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Dems’ 2018 Political Campaign Strategy: ‘Let’s Look Beyond Trump’

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Democrats say they eagerly await 2018. But we all know from experience that making a big bet on the midterm pendulum to swing back in that party’s favor, even despite President Donald Trump’s terrible approval ratings bolstered only by his ultra-conservative base, still looks pretty scary.

Why scary? Well, 2016 was a nightmare for the Dems, who felt invincible but still lost big because they didn’t factor droves of voters disaffected by “politics as usual” -- particularly in rural America.

Democrats announcing their “Better Deal” economic platform in late July actually was a better deal for the party’s immediate future. Mounting an all-out smear campaign against the Oval Office and GOP leaders would’ve been an easy road for many liberals (incensed over alleged GOP corruption, disregard for truth, and general recklessness).

But would blasting Trump’s brand be the high road? More importantly, would it ultimately be the effective road? Therein lies a conundrum for your political campaign strategy, no matter what level of office.

To put it diplomatically, Republicans are operating under an alternate moral reality. Trump might look like garbage to liberals, some conservatives, and even the rest of the world. But many in his widespread base, Big Business, and Wall Street cling vehemently to their positive views of his presidency and the state of domestic and international affairs.

You can’t win by slamming that worldview.

How can you win? By analyzing the views of your constituency and marketing a message that actually resonates.

‘Better Deal’ … and What It Would Take to Get There

To look beyond Trump, Democrats crafted their “Better Deal” campaign to gain congressional majorities in 2018 around an economic identity. The left correctly believes that even minor victories in the House and Senate next year will be impossible without balancing the energy of ultra-liberal activists with the needs of centrists and moderate conservatives, whom they can’t afford to lose.

In fact, some political analysts say Democrats can’t win without gaining even more Republican votes.

Modern electoral history indicates the president’s party has lost an average of 25 House seats and 4 Senate seats in midterms since World War II. But as this great CNBC analysis aptly put it: "Past performance is no guarantee of future results." With seemingly no time to spare in solidifying its liberal base and wooing “the Dark Side,” that’s likely why Democrats announced the “Better Deal” agenda more than 15 months before November 2018.

Democrats must defend 5 Senate seats in states Trump carried by 19 percentage points or more last year. As a precursor, several special congressional elections held ahead of the midterms have not gone their way. However, they’ve seen nearly winning in those traditionally conservative districts as a positive trajectory.

But the current political climate is wonky. Right now, it’s not enough for Democrats to win their base and a good contingent of independents. Failing to woo some Republicans who are growing wobbly on the GOP will ultimately mean failure in 2018.

Meaning? Dems would fall more deeply into the Senate minority. In the House, they’d need a net gain of 24 seats to regain the majority, which would require winning some more consistently conservative districts.

The Key Takeaway for Political Campaign Strategists?

An interesting dynamic awaits your political campaign strategy, whether you’re running for Congress or City Council. Bashing conservatism likely will have little, if any, positive effect on your campaign.

Now more than ever, you must stick to the details of a strong platform:

  • Taxes
  • Wages
  • Health care
  • Environment
  • Public safety
  • Public education
  • Local/state issues

Political demographic research can help you take the pulse of your voter base and enhance your message.

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