‘Out of control,” “unhinged” and “downright mean.” A description of President Trump? Not this time. In my recent voter interviews, these are phrases that voters across the political spectrum have used to describe the Democrats.
“The Democrats have gone from merely disliking Trump to a level of rudeness and resistance unlike anything I have ever seen. It’s really cringeworthy,” said Fred, a Republican energy-company manager from Akron, Ohio. He added, “My wife and my sons are liberals, and even they are embarrassed at the behavior of the media and congress.”
Katie, a millennial from California and a self-described liberal, said, “I am literally freaking out because liberals are so unwilling to say anything positive about what is going on in our country. We sound biased and hysterical, and it is driving my friends away from the Democratic party.”
Democrats have tried many messages. But only one has stood out with the voters I’ve interviewed over the last 18 months: “Stop Trump.” Is that enough to inspire people to vote against the president? Only about 20 percent of the voters I speak with weekly say so. For the rest, resistance is just not enough to excite them.
Last summer, the Democratic Party rolled out a message called “A Better Deal.” Nine out 10 of the voters in my interviews had never heard of it. They hear nothing but negativity, and most believe it has gotten worse recently – that the liberal resistance led by the Democratic National Committee, the media, and Hollywood, has gone from outrage to hysteria, and from logical counterarguments to juvenile behavior and pigheadedness.
Americans were taken aback when Samantha Bee used a vulgar insult to describe Ivanka Trump. The negativity peaked, however, during the weekend of June 10. First, television commentator Bill Maher said he hoped for an economic recession because it was the only way to get rid of Trump. Then, actor Robert De Niro dropped the f-bomb to bash Trump at the Tony Awards. The video of De Niro’s attack — and the standing ovation that followed — went viral. The following day, voters in my online community reported that they saw cable news pundits call Trump’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “a train wreck in the making,” “a naive move,” and “merely a reality show with no substance.” Even as these two events were happening, billionaire Tom Steyer launched a new series of ads featuring regular Americans who, like Steyer, want Congress to start impeachment proceedings. Although this was an ad, paid for by a private individual, many voters perceived it as yet another part of the negative message.
Democrats report that they have much to be upset about — and some believe that this vigorous, profane resistance will charge up more voters. It doesn’t. Instead, it creates backlash, even among moderate voters. And, it emboldens Trump supporters to defend the president, regardless of his actual activities. Said Charlie from Georgia, “The liberals have called us uneducated, but isn’t it the mark of intellectual laziness when people cannot find anything positive to say about a summit, anything positive to say about the economy, or the like? The Democrats just sound foolish.”
Serena is a Trump voter from New Hampshire, who three months ago told me she was reconsidering whether she made the right choice. “Putin must have pictures,” she said in March, “and sometimes I can’t believe the sheer stupidity of the president’s actions.” Today, she has swung back: “Tell a Democrat that the economy is good, and they state that the credit goes to Obama. Tell a Democrat that Trump’s meeting with the North Korean leader is historic, and they will say it was a terrible PR stunt. Tell a Democrat that there are many Trump supporters who are upstanding good Americans, and they will tell you that we are all racist, misogynist, bigots. It’s ridiculous.”
Added Mark, a journalism major at a Boston university, “It pains me to say this, but spin and condescension are the new code of the liberal media.”
Democrats — whether on TV, in Congress, or running for office — have a choice.
They can snort that the North Korea summit was a joke — or they can wish Trump well in his historic meeting with Kim Jong Un, even as they express skepticism about how he’ll pull off what he has promised.
They can shout that Trump is a pathological narcissist who needs to be impeached — or they can criticize the substance of Trump’s actions: his border policies that have resulted in separating children from parents; his contempt for the Paris accords, the Iran Deal, and the G-7 summit; his trade policies that could hurt American companies; his undermining of the Affordable Care Act.
They can wring their hands and hope for a blue wave, or they can create and communicate an array of fresh solutions to our most difficult problems.
From the point of view of voters across the country, shouting and cursing are drowning out any reasoned analysis, turning people off and sending them back to Trump’s corner.
There has never been a time when we more badly needed thoughtful, innovative ideas and policies from our leaders and our institutions. We have children at the border who need our collective action, and we have three-fourths of our population living paycheck to paycheck. Giving a standing ovation to De Niro’s crude attack does little to address the problems. It may feel great. But it’s not going to win elections for the Democrats.
Clarification: The voters in this column were given pseudonyms to protect their identity.
Diane Hessan is an entrepreneur, author, and chair of C Space. She has been in conversation with 450 voters across the political spectrum weekly since December 2016. Follow her on Twitter @DianeHessan.