The House has passed an overtly regressive Tax Plan while the Senate works on its own bill. Where is a Democratic Party alternative? The perfect opportunity to draw distinctions between GOP & Dems is being missed while disaffected GOP voters are looking for relief.
Sometimes a blog starts out with a clear idea of what it is going to attempt to demonstrate and then mid-stream, the flow develops a direction all its own and something surprising results. That happened this morning. What began as a blog about cratering Trump polling among those Democrats who deserted the Party in 2016, ended up leading to the question: Where is the Democratic Party alternative tax plan to what is being proposed by the GOP House and Senate? Harkening back to Naomi Klein and her most recent book: No Is Not Enough, the Democratic Party must begin to clearly articulate an alternative path and the polling numbers described below alongside the astonishing success of grassroots progressive election campaigns earlier this month should show the Party the path that needs to be followed.
Trump: Wisconsin, Michigan & Ohio Where the Election Was Won
The Messina Group, a political strategy consulting group, conducted extensive research into a very narrow band of 2016 voters: those Democrats in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania who had voted for Obama in 2012 but abandoned the Party and voted for Trump in 2016, creating two polling groups: voters in general (control group) and voters who were ‘Obama Not Clinton.’ They found that while overall, Obama Not Clinton voters were just as disappointed as the control group with Trump’s overall performance, they retained generally positive views of his performance on the economy.
The Messina Group went further than the polling data and conducted a series of focus groups with these voters and found one very predictable outcome. “The overriding opinion expressed by the [Obama Not Clinton] participants was that, yes, Donald Trump was racist, sexist, and offensive, but he was shaking up Washington and working to improve the economy. As one woman in Michigan put it, Trump “’wants to change things that everyone has been complaining or talking about for years.’”
But the Messina Group dug still deeper and in doing so found some surprising vulnerability for Trump. They found that there was significant vulnerability in Trump support among the Obama Not Clinton group, specifically in relation to their views that Trump’s incessant tweeting was distracting him and the GOP from substantially addressing their concerns. What’s more, Messina found that if economic relief is not delivered, Trump’s support among the Obama Not Clinton group absolutely craters. Messina Group’s ultimate message to Democrats: “Progressives across the country should be driving this message relentlessly: Donald Trump is more focused on helping the rich and picking fights on Twitter than he is with making people’s lives better.” But while that might be a start, I would add that: No Is Not Enough. Returning back to the quote from Michigan woman: ‘everyone has been complaining about these things for years’ and finally someone (Trump) has promised to finally pay attention. Click here to read the Politico report summarizing the Messina Group’s work.
No Is Not Enough
Trump’s promises were not the only thing that lured these Obama Not Clinton voters to turn away from Clinton and the Democrats. As I have reiterated in prior blogs, click here for the best of these, since the Bill Clinton administration, Democrats have betrayed the poor and working families, precisely the population captured in the Obama Not Clinton surveys. Over the past 25 years, the Democratic Party has crafted slogans making promises to the poor and working families and then crafted policy that betrayed them in favor of the 1% and corporate America. As the Michigan woman described, ‘we’ve been complaining about this forever,’ And Democratic Party messaging and the campaign strategy in 2016 did not convince these voters that the Democrats would ever listen to them. It didn’t help that the campaign had a very limited presence in these crucial states in the weeks of October 2016. The Messina Group did a good job of identifying a Trump vulnerability and a Democratic Party opportunity, but their ‘messaging’ conclusion missed an important piece: The Democrats have to state very clearly what they stand for and how this responds to working families.
For some time, I have not heard mention of A Better Deal (remember that?). This was supposed to frame the Democratic message. But instead of empty and now apparently forgotten slogans, the Party needs to lay out a very specific alternative Tax Plan, one that significantly increases taxes on the upper income brackets, significantly cuts taxes on the poor and middle class and rather than cutting corporate taxes, eliminates gaping holes in our tax structure that allows mega corporations to pay nearly no taxes and stash profits overseas. The plan should also describe how tax revenue will be spent to address the long-ignored concerns of the poor and working families.
Middle America has heard too many slogans from Democrats who then get in office and craft policy that benefits their wealthy, corporate donor base. These voters finally gave up and abandoned the Party in 2016. Even with the disappointment that is inevitable whether Trump’s Tax Plan passes or not, those voters will not be lured back by yet another slogan. Throughout the country on November 7, a highly diverse group of progressive candidates with inspiring messages won back those voters and won stunning victories. If the Democratic Party is going to build on that, it is going to have to learn from it and abandon slogans and craft very specific Tax Plans, budgets and policies that draw a clear distinction between Trump’s promises and the shamelessly disingenuous policies he is proposing. That is the lesson I took from the Messina Group’s research.
Paul & Roxanne