Winning Progressive Message & Strategy

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Trump’s Triangulation (and How To Not Fall For It)

Yesterday, leaders of the building trades unions went to the White House, to meet with Donald Trump.  Trump was just signing the executive orders to move ahead with the Keystone XL pipeline, and the Dakota Access Pipeline, both projects that many of those unions support.

When they came out, the union leaders spoke glowingly of Trump, who just delivered two projects to them.  In fact, North America’s Building Trades Unions put out this release, which positively gushed about Donald Trump.

Donald Trump is, if nothing else, an avid salesman of himself.  He got what he needed – the unequivocal praise of unions, for the price of just two projects.

Meanwhile, he is pushing through a harshly anti-labor nominee for the Labor Department, opposes any minimum wage, and supports so-called “Right to Work” laws that will end unions. Nowhere in their press release was any warning from the unions that they’d oppose Trump on such moves.

Looking at the whole exercise, I was reminded of the 1990s, when Bill Clinton engaged in what became known as “triangulation.”

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The Trump Show.

When all the world is a show, people stop being people.  They become characters and props.

Donald Trump views the world as his stage – a kind of “Truman Show,” except one in which he, the title character, controls everything around him so he can live in the show in which he wants to live.

Once contained within an actual reality show, now Trump sees the planet as one giant shoot of “The Apprentice,” where everyone has a role – good guy, bad guy, etc. – that he determines.

When you take that into account, Donald Trump’s press conference this week makes sense.

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Normalize Part of Trump, Normalize All of Trump

Democrats, led by Senator Chuck Schumer, are already blowing it.

“Sounds good to me!” Schumer recently declared, regarding Donald Trump’s yet-to-be-proposed infrastructure plan.

At the risk of seeming to violate Godwin’s law, Trump isn’t the first authoritarian to propose massive infrastructure activity as the proverbial sugar to make his autocratic, bigoted medicine go down.

“At least he built the Autobahn,” Germans used to declare.

Call it the “it’s not all bad” playbook of authoritarians.  The reason why it works is quite simple.  If they can normalize part of themselves by giving people something they like, then everything about them becomes normalized.

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What Trump Refuses To Say On Shootings Says It All

It wasn’t until the Associated Press asked him in an interview to address bias against African Americans that Donald Trump even acknowledged that Philando Castile and Alton Sterling were black.

That’s no mistake.

Throughout the days since the tragic murders of Castile and Sterling, and the brutal slayings of heroic police officers in Dallas, Trump’s statements have been carefully crafted to avoid any inference that black Americans face any kind of special circumstance when it comes to their safety.  That includes avoiding any mention that they were black, at all.

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Warren’s “Secret” Selling Point

Elizabeth Warren.  Massachusetts liberal, right?

Extreme left, isn’t she?

These are how many politically aware people have branded her.  And Lord knows that Democratic consultants have.

But Senator Warren has a background that most people forget about – if they even knew about it, at all.

And that secret would be her strongest selling point as a VP candidate for Hillary Clinton…

Even through Bill Clinton’s administration, Elizabeth Warren was a Republican.

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Jeb Bush’s Ted Kennedy Moment

Does Jeb Bush really want to be President?  We don’t know.  We can’t get inside of his head. Does it seem like Jeb Bush wants to be President?  Absolutely not.

For years, people have talked about the Bushes as the Republican Kennedys.  With Jeb’s answer, on Iraq, to FOX News, he may have just become the Bush’s Teddy.

In his answer to Megyn Kelly’s question, “Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion [of Iraq]?” Bush answered a resounding yes.  Stunned at the backlash against that answer, from even conservative commentators, Bush quickly backtracked in a quickly scheduled second interview, with Sean Hannity, saying he “misinterpreted the question” and that “I don’t know what that decision would have been.”

Wow.

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Progressives Rising

Piggybacking off my post from yesterday, Sahil Kapur at Talking Points Memo shows some other key victories for the “Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party” in the new Congress.

The Democrats’ progressive wing is enjoying a renaissance since the party’s crushing defeat in the 2014 midterm election, chalking up victories and capturing the attention of congressional leaders on causes near and dear to their hearts.

Some of the change is structural. The election wiped out red state senators and House members in less progressive districts, reducing the new minority party to a more ideologically cohesive unit. The loss of the Democrats’ Senate majority also breaks a four-year holding pattern in which leaders had to cut deals with the conservative-dominated House, making it somewhat easier for them to stand or fall on principle.

“It’s very, very liberating,” said one Democratic Senate leadership aide.

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There’s Something Happening Here….

When I worked for Howard Dean, in the 2004 election, he used to like to quote Harry Truman in his stump speech:

“If it’s a choice between a genuine Republican, and a Republican in Democratic clothing, the people will choose the genuine article, every time.”

The point, when Howard Dean said it, was that far too many Democrats were trying to be like President Bush, in 2003, when the President’s popularity was soaring, but Dean was offering a real alternative.  Yet, it could just as easily apply to the many Democrats, especially in the South, who became nearly indistinguishable from Republicans, not just on issue, but in tone.

Lo and behold, the slow burn of so called Blue Dogs completed in 2014, and voters voted for genuine Republicans, across the board.

Finally, it seems like Democrats are finally taking the right lesson away from these losses.  In the past, they always seemed to answer defeat by moving more to the right, assuming the country wanted conservatism.  But, in the past few days, it is becoming apparent that, finally, Democrats realize they need to offer a real choice – a progressive choice.

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Conservatives Are Ready for Warren?

I don’t think this is reverse psychology, or some trick. But some conservatives are now begrudgingly admitting that they find some appeal in Elizabeth Warren’s message.

In particular, this piece by far-right columnist Rod Dreher caught my attention:

But I hope that Sen. Warren will run for president in 2016 to force a national conversation on the Washington-Wall Street power nexus….

A populist who talks like Elizabeth Warren and really means it is a Democrat a conservative like me would consider voting for, despite her social liberalism. As Phyllis Schlafly said back in 1964, in defending Goldwater against the Establishment Republican Nelson Rockefeller, a contest between Warren and Clinton, and a contest between Warren and just about any Republican would give the country a choice, not an echo.

He’s not the only one.  From HotAir to RedState, online bastions of extreme conservatism were actually drawn to Elizabeth Warren’s non-conservative message (and Nancy Pelosi’s, too).

Again, I don’t see this as reverse psychology, or some trick to get Democrats to nominate Warren over Hillary Clinton.  If nothing else, the writers and blogs above are true believers in what they say, no matter how much I may normally disagree with them.  So, I think they’re being genuine, here.

Not so long ago, I wrote about how Warren’s opening argument – her raison d’etre – absolutely would have appeal in the reddest parts of the South.  It’s progressive, but it has the ability to appeal beyond ideological lines.

I think the developing feelings among the online right for Warren’s core message give more credence to that notion.


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MESSAGE AND STRATEGY MEMO: The Dangers of the Jingling Keys

More than ever, we’re a short attention-span society.

I can see you reaching to click over to Facebook or BuzzFeed, already.  Stick with me.  This is worth it, if you want to improve your messaging and overall communications game.

Nowhere is this shortening attention span a worse development than in progressive political messaging.  It hurts us from within, and from the outside.  I call it the “Dangers of the Jingling Keys.”

More and more, people are like cats.  We’ll play and focus on a ball of yarn, but forget all about it when jingling keys are shimmering above us.  In fact, while writing that sentence, I got distracted by an article about Uber and another one about Mark Hamill returning to Star Wars.  So, none of us is really immune to the jingling keys.

Politics, especially given the sharpness of microtargeting, is getting more and more full of jingling keys.  Noam Chomsky explains how this can be used by outside interests:

“The primary element of social control is the strategy of distraction which is to divert public attention from important issues and changes determined by the political and economic elites, by the technique of flood or flooding continuous distractions and insignificant information…”

Now, Chomsky is writing about how the media uses this tactic, but it really can (and has) been used by a wide variety of interests.

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