BRANDON J. WEICHERT | THE WEICHERT REPORT
As I was watching Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) give his CNN townhall performance (and trying not laugh at the mania on display), my Twitter feed exploded with this insight from the Bernie Sanders campaign:
With his base of socialist-populists intact, Bernie can add elements of that disaffected 35 percent of Americans in the besieged blue-collar communities of the country. Bernie can also play well in the beleaguered farming communities of America, where last year saw the largest number of farm bankruptcies since 2011 (mostly thanks to the “Trade War” with China).
Of course, nothing is written. At his core, Bernie may be consistently socialist but he’s also consistently unnerving. His affect and demeanor is more akin to the angry old man yelling at the news than it is the stuff that makes presidents.
Then again, the Left has been arguing something similar about President Trump since he descended down the golden escalator of the Trump Tower in 2015 and announced his candidacy. But, Trump does have a positive governing record and his base is rabidly supportive–possibly even more so than the much-ballyhooed “Bernie Bros.”
In fact, President Trump was given the highest economic approval rating by a Washington Post-ABC News poll than any president in the last 20 years. Trump is looking increasingly like the one with all the marbles in this race, regardless of who the Democrats nominate this summer.
The real issue, of course, is the electoral college. In our system we do not have national elections determined by the popular vote. Instead, the electoral college decides who will be the president. Due to this, the electoral map is key (this explains why the media fixates so readily on “key battleground states” and states like Ohio or Florida have historically been so heavily covered in previous elections). These states are toss-up states and carry a large number of electoral votes.
The candidate that gets 270 out of the 538 electoral votes wins the presidency.
In 2016, Donald J. Trump won Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. He did this by appealing to the voters of those states on key issues that they cared most for. Trump didn’t take the standard Republican line of attacking social security or advocating for unrestrained GDP growth at the expense of everything else. Trump spoke about trade and illegal immigration; he talked about the drug epidemic killing so many, too. Trump attacked his own party by going after former President George W. Bush’s Iraq War legacy.
Trump appealed to the rural, blue-collar voters who populated these key states.
Even then, Trump barely won…but he still won. Trump fought hard for every single vote in these states whereas Hillary simply assumed these states constituted her “Blue Wall” that would automatically prevent Trump from assuming power. Hillary’s arrogance was her undoing. She cared not for the voters and it showed.
Bernie, on the other hand, is a different animal entirely. He is, like Trump, talking about the Kitchen Table issues most Americans are passionate about. Bernie talks about lowering healthcare costs–and he tethers it to sticking it to the rich people and their insurance companies! Bernie says that he wants to give you and your children “free” college–while making others who have more money pay for it. Real grievances coupled with irrational envy is an intoxicating mixture to the prosperity that has washed over the country under Trump’s presidency.
Going forward, the president must focus on keeping the electoral votes Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania in his camp.
Currently, Trump is polling well in Wisconsin, a state that ultimately determined his victory in 2016 (he won the vote there by one percent, granting him 10 electoral votes that put him at the required 270 to win). Trump’s greatest asset in Wisconsin (and in general) is how well the economy has done since he took office–so much so that even former President Barack Obama is pathetically trying to lay claim to the success of this economy.
Meanwhile, in Michigan, which accounts for 16 electoral votes, Trump is not looking as good as he should. In fact, last Fall the Trump Campaign was fretting about the fact that they might not be able to replicate their success in that pivotal state from 2016.
For his part, Mike Bloomberg is saying only he can “get it done” in Michigan (whatever that means). And, Bernie Sanders decisively defeats Trump in a head-to-head match-up in Michigan. The Trump Campaign has been pouring increasing resources in the state, but support is still slackening. Bloomberg has also been dumping an insane amount of money into the Michigan race, challenging Trump at every turn.
Messaging will be key here: Trump must play up the overall economy while continuing on with his working-class rhetoric about illegal immigration and trade. To win, Trump must more fully and explicitly embrace the ideas that had originally catapulted him into office in 2016.
In Pennsylvania, which is home to 20 vital electoral votes, the Democrats are strong. They’re having issues honing their message but that’s because their party is divided between Bernie and the oligarchs (which works to Trump’s favor). The only message that puts Democrats over-the-edge is the one message that the DNC refuses to embrace: defending the workers. Trump picked up that mantle in 2016 and benefited mightily from it.
So, unless Bernie manages to overcome the DNC oligarchs (which he is, to his credit, doing a fairly good job of staying in the fight), then it will be Trump vs. Bloomberg or some other member of the billionaire brigade.
These three states (as well as Ohio and Minnesota) will be key to victory for either party. Trump is strongest, I think, in Wisconsin. Trump might be able to win Pennsylvania again–especially if Bernie is not the Democratic Party’s nominee. Michigan, however, will be tight. Trump should focus much more time and energy here than he thus far has. At the very least, he needs to compete hard for Michigan’s electoral votes.
Just look at the tweet I posted above from the “Bern Identity.” There is a massive enthusiasm and widespread support for Bernie. People treat him–inexplicably–like a rock star. His message of addressing economic inequality resonates deeply with most American voters. This is especially true of the people in these three states.
Trump absolutely needs these three northern states to win.
The president must not only do more to physically campaign in these states, but he must also craft a simple agenda for reelection that makes it clear that his policies are helping the working-class and will continue to help them whereas Bernie or any other Democrat would not. Trump has many positive in his favor, but he has to make the case that he’s been fighting for the working classes in these states more thoroughly than he has.
This election is now Trump’s to lose. He cannot win it if he does not appeal to the voters, particularly those working-class voters who dwell in places like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania (or Ohio and Minnesota, for that matter). Trump must double-down on his 2016 rhetoric and affirm his commitment to those causes–especially if Bernie is the nominee.
To be clear: the states that Trump most needs to defeat Bernie are states that are defaulted to support a candidate like Bernie. So, Trump is going to have his work cut out of him.