"Democrats are losing the only fight that matters," shouts a headline at Vanity Fair. They nevertheless seem to be doing rather well in elections that postdate the election of the sitting president.
But it is not electoral fights to which Peter Hamby refers. Democrats are losing the fight to woo the jury in the court of public opinion. In that, the president dominates the battle space. In an age in which Americans possess attention spans erroneously reported as less than that of a goldfish (or a gnat), Democrats insist on communicating in forgettable fact and nuance to a population already awash in information. The man of 3,000 lies blurts out short, inflammatory untruths and, through repetition and the power of the bully pulpit, commands the attention of both press and public. He may be a slow-motion train wreck, but we cannot look away. Try as they might, Democrats cannot get the public to look their way, Hamby insists.
Columbia Law Professor Tim Wu explains that the president "offers simple slogans, repeated a thousandfold, and he always speaks as a commander rather than a petitioner..." He is, as Bill McKibben wrote of Christian fundamentalists, "like the guy who gives you directions with such loud confidence that you drive on even though the road appears to be turning into a faint, rutted track." He knows Americans believe it important to be proud ... not of anything in particular, just proud.
“The way to disempower Trump is to ignore him, but its too hard even for his opponents to do it,” Wu told me over the phone recently. “It has to be a pure attention battle. If you were another network and Trump was I Love Lucy, what do you do? You can’t necessarily spend all your time criticizing I Love Lucy because that will just build it up. You need your own programming and to develop your own characters and celebrities who have to be as interesting and compelling. You need to have your own show. And I don’t think Democrats have their own show other than the ‘I Hate Trump’ show.”
The Democrats' brain trust insists they have a message this year. It's the economy, stupid, and polling bears that out. Americans are concerned with the cost of health care, education and gasoline. Recent elections showed that worked for them. If only Democrats could make themselves heard, voters would know that. But ignoring the president's scandals allows them to go unchallenged. As Hamby notes, a poll out last week showed 59 percent of Americans are unaware that the Mueller investigation has uncovered crimes, issued indictments, and secured some guilty pleas. What they know is WITCH HUNT.
The reality-show president is fixated on ratings. He knows conflict makes good TV. He dishes it up to hold eyeballs and ears. By contrast, Democrats' events aren't even good C-Span viewing:
“This is still a mistake that Democrats make. This a party still led largely by people who came of age in the last century rather than this one,” said [former Virginia congressman Tom] Perriello. “This old idea was that ‘everyone knows their own district best’ and you can go home and have your own messages. That made sense a generation ago when people got the majority of their news from local sources. Now the vast majority of information comes from national sources and social media. Even local news is full of national news packages. Even if we wanted to not talk about Trump, that’s not an option. The media is going to talk about Trump, and Trump is going to be the story they talk about whether we want him to or not.”
Perriello told me that Democrats should absolutely focus on health care premiums and the fact that the tax bill overwhelming benefits the wealthiest. But they should also be prepared to talk about the Trump investigation in a coherent way, crystallizing the fact that the sitting President of the United States has surrounded himself with grifters and criminals who have been indicted for bank fraud, conspiracy, lying to federal investigators, and whatever other charges may come. “The more it’s about Russia and the 2016 elections, that feels backwards-looking and seems like a partisan lens,” he said. “It works when when it’s about corruption and crime and the fact that the president shouldn’t be above the law . . . Trump has put his narrative out there, and quite frankly, Democrats haven’t put it out there or talked about it in effective ways. When Trump says ‘witch hunt’ or ‘deep state,’ from the Democrats you sort of get nothing. And then Mueller says nothing, so it starts to sound like maybe this is all just silly partisan politics.”
Also if you don't think Trump's message is breaking through, here's a word cloud of words US voters would use to describe the investigation. Size here is only relative -- a majority do not see it as a "witch hunt," but that language has stuck more than any positive word or phrase pic.twitter.com/2tFdvDz0FA
Democrats have to walk and chew gum. But they've also got to distill their messages to digestible bites. "What's your 27-9-3 on that?" a friend asked another activist at a conference last weekend — 27 words, nine seconds, three messages. For post-November 8 political newcomers, that concept may be new. For liberals who like to hear themselves talk, it's like asking them to go on a 3-day fast.
Under president DEEP STATE, 27 words is too long.
Trump partners with criminals.
19 indictments and counting.
Computers count Trump's lies. For truths you only need fingers.
Why are Trump's "best people" facing indictment?
"What is the narrative of innocence?" asks CIA Officer John Sipher in conversation with Committee to Investigate Russia Advisory Board members, Rob Reiner, General Michael Hayden, and Clint Watts."What is the narrative of why a campaign trying to win primaries in Iowa would need to be talking to Russians at all?" This is not how innocent people behave.
"It has to be a pure attention battle." Elizabeth Warren is one of the few Democrats have with the skill to cut through the noise. She needs to be front and center.
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