It’s another Sunday, so for those who tune in, welcome to a diary discussing the Nuts & Bolts of a Democratic campaign. If you’ve missed out, you can catch up any time: Just visit our group or follow the Nuts & Bolts Guide. Every week I try to tackle issues I’ve been asked about. With the help of other campaign workers and notes, we address how to improve and build better campaigns, or explain issues that impact our party.
This week I want to take on the confidence problem; that is, the under- and overconfidence problem, and why none of it should matter. I’ve heard slogans from different campaigns: “Fight like we’re 10 points behind!” “Know we’ve got this, and carry that excitement with you!” and everything in between. The moment I will most remember, however, is coming down the escalator at the 2016 convention behind a Sanders delegation from his meeting. They were speaking amongst themselves when I heard: ”Hillary doesn’t need us. I will never vote for her. If we end up with Trump, maybe that’s what’s best—burn it all down.” I still, to this day, get some of that same pushback in my Twitter feed and email. Trump 2020 faces a far bigger problem than Trump 2016. It isn’t just about his past four years. It’s about the fact that people now know he can win. That motivation is very different than four years ago. It should let us know that we will—and we must—win. It also tells us that the confidence game isn’t one Democratic candidates play well.
It’s easier to protest vote when you feel as though it doesn’t matter
There is some anger and zeal behind a protest vote. Anger enough to say: “This is not the candidate I wanted.” Passion to protest it. Conviction to know that no one will be harmed. You sit out a presidential vote in Idaho and you think, “Who cares?” While the national electoral college matters, you know that the weight of the popular vote after the electoral win can still put pressure on the person elected—they know things are shifting, even down the ballot, even if your state isn’t close.
When the election turns the other way, however, you find that your protest suddenly opens up an opportunity you couldn’t imagine. In 2016, just like those delegates going down the escalator in front of me, I know many that I met in several states laid out the same story: It doesn’t matter; Hillary Clinton is on a glide path; I’m going to protest vote. Donald Trump simply doesn’t have that in his back pocket in 2020. Those protest voters now realize that Trump is a danger. Too many moderate Republicans who gave him a chance because of “his policies” now regret it—terribly. In a conference call this week, someone referred to it as “The Country Club and Young Kids problem.” Moderate Republicans didn’t like explaining to other moderate Republicans about their support of Donald J. Trump, which they found difficult, and they didn’t want their children emulating Donald J. Trump. One of the questions asked was directly to people who had children of elementary school age: As parents, did they wanted Donald J. Trump as a role model for their child? Overwhelmingly, the answer was no.
The reality is, very few people see Trump as a role model. It was easier to support him when they wanted to talk about the issues they believe in. Now it’s all twisted up in the president’s hatred and wild language. This creates opportunities for Democratic candidates—and a minor problem.
Overconfidence is real
One problem that Democratic voters have had is that overconfidence can cause Democratic voters to stay home. Overconfidence screamed into the wild in 2018. Democratic consultants and others warned about overconfidence coming down toward Election Day. Overconfidence can be real. Campaigns that fail to work hard, thinking they have it “in the bag,” fall victim to it. There has to be a tipping point between the right amount of confidence and the right amount of work. Encouraging campaign workers to remember what happened in 2016 and to work diligently and hard in 2020 is a big part of any election plan that leads to a Biden and local candidate victory.
Setting up a strategy that encourages work while bringing the joy of “we are working toward a win” is often the way to build toward success. If you’ve ever worked inside of a campaign, you know the difference between the feeling of a campaign that is in trouble and a campaign that feels pretty good about where they are. There’s no doubt about it: The Trump campaign knows they’re in trouble.
These numbers should filter all the way up and down the ballot to turn out every Democratic voter possible—to get them to the polls to make a statement. I don’t care how red your district is; now is the time to talk to the voters there and say: “Just for yourself, for your own conscience, don’t you want to live your life knowing that you said no to this madness?”
It’s far more effective an argument than you think. You can find a few deep-red-state Democratic governors who can tell you all about it.
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