This ideological encirclement chart explains why we lost Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Back in March, I published a diary: Pivoting to the center doesn't help if you've been surrounded. It got some play back then, but I had sort of forgotten that piece. Eight month feels like a lifetime ago.
Some of it was prescient so I will quote, in part, what I wrote:
The median voter strategy is effective when competing against candidates who play on the left/right axis and when the views of voters follow a normal distribution along this axis. But that is not the case in this cycle, because we have an unconventional candidate in Trump. Trump isn’t following the strategy in the conventional sense. He is looking at a different map, a map that looks like the one headlining this article.
And his views are not a fixed range on this map either. I had a tough time situating his tax plan which calls for no income taxes on any married couple earning less than $50,000. I ended up creating a separate circle for him near progressive taxation. The same goes for his critique of pay-to-play politics. It’s almost as if he plays hopscotch with ideological categories (which feeds into his narrative of independence). On this two dimensional ideological map, he encircles the center. If the center is weak because the electorate is polarized, the middle might be as empty as a doughnut hole. If the electorate is skewed towards the left, then a clear left candidate can fend off encirclement there and that might be the optimal strategy.
Trump iterates positions rapidly, picking and discarding ideas as he goes. Unlike conventional Republican politicians, he is permitted to do this because:
- He has no ideological debts to the conservative movement
- He claims to strive for effectiveness (that’s what "make a great deal" means)
- Voters have low expectations and allow him to learn as he goes along
When his positions are evaluated, Drumpf does not sit on the conventional left/right divide. Quite literally, he spans the left/right divide on economic policies, with some that are populist (protectionist trade policies, progressive taxation, universal health-care) and others that have traditionally been on the right (deregulation, cutting Federal agencies). But he is careful not to take stances that directly penalize the poor and middle-class.
To those accustomed to conventional American politics it looks as if Trump hopscotches around the map, picking positions seemingly at random. He expresses socially liberal views (planned parenthood does great work), extreme authoritarian views on law and order (go after terrorist’s families), protectionist sentiment on trade (force companies to produce goods here), 2nd amendment rights and forced decryption in terrorism cases. The authoritarian bent is clearly evident, but there are a number of outlier positions.
His protectionist trade policy is what seems to have cut through and made an impact in the Mid-Western states, which is why we lost.
If Bernie’s candidacy fails, I suspect in some eyes, the mantle of authenticity (no political correctness), competence (great deals) and independence (I didn’t take millions from donors) will pass to Trump. Worse, his ideological encirclement of Hillary may see voters on the economic left head towards Trump. And that is truly as frightening as MB laid out.
To many ears, his claims that he will “make the best deals”, playing fast and loose with ideology (“I’m my own man”) sound like independence and pragmatism, and they’re coupled with claims of competence (at making deals apparently). Playing the pivot to center game and assuming that will bag the median voters is a risk with a candidate who spans left and right. Especially if he can find the self-control to moderate his tone in the general election.
Remember how back in August we heard about the Clinton team’s elaborately thought out plan to recruit GOP voters?
This is an anti-establishment, anti-pay-to-play cycle with an opponent who does not play along the customary ideological map. For a conventional candidate to succeed, they have to be extraordinarily talented. By her own admission, Hillary is not a “natural”. Democrats ignore the risks at our peril.
I really don’t know what to say.