground game” of callers and canvassers focused on influencing marginal voters and getting identified marginal supporters to the polls.

            Well, we don’t think that’s the way the world works.  We insist that if volunteers are not excited, they will not help mobilize their base and will have a negative impact on undecided voters.  But if they are excited, they will activate their friends and family, they will mobilize their connections from the beauty shop to the gym, they will impact their groups at work or during their parties.  If enough of these volunteers are excited, their numbers will contribute to a mob psychology.  Thus, excited volunteers are the key to a wave election.  They are one reason why so many white voters supported Obama while they turned away from Clinton.

            If you have read this far, why not sign up for future posts and start your own RegisterRenters program?  If you link to this post on your social media with a “like,” you might be surprised how many of your friends want to help.