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It’s His Character, Stupid!

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With Republicans circling the wagons around a president who slurred Black countries with his “shithole” comment, Trump is said to be actively casting his gaze upon the 2020 election, in which he apparently expects to be running for re-election.

Gingrich weighed in the other day, declaring, If the economy is good, Trump wins easily. If the economy is bad, he has a tough time.” The economy is certainly good now. Trump takes credit for the stock market’s incredible performance, although anyone can see that the Dow has been on a 45-degree upward trajectory since 2009.

I’m as happy as the next guy with how well my stock-based investments are doing, but there is something about the current numbers that reminds me of Alan Greenspan’s “irrational exuberance” remark, uttered 20 years ago. There will undoubtedly be a correction, but nobody knows when it will come (although it will probably be before the 2020 election), or how it will impact the way voters feel.

But let’s assume the economy will be roaring along in November, 2020. Let’s assume, further, that Trump is still president. Republicans will be reminding Americans all the time about how “President Trump revived the economy after the Obama no-growth years.” It’s a lie, of course, but a lot of people will believe it. How do Democrats respond?

To begin with, they’ll need a good candidate and a good message. I believe they have the message: inclusiveness, equality, a restoration of decency in the White House, less of an inclination to go to war, providing affordable healthcare for everyone, respect for science, ending Citizens United, protecting Dreamers, mending relations with Allies, and so on. I believe they’ll find a good candidate, and it might be someone who’s not even on the radar right now. (Right now, I’m looking at Mark Cuban.) But there’s something else Democrats are going to have to do.

They’re going to have to convince people who voted for Trump in 2016 to turn against him, even if they, personally, are benefiting from a rip-roaring economy. How do you change a person’s deeply-held beliefs? I was reading an article yesterday in the San Francisco Chronicle about Pope Francis’ visit to Chile, which occurs in the midst of a huge priest-sex scandal in that country. The article quoted “a 57-year old secretary” as saying, “I used to be a strong believer and churchgoer. [But now], all the contradictions have pushed me away.”

Remarkable. A faithful Roman Catholic woman, who has believed all her life, has lost her faith due to years of sex scandals that were hushed up by the Church. What lessons can Democrats learn from this?

The big lesson is that changing people’s most deeply-held beliefs can be done. Even the most passionate Trump believer in 2016 can be switched into an anti-Trump voter in 2020. How? As with the Chilean secretary, it must be done through moral and ethical arguments. She believed in the Roman church with all her heart, but an even deeper streak of belief was her basic human compassion and regard for decency and truth. When it dawned upon her that her beloved Church was engaged in some truly awful behavior, and was covering it up with lies, she finally had had enough.

I think Democrats should continue to hammer away at Trump’s character, or lack thereof. Lord knows, he’ll give Democrats plenty of opportunities to do so. The “shithole” remark, bad as it was, will be followed by others even worse. That’s Trump’s style. The more red meat he throws to his base, the hungrier they get for more; and Trump, the zoomaster, is happy to comply.

So to those Democrats who counsel focusing less on Trump’s character and more on objective political and economic issues, I say: No. Most Americans—even those who voted for Trump—have a basic core of decency. They are repelled by people whose indecency is evident. Many Trump voters knew in November, 2016, that Trump was not a decent man, but they voted for him anyway because they wanted some kind of change. But many more Americans now realize just how thoroughly indecent Trump really is. He’s his own worst enemy, and a wise Democratic strategy is to remind voters, over and over and over again, of two things: One, the stock market started improving under Obama, and two, if you wouldn’t leave your daughter alone with Trump for five minutes, then you shouldn’t vote for him no matter how well your 401(k) is doing.

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