What if Joe and Kamala Win?
Reframing the political conversation to be more about hope and less about fear
“What happens if we lose the most important election in history?”
This is the question that keeps Democrats up at night. It is our rallying cry when we get tired of making phone calls, writing postcards, and sending texts. It is the question we ask the the recalcitrant voters in our lives.
Fear of what will happen if Donald Trump somehow tweets and cheats his way into a second term is the framework through which many Democrats are approaching this election.
This is understandable on every level. Everything we care about – not just as Democrats, but as Americans – is on the line. Donald Trump is an existential threat to our democracy, our health, our safety, and the very planet on which we reside.
But is fear enough to win?
I worry it may not be.
To win this election and take full advantage of the generational opportunity for political realignment before us, Democrats need to shift some of the conversation from “what happens if we lose?” to “what happens if we win?”
The Difference Between Republicans and Democrats
There has been a strain of political analysis that has emerged among Democrats due to the viral success of the Lincoln Project.
Why can’t Democrats be more like Republicans?
The Republicans took the White House, the Senate and won nearly 1,000 state legislative seats when Obama was in the White House. They accomplished this feat through scaring the crap out of voters with apocalyptic visions of immigrants, terrorists, and gang members coming to communities to take the lives and livelihoods of Americans. Fear worked just fine for them, why shouldn’t Democrats emulate their strategy?
First, this analysis is based on a misreading of politics and a misunderstanding of recent political history. Donald Trump lost the popular vote and stumbled ass backwards into the Presidency on a wave of voter suppression and foreign interference and Republicans have lost nearly every winnable election in the last three and half years including losing the House of Representatives by the largest popular vote margin since Watergate.
Second, a fear-based approach won’t work for Democrats, because Democrats and Republicans have very different paths to victory. To win, Republicans must maximize turnout among a shrinking racially and ideologically homogenous base of likely voters. Democrats have a more challenging, but ultimately fulfilling task. In addition to turning out our hardcore supporters, we need to persuade a lot of people who rarely vote, have never voted before, or are generally skeptical of politics and politicians to vote. In general, Democrats succeed when turnout is up and Republicans succeed when it is down. There are some state by state exceptions to this rule depending on the size of the white non-college vote as a percent of the overall electorate, but if Republicans truly believed that higher turnout benefitted them, they wouldn’t spend so much time and energy making it harder to vote.
Reaching Non-Voters Where They Live
Appealing to these less frequent voters requires more than just saying the other guy is bad. For many of the 100 million persistent non-voters, their default position is that all politicians are bad. The Knight Foundation did a deep dive on persistent non-voters called the “100 Million Project.” Their study found that:
Many non-voters suffer from a lack of faith in the election system and have serious doubts about the impact of their own votes: Thirty-eight percent of non-voters are not confident that elections represent the will of the people, and non-voters are more likely to say that this is because the system is rigged. Non-voters are less likely to believe votes are counted fully and accurately, or to say that decisions made by the president or others in Washington have a strong impact on their lives.
There may be no one in the Democratic Party that has spent more time thinking about how to turn non-voters into voters than Latosha Brown, the organizer and founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund. As she wrote in a very influential 2018 New York Times op ed:
Many voters, especially black voters, who sit out elections are not apathetic. Indeed, they are passionate about why they’re not voting, and even more so about what they want from their government. It is precisely because their hopes have been unfulfilled — left to dry up like a raisin in the sun — that they choose to stay home.
The burden of proof is on Democrats to demonstrate to these voters that putting us in power will make their lives better. Their default position is that nothing will change no matter who gets elected. To earn their vote, we must reframe the conversation from fear to hope by talking about what we will do to bring real change.
What if Joe Biden and Kamala Harris Win?
What’s the best way to have the hopeful conversation about what happens if we win?
It begins with Joe Biden the person. This is not to say that policy doesn’t matter. Of course, it does. The voters most skeptical of politics — the ones we need to win — have spent most of their lives listening to politicians with lots of plans but little follow through. We need to show why Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are different, not just better versions of what hasn’t worked in the past.
Having a good person, capable of empathy and motivated by patriotism in the White House matters – particularly right now. Our country is hurting. 170,000 of our fellow citizens have died. Millions are out of work. And people are afraid for their families. Our current President has not attended a single memorial. He has not tried to heal the nation or unite us behind the common goal of defeating the virus.
Joe Biden’s grace and strength in the face of unimaginable tragedy makes him perhaps the person in American life best qualified to lead the country in this moment. Having a President that feels our collective pain and thinks about something other than himself will make a world of difference.
Second, it’s about getting the virus under control. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris can do it, Donald Trump cannot. As Barack Obama said on Wednesday night:
Donald Trump hasn't grown into the job because he can't. And the consequences of that failure are severe. 170,000 Americans dead. Millions of jobs gone while those at the top take in more than ever.
Trump has no plan – other than tweeting – to stem the spread, open schools, get people back to work, or return us to normalcy. Joe Biden does. Read it here.
Third, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have the opportunity to have the most transformative Administration in decades. Biden has talked about an FDR-style approach to the presidency. If we win the White House, the House, and the Senate, he will have the opportunity – and the responsibility – to do just that.
If Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are in the White House in January they can do the following things:
Pass new democracy reform legislation named after John Lewis to begin the process of repairing and expanding our democracy, rooting out corruption in Washington, and making it more difficult for the next Trump to exploit the loopholes in our system for political and financial gain.
Put millions of Americans back to work and make our economy more fair by raising the minimum wage, funding child care, strengthening labor unions, expanding Social Security and so much more.
Appoint lower court judges and Supreme Court Justices that will protect civil, voting, and reproductive rights.
Finally take on systemic racism through the Biden Plan for Black America.
Enact comprehensive immigration reform to ensure that we have a fair and humane system.
Give millions of Americans access to quality health care through a new public option like Medicare.
Implement the most aggressive approach to combatting Climate Change in history.
Take long overdue steps to combat gun violence and stop mass shootings.
I could go on and on. There is so much work to do, so many problems to fix and people to help. But we can only do it, if we elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. And we can only elect them if we allow ourselves to let go of the fear of losing and embrace the historic opportunity that comes with winning.
It’s not entirely up to the Biden campaign – whose convention message and TV ads indicate they get this – it’s up to all of us. Every personal interaction is an organizing opportunity to spread some hope.. All of us are talking and tweeting about this election every day. Many of us are making phone calls and sending texts (if you aren’t go to VoteSaveAmerica.com to get involved). Let’s start making the case for what happens if Joe Biden wins.
As the former Vice President would say: “It will be a big Fing Deal".”