Open Letter to the Democratic National Committee
Subject: How to Beat Donald Trump in November
February 13, 2020
Dear DNC Leaders:
The Democratic party has been playing into Donald Trump’s electoral hand. We know that Mr. Trump will stake his re-election on: 1) the U.S. economy, 2) social issues such as abortion and immigration, and 3) how he makes the U.S. a safer place to live. None of these positions have been attacked or undermined during the past Democratic Presidential debates. And of course, we know that Mr. Trump will lie and smear the Democratic candidate. But there has been no clear statement or strategy explaining how this onslaught will be addressed.
Overall Positioning. It should go without saying that there needs to be an overall approach to counter Donald Trump’s campaign bluster and bullheadedness.
First, the candidates need to recognize that one has to fight fire with fire. Taking Michele Obama’s high road will not win back the White House. When attacked, the Democratic nominee needs to hit back – harder than he or she was hit. There is plenty of dirt on Donald. The nominee needs to get into the gutter with it. For example, if Donald were to characterize Senator Klobuchar as a slave driver of her staff and said that she would do worse to the American people, she should respond by naming the former members of Donald’s staff who are in jail and ask the American public whose staff is better off. I also would expect that Mayor Pete would have several zingers regarding Donald’s sexual behaviors including his involvement with child molesters. If Donald’s slander against his opponents is not rebuffed forcefully, it will stick in the minds of voters.
Second, I recommend that the Democratic party couch this upcoming election in the mold of a clash between good and evil. There are plenty of analogies from the history of evil that can be attached to Trump, including several from the Bible. Donald Trump should be labeled as the “Devil of the Digital Age” (aka the Digital Devil) or some such derogatory term as his identifier throughout the campaign.
The voters know that good should triumph over evil in the end – whether it’s thousands of years ago in the time of Christ or today in the era of Trump’s digital “twivels”. Given the right enticements, Trump can be bated into hanging himself. Even kids in elementary school know that Trump is a mean person.
Third, being nasty effectively takes plenty of practice. The candidates should start practicing now. The primary voters want to know not only who has the thickest hide, but which candidate can deliver the most effective punch. For example, at the next debate, I would like to see a candidate start a soliloquy as follows: “Mr. President, if you are listening, I’d like to give you a history lesson about the Magna Carta. Back in the year 1215….”
To orchestrate an overall positioning strategy for the Democratic candidate, I recommend that the DNC hire a full-time media production firm to gain the maximum exposure and impact from the most influenceable voters.
Substantive Issues. In addressing what’s important to the public, the Democratic party should not forget that it coined the phrase: It’s the Economy, Stupid. I won’t go into detail in this note, but here are a few key points for the DNC to address before the next debate.
First, competition is the engine that has driven the U.S. economy. If one understands this point (as most Americas do), you would understand that even a touch of socialism in its platform is an albatross that would bring any political party down to defeat. As such, why does the DNC allow a leading presidential contender to espouse his socialistic principles at its national debates? Socialism goes against the economic principles of this country, as codified by the Supreme Court. For example, the Court has said our country’s laws rest on the premise that “the unrestrained interaction of competitive forces will yield the best allocation of our economic resources, the lowest prices, the highest quality and the greatest material progress”. There is a long judicial history that can be quoted on this point.
Second, Trump cannot take much credit for the country’s overall economic success. As Adam Smith said hundreds of years ago, it is attributable to the so-called “invisible hand” of the market. This point is missing from the Democratic message. Each time Trump takes credit for the performance of the U.S. economy, an effective argument with facts should be made as to why it isn’t attributable to him.
Third, the market doesn’t always work that well. For example, healthcare costs are over $4 trillion per year, or almost 20% of the overall economy and growing on a percentage basis. Somehow eliminating the profits of insurance carriers is not going to move the needle very much. Therefore, in order to be allowed to push the notion of “Medicare for All” in a Presidential debate, a candidate should be required to put forward a meaningful plan (with costs and funding) along with how it solves the underlying healthcare problems. If he or she cannot do so before the debate, the proposal should be deemed off-limits for the debate. (Note: this approach would be a good practice for debates with Trump, if he agrees to debate).
Similarly, all politicians love to complain about high drug prices. However, the politicians are a large part of the cause of it. More specifically, Congress has established the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) charter to be preventing unsafe drugs from entering the market. The FDA is not responsible for enhancing cures or identifying disease-specific treatments. As a result, the FDA has created a mammoth obstacle course which results in an average time to market per drug of more than 12 years (not including the FDA’s involvement in pre-clinical research and genetic testing). Under such a scheme, the average cost to develop each approved drug is well over $1 billion. Additionally, the FDA’s process slows down competitive entry into the drug market giving the existing drug companies the power to raise prices. Simply put, the FDA does not balance, or even attempt to balance, the costs and benefits of its regulations on the public. The DNC should require that Presidential debates addressing drug pricing or profits include a discussion of the effect of the FDA’s procedures on those prices and profits. Without an understanding of the underlying causes, the proposed solution may be worse than the current situation.
Fourth, Trump and the Republican party needs to be attacked on tax breaks for the rich and the resulting budget deficits. For starters, the entire near $20 trillion in government debt is attributable to the Bush and Trump tax cuts. How much debt is that per voter? What percentage of that $20 trillion in tax relief was given to the Top 1%? How much tax relief per person for those in the top 1%? The facts matter, and they need to be told to the American people – repetitively.
Finally, if you divide by Trump’s red states into bible-bearing states, gun-toting states and economically-motivated states, you would realize the only place for Democrats to gain electoral votes is in the third category. Even there, the Democratic candidate will need to understand and address the economic issues unique to that state in order to turn it to blue. Also, an explanation of how Trump’s policies has harmed them will win some converts.
Given the breadth and importance of the economic issues, I suggest the DNC hire a political economist to help educate the candidates on these issues.
Other Issues. Healthcare is a big issue for voters, but the reality is that over 75% of the costs of healthcare can be attributed to chronic diseases. There is a “market failure” in the healthcare industry regarding these chronic illnesses. Many different industries and companies are involved in addressing chronic illnesses and there is no coordination among them toward a particular goal. There also is an “information failure” from the complex information and choices facing consumers. These effects undermine the workings of a competitive market. The solution for healthcare will require addressing the issue of these market failures for chronic illnesses before any real progress can be made.
Accordingly, unless a candidate is prepared to name an organization to be “in charge” of the overall direction for treating and/or curing chronic diseases, there will be no net pick-up of voters on the healthcare issue. The market failures in the industry must be addressed, and Medicare for All or even Obamacare doesn’t solve them. If the Democrats make healthcare their top issue without a viable solution to overcome the market failures and resulting high costs, Trump will win re-election.
Abortion also is a big issue with voters, but it is an area that each side has heard and seen all of the evidence and there will be no switching sides. The biggest concern with respect to abortion is that a higher Republican voter turn-out might occur because of the “progress” that Trump has made with conservative judges. The Democratic Party should use an online ad campaign to try to get more young eligible women voters to come to the polls by using images of the old, white, male, Republican Senators as the people who want to control their bodies. If that doesn’t motivate them, nothing will.
Additionally, Donald can be skewered on the issue of immigration with photos of what he has done to children crossing the border. All of the lies can be refuted with photos of the reality. The Democratic candidates should carry a dossier of such photos. It would be easy to portray Trump as evil and duplicitous on this issue. Pictures tell a story better than words.
In closing. Is the DNC up to challenge of an unleashed Donald Trump? The DNC must lead – or get out of the way, and let another organization take the reins.
The high priority things to do now to help regain the White House are:
1) Develop an overall positioning strategy for the campaign (and a de-positioning of Donald Trump)
2) Nail down the economic arguments and facts (so that they can be understood and repeated every day by the 66 million Democratic voters in the last election)
3) Come to grips with the market failures in the healthcare industry with respect to chronic diseases before coalescing on any one approach to reforming healthcare
The ball is in your court. The stakes couldn’t be much higher.
Steven A. Zecola
Potomac Falls, VA