Rothman At-Large

The Wealth Gap and Two Other Anti-Trump Themes: How Dems Can Woo Young Voters in Critical States

September 26, 2019

Oh, the fickleness of Trump-era news cycles! I was going to write about how the Democrats could defeat Donald Trump in part by wooing young voters in critical Electoral College states. And then along comes the Ukrainian bombshell raising serious questions about whether Trump will even be around to run against.


But let’s suppose Trump’s political and PR fixers can deflect the accusations well enough for Republican senators to disregard the probable impeachment findings in the House. What’s more, even if Mike Pence or someone else is the GOP Presidential candidate instead, the young could still matter. So how can the Democrats win over enough young Americans, especially in places where their votes will most count?


Polls say far more young people will vote in the 2020 elections than in previous years. But the popular vote by itself will mean squat—it’s the Electoral College, of course, that matters. Democrats should woo young voters everywhere but lavish special loving care on those in Electoral College swing states that put Trump over the top in 2016. Just 107,000 more votes out of the 14 million in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania—and 120 million in the U.S.—could have sent Hillary Clinton to the White House. The trick is to remember that issues appealing to young voters in Michigan may not always be the same as the ones of greatest importance in Louisiana. Or they may require special geographical twists for optimal results.


Ahead, in no particular order, because the political landscape is ever shifting, are three anti-Trump themes to use with young voters in mind in the upper Midwest and Pennsylvania. I’m simplifying. Swing states exist outside the region. But this is the part of the country where geographical sensitivity might make a major difference in winning over the young.




The percentage of young people living with parents is the highest in 75 years. Half of Americans born in the 1980s earn more in inflation-adjusted dollars than their parents–compared to 92 percent of those born the year before Pearl Harbor. Donald Trump now owns the economy or at least has claimed to. Haunt him with the old Reaganism: “’Are you better off than you were four years ago?”


So what might this mean in campaign commercials aimed at the sons and daughters of factory workers in places like Ohio and Michigan?

  1. Whether it’s bringing broadband to the rural Midwest or growing jobs for young people in new fields like solar energy and electric cars, Democrats need to talk up concrete proposals. Depict Trump by contrast as a trog of a claimed billionaire caring only about his fat-cat donors from the oil and coal industries. Mix hopeful economic and environmental messages. But geographical sensitivity, please! A Brookings Institution study tells how median household income in Democratic congressional districts zoomed between 2008 and 2018, while income in Republican districts—so many of them in the American heartland—declined. A headline over a Washington Post column gets it right: “Our deepening economic divide is fertile ground for Trump’s demagoguery.”
  2. Remember, the upper industrialized Midwest has traditionally been union territory. Accurately portray the current crop of Republicans as union-busters and call for the inclusion of union representatives on the boards of the very largest corporations. Vow to reverse the anti-organizing measures that have blighted American companies. A Nation article gives hope that unions may actually be starting to come back among the young. In ads and commercials, sell the idea of unions. It is no small coincidence that the decline of the Democratic Party overlaps with the rise of government-tolerated union-busting. Time to update the Labor Management and Reporting Act of 1959 (also known as the Landrum-Griffin Act), tilted in favor of corporations. Refresh young people in union history, and remind them of all the risks taken and sacrifices made toward a middle-class lifestyle. Time to reclaim it!
  3. Go after the student loan issue and related ones. Remind young people that many factory workers could once afford to send their children to four-year colleges without sacrificing retirement security or taking out onerous loans. But today? Outstanding student loans now total a whopping $1.6 trillion and may help bring on the next recession. The Trump administration is complicating matters by, for example, making it harder for young people to enjoy loan forgiveness for public service work. Betsy DeVos, Trump’s secretary of education, is a callous plutocrat from Michigan–the very face of the problem.
  4. Don’t forget the tariff wars. Trump is the villain. It could take years for certain agricultural and manufacturing markets to recover from the damage Trump has done–everywhere in the U.S. but especially in Midwestern agricultural and blue-collar areas. Imagine all the family farms in peril. Granted, farmers are a smaller percentage of the population than in the past. But they have friends and relatives.

Democrats can make all those points for young people while still attacking the Republicans on general economic issues that are not geographically related. Consider the Robin-Hood-in-reverse tax cuts that enriched the super-wealthy at the expense of the rest of us. Donald Trump’s attack on Obamacare, which allows young people to be covered on parents’ health insurance policies up to their 26th birthdays, is yet another assault on young Americans everywhere.




As a hyper-loathsome villain, Trump is at his most cartoonish on climate change and other environmental issues even though his cruelty toward migrants comes close.


The Democrats should go all out on the Green Deal vision and push for clean-up deadlines much earlier than what Joe Biden has in mind. Al Gore and like-minded people for years have gotten it right. The clean-up effort is a chance for economic growth in solar and other areas. Don’t wimp out! Tell how Trump’s policies, by contrast, would increase the number of pollution-related deaths in the upper Midwest and elsewhere.


What’s more, damage from climate change won’t just threaten New York, L.A. or Miami–a point that campaign ads and commercials could make. Two scientists at the University of Michigan write: “Rapid changes in weather and water supply conditions across the Great Lakes and upper Midwest are already challenging water management policy, engineering infrastructure and human behavior.” As reported in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, high water levels in Lake Michigan “almost completely submerged two of the sandy beaches that line the city’s lakefront. Condo buildings and other properties that abut the water are shelling out for reinforcements of their own.” Of course, events could unfold in the other direction, with the Great Lakes at least temporarily receding. But either way, weather extremes caused by climate change could inflict many billions in damage.


Among Democratic voters inside and outside the Midwest, climate change may be as big an issue as healthcare. With the number and severity of storms and other unpleasant surprises multiplying, even nonDemocrats may feel the same. Certain young Republicans are begging Trump to reverse course on environmental and climate change issues.


“Recent surveys,” reports the activist publication Grist, “suggest that Generation Z and Millennial Republicans care about the climate much more than their elders–and, get this, maybe as much as younger Democrats do.” In a mere five years, the number of 18-34 Republican voters concerned about human-created climate change increased by 18 percent. Today 67 percent worry. Do Americans of any age—Republicans or Democrats—really want their grandchildren to hate them?




With Trump in the White House, are you sleeping better at night? That’s the question Democratic campaigns need to ask young people and parents–at full volume, in social media, on TV, in newspapers, magazines, everywhere. The environmental and economic threats stand out, but other reasons also exist, particularly those pertaining to his fitness or lack of it for the Presidency. What to say about a commander-in-chief who leaned on the Ukrainians to investigate Joe Biden if they wanted military aid?


Young people will be wondering about the gap between the ugly reality of Trump and the presidency as depicted in school. Politicians in the Midwest are hardly angelic (just look at the horrid governors that super-rich GOP donors helped install in Wisconsin and Michigan before the voters caught on and revolted). But traditionally Wisconsin has been a reform citadel rather than a center of divisive politics. Trump is a scary letdown for many young people there and elsewhere. That’s especially true of nonwhites in places like Detroit who know he is a genuine bigot-in-chief, enamored of police brutality. Target ads and commercials accordingly!


In a coincidentally related vein, John Della Volpe, director of Polling for the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School, mentions the sheer stress of politics in Trumpian times. He says that “for the first time, we now have evidence that the state of our politics is contributing to the mental health challenges millions of young Americans already face. To empower young voters, to persuade them to vote requires candidates willing to share and align their values with this emerging generation—and understanding the stress inherent in our politics today is a critical first step.”


While the stress can come from confrontation between generations, classes and regions, not just the craziness of an orange-haired wack job, let’s consider the Trumpist and GOP policies and practices which have aggravated this and which could be the target of youth-oriented campaign ads and commercials in the Midwest and elsewhere:


—Gun violence. In 2019 so far, at least 1,219 people have been injured and at least 335 have died in mass shootings–a total of 1,554 victims. “Do we really want a president in the pocket of the National Rifle Association?”


—The Supreme Court and federal judges. “Should elderly bigots deny you the right to abortion when you can’t afford to have a child? Trump is shamelessly kowtowing to the anti-abortion crowd in his judicial appointments.”


—Increased chances of nuclear war. “How safe are we with a narcissistic nut in the White House?”


—Anti-LGTBQ bigotry, especially in judicial appointments. This on top of the contempt for nonwhites!




Of course, the most wisely chosen issues in the world won’t help if the Democrats stint on voter registration or pick the wrong candidates

The Democratic presidential favorite, as I write this, is still Joe Biden, 76. Significantly, the Harvard researchers have found that 18-29-year-olds overwhelmingly distrust the baby boomer generation of politicians–saying they just “don’t care about people like me.” Biden is even older than the boomers.

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders might be exceptions to many young people’s age-related fears. Biden isn’t, and he’ll have to keep that in mind in coming up with stands on various issues. In an earlier Georgetown Dish column, I mentioned the possibility of Kamala Harris as a running mate for Biden to create some racial and gender diversity. At 54 she may still not be young enough for optimal results, and I wish she were far more progressive. Still, as a pragmatic way to complement Biden, she is probably a better possibility than alternatives.

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How a Biden-Harris Ticket Could Wallop Trump -- If 'Middle-Class Joe' Truly Lives Up to his Name

August 11, 2019

Donald Trump, the traitor-crook-racist in the White House, is already running as if we’re in the thick of the 2020 general election.


Trump’s henchmen have revved up their fundraising machine to give him a head start. And even if the Democrats nominate a reincarnated George Wallace, Trump campaigners will still try to smear the Dems as socialists. So it’s been said, and I agree.


A brilliant thinker like Elizabeth Warren would be copacetic if electability weren’t Criterion #1, but the best anti-Trump defense would be, yes, exactly what some have already called for: a Joe Biden-Kamala Harris ticket.


How might this and other actions unify the Democrats before it’s too late? What follows is in the realm of “could and should” rather than “will.” But an old Biden friend just may be reading this column—I won’t go into the details—and I fervently hope she passes it on to him.


I’d remind them both that the “Never-Biden” movement is alive and well among certain young and progressive Democrats. Even arguments about Trump and global warming—Biden isn’t perfect but is much less of a threat to Planet Earth than the coalhead in the Oval Office—aren’t working. Wounds from the explosive Democratic National Committee memos still fester. That’s what the Russians wanted in leaking the memos via WikiLeaks, and that’s what they got. In matters such as hiring, financial arrangements and strategy, the Clinton’s people controlled or at least unduly influenced the DNC even before the primary results were in.


Countless Sanders boosters now think that the Clintonites, not Trump and the Russians, were the real villains who stole the last presidential election. And they’ve transferred their hostility to Biden, an establishmentarian like Clinton.


I myself voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primary and emphatically believe that the DNC stacked the deck against him, as the just-given links shows. But I still cast my ballot for Clinton in the general election. And I’ll do the same for Biden next year, if he’s the Democratic presidential nominee, despite my preference for a more progressive candidate and my worries over a gerontocracy. Polling results could change overnight, but for now, one survey shows Biden would beat Trump 54 percent vs. 41 percent among registered voters—leaving the other Democratic candidates in the dust. I don’t think name recognition explains it all. Pragmatism, please!


Without Biden or an equivalent, if one exists, Democratic prospects may suffer outside liberal bastions like California, New York and Massachusetts. The “socialist” smear, alas, might work in, say, Georgia and even Virginia, where too many rural voters won’t distinguish between Sanders-style Democratic Socialists and the Stalinist or Venezuelan variety. “Biden” is a comforting enough name to banish or at least substantially mitigate such fears.


Here, then, are seven friendly suggestions for the ex-VP—at least right now the most likely Trump-slayer.


Number One: Get Harris as a running mate ASAP, months before the convention, because you two complement each other so well. You’re a white male born one year after Pearl Harbor. She’s a 54-year-old woman of color and a generation younger. Given your history with Barack Obama, you’re more likely to pick up nonwhite votes than most Democratic candidates. But there’s no such thing as too many. In a close election—where you can sway only so many of Trump’s Kool-Aid drinkers—you must increase friendly voter turnout to the max.


Kamala Harris also will help you among younger voters and others who’ve taken such a bad economic shafting, in part because traditional Democrats didn’t push back hard enough against the Republicans’ billionaire-optimized policies in areas such as trade and student loans.

Will Harris go along with being your running mate? For now, I doubt it. But keep chipping away. Just like the Sanders people, she needs to consider the possibility of an even crazier and crueler Trump in his second term; imagine America under a real dictator, not just an aspiring one. Biden and Harris—stronger together! Among your big strengths is your appeal to working people. Harris isn’t so warm and fuzzy but is a street fighter who could help you tear Trump apart.


Number Two: Practice, practice, practice for the debates with Trump in the general election—even some of your friends said recently that you aren’t as quick on the draw as when you were younger. Set aside enough time in your schedule to duel with a Trump surrogate.

Number Three: Don’t overdo, but be more of a showman—you’re running against a reality-TV veteran, after all. Is it true you can do a bunch of push-ups? Then, yes, actually follow up on your challenge for the obese Trump to compete with you in public. Hey, Donald, can’t you beat “Sleepy Joe”? If Trump keeps turning you down, use his video clip or tweet in campaign commercials. Ridicule him—your taunts will ring true. His followers may or may not care. But you’ll energize the people on your side. Please—something visual for the cameras! Worry less about dignity and more about results. You’ve already made it clear in other ways that you’re far more “Presidential” than Trump. While you’re at it, get serious and tell how Trump’s malevolent school lunch agenda threatens the physical fitness of K-12 children.


Number Four: Bring your environmental policies closer to the Green New Deal vision so beloved to progressive Democrats—the same for policies in other areas, such as racial and criminal justice. You needn’t go all the way, but you can keep an open mind in exploring the feasibility of the individual items on the progressives’ agenda. If you don’t compromise more, then too many progressives and other skeptics—including those in crucial states in the Electoral College—will dismiss you as just another “corporatist.”


Guess who in effect helped put Trump over the top in 2015? Nonvoters, simply by not voting. Many just couldn’t understand the difference between the two major parties or otherwise didn’t care about the election. Democrats need to tack left in appropriate ways and take stronger stands to clarify the distinction even if the old GOP is now the wacky Trump Party. The venerable word “Republican,” alas, still carries enough brand appeal to conceal the party’s true nature and the authoritarian mindset of its current leader.


You can be green and otherwise progressive without the “socialist” smear sticking to the extent it would with your Democratic rivals. This is like Nixon and China. He was freer in 1972 to warm up relations because he was familiar to voters as a prominent Cold Warrior. You’re not a Nixon, blessedly; but you are a traditional Democrat with more friends in the business community than someone like Harris or Warren. So you’ll better cope with Trump’s “socialist” bilge.


Number Five: At the same time, while considering more drastic health care reforms in other respects, stick to your guns and avoid calling for the immediate abolition of private insurance. Too many union members and other voters are benefiting from gold-plated insurance plans.


Number Six: Don’t abandon your union friends in other ways. Fight for the right to organize, rolling back efforts in the other direction. Unions are or should be among the biggest poverty-reducers in existence. If more money went to workers through a better distribution of rewards, that would help the S&P in the long run. Employees could better afford new automobiles and washing machines. In a related vein, pick up Elizabeth Warren’s idea of imitating Germany and even having union members sit on the boards of large corporations.

Number Seven: Act like a genuine “Middle-Class Joe.” The millions in book royalties I can understand. What I can’t is allowing your relatives to try to peddle influence using the B word. You yourself may be clean. But the “optics” will still get in the way, as shown by the past Ukrainian activities of your younger son, as reported by the New York Times. Politico also made quite a fuss over the influence-peddling issue.


Hire Richard Painter, the former White House ethics lawyer from the George W. days, to scandal-proof your family. Imagine what Trump will do if you aren’t sufficiently proactive.

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Mitch the Snake: How to Defeat Mitch McConnell, The Second Evilest Man in Town

July 17, 2019

How to defeat Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the second-evilest man in town—Donald Trump’s main enabler? The cause gained even more urgency Tuesday when McConnell denied that Trump was a racist despite clear evidence such as his bigoted smears against four nonwhite Congress members.


Here’s my suggestion. Democrats should out-McConnell the Senate majority leader at the gut level in a way highly customized for Kentucky. Amy McGrath, the ex-fighter pilot who has just begun her campaign against him, should hit still harder than she is now. She should start with a good counter-slogan. McConnell’s people already have unveiled a YouTube saying, “Amy McGrath: Too Liberal for Kentucky.” Democrats should fire back with: “Mitch the Snake: Too Crooked for Kentucky.” Merely portraying McConnell as an enemy of progress isn’t enough. Draw the voters in with vivid—and accurate—language.


In highly visual TV commercials and campaign rhetoric, Democrats should exploit to the max the image of McConnell as a creature in the Washington swamp. Be as corny as needed. Just strive for results.


Do not call Mitch McConnell a “Turtle Man” based on the famous weak chin. He can’t help the chin. But McConnell can help the trickiness, manipulation and other negatives that have made him loathed even by many Republicans in Kentucky—despite Donald’s Trump’s popularity there. “Snake,” thus, fits, especially if the Democrats show a cartoonish Mitch Snake slithering around in a swamp and covered with slime. We can even hear him hiss. One or more of the Democrats’ many Hollywood friends could help make the Mitch Snake a masterpiece.


Yes, snakes at times can aid farmers and others, such as by killing mice and other rodents eating crops. I’ll not brook cruelty to snakes in real life. But our Mitch Snake can be a menacing, venomous killer. He can be treacherous, too. Bible-toting Kentuckians know which creature tempted Eve with an apple: a serpent. The sobriquet of “snake,” in McConnell’s case, even carries the Donald Trump seal of approach in a sense. Consider Trump’s warm reaction to McConnell’s harsh treatment of a fellow participant in the great healthcare debate, a Democratic senator the President said he liked.


“This guy’s mean as a snake,” Trump said of McConnell’s hopes of crushing West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin “like a grape” in the 2018 election. “I like it, though, Mitch,” the President said, according to a former presidential aide’s book. Then Trump patted McConnell on the back—twice.


Now, just what to mention in the commercials? As McGrath realizes, she’ll lose with a direct attack on McConnell for speaking out against impeachment. Never mind that Trump is a bigoted crook, sexual predator and aspiring dictator. To many voters in states like Kentucky, it just does not matter that Trump isn’t Mr. Rogers. For better or worse, Trump enjoys a high popularity rating in Kentucky even if it isn’t at its peak.

But without taking on Trump directly, McGrath can home in on the bugs that do count—in ways that focus on McConnell’s serpent-level treachery in the context of the well-being of the average Kentuckian.


Taxation of the wealthy and the corporations in which they own stock: Tell what the super-rich have done with the tax breaks that McConnell helped push through Congress (after having uttered the usual platitudes in favor of lowering the national debt). The money hasn’t gone toward job creation to the extent promised–the rich have lived it upthrough stock buybacks and in other ways. Go graphic with pictures of the Koch brothers and of billionaires’ yachts. Taxes, healthcare and Social Security should be the main show in the Democrats’ campaign against the snake. Amy McGrath has already gone after McConnell on those issues and others, but still could step up her attacks by way of the snake commercials. Remember, Kentucky is an affordable media state, just right for experiments of the kind proposed here.


Healthcare: Point out that when all is said and done, McConnell and most other Republicans don’t want good, comprehensive coverage despite all the misleading rationalizations to the contrary. As is usual, the Mitch Snake is the leading obstructionist. Say it in the most visual way! Show sick Kentuckians—oxygen masks, crutches, the whole works—begging for the Snake to care. The money would be there with appropriate taxation of the rich.


Social Security: Again and again, the 79-year-old Mitch Snake has been gunning for it. Actually we should be increasing, not decreasing benefits–through means ranging from heavier taxation of the rich to higher contributions that the well-off make to Social Security. But the Mitch Snake hisses out all kinds of misleading excuses against this. Put a cash-strapped Social Security pensioner on camera, someone likable who worked her rear end off before retirement, and tell of her on-going struggles. Social Security, like it or not, is a major source of retirement money for countless Americans, especially in poor states like Kentucky. Remember, Social Security is not a handout—recipients have paid for it.


The pension crisis and the Mitch Snake’s related nepotism: Joining President Trump in showing contempt for the American worker, the McConnell-led Senate confirmed the starkly underqualified Gordon Hartogensis as head of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. A major pension crisis could devastate the retirements of tens of millions of working people, and Hartogensis lacked and lacks the government and management experience to deal with the ongoing crisis. He is simply a lucky startup millionaire who retired at age 29. But who cares? Hartogensis’s brother-in-law is Mitch McConnell. Let’s see TV commercials with his name: make voters care. Who comes first? The Snake’s family or workers with pensions?


Energy: McConnell says that coal must be “part of our country’s energy future.” Huh? Despite global warming? And even though the coal industry is contracting? The long-term numbers don’t lie. Only McConnell does–in suggesting that there’s hope here. McGrath should tell where the real possibilities are, in alternative technologies such as solar.


Health-related environmental issues: Needless to say, the Snake opposes strong environmental regulations. Get Kentuckians on camera who are dying of pollution-related diseases. Talk about the Snake’s campaign contributions from polluters. Tell the voters how hazardous the Snake is to their health.


The Mitch Snake’s contribution to government gridlock and the decline of the legislative branch: McConnell is so much of an obstructionist that of the 127-plus most recent Senate votes, just 21 related to legislation. The Mitch Snake focused the Senate instead on rubber-stamping the Trump Administration’s appointments. Forget about meaningful legislation to deal with trifles like the heathcare crisis or Russian cyber attacks. In the words of U.S. Senator Tina Smith, the Mitch Snake has “transformed the Senate into little more than the Trump administration’s personnel office, the place where good ideas go to die.” Impeachment, as I see it, would be at the top of the list of good but Mitch-doomed ideas. Alas, Mitch sees the Republican party as his employer and Donald Trump as a CEO to be protected—especially given Trump’s appointments of the Snake’s relatives. Not just Hartogensis. McConnell's wife, Elaine Chao, is secretary of transportation.


Nationally, Democrats love to play up other issues, important ones, such as abortion and equal pay for women and LGBTQ rights, and in fact, fund-raisers should press these buttons in countrywide fund-raising campaigns against the Snake. But in a conservative rural state, such arguments won’t take the McGrath campaign very far and might even hurt it.


What will work in a rough-and-tumble place like right-leaning Kentucky can be learned from the late Roger Ailes, the satanic media genius who created Fox TV and helped more than a few troglodytic politicians with his brilliance as a political consultant. I abhor the distortions and other sleaze that Ailes made a hallmark, but he was right on target with his punch-to-the-gut approach. I’d rather this not be true. But Kentucky is Kentucky, not gentler, more progressive Vermont or Minnesota. McGrath needs to learn from Ailes’s effort on behalf of an ambitious young politician to defeat a veteran senator.


“Do you want to look nice, or do you want to win this thing?” Ailes said in urging the pol to go negative.


The client listened to Ailes. He signed off on commercials that did not simply tell how the incumbent was missing Senate votes to make remunerative speaking engagements. Instead the commercials showed humans and dogs hunting for the AWOL Senator. The Ailes client benefitting from this visceral, cartoonish approach was none other than Mitch McConnell, and the commercials were a major reason why he reached the Senate.


If McGrath wants to fend off potential Democratic primary opponents like Kentucky Sports Radio owner Matt Jones, she needs to go after McConnell to the fullest—in line with Ailes’s advice to “win this thing.” She should demonstrate what she’ll do in the general election. McGrath should play fair and stick to the facts in context, but a negative campaign, please, without the least shyness about name-calling, especially when so many people already despise the Snake. Nice, ethical opponents deserve respect, but neither adjective fits McConnell.

In some ways, the Snake is even more evil than Trump, who, despite his carnival-barking talents, so often comes across as a half-sentient mix of man and beast. The senator earned a B.A. in political science and later a law degree, so he should know how much damage he is doing to the American system through his protection of Trump against impeachment. Former House Speaker Paul Ryan, once Trump’s main enabler, is gone. McConnell remains. Now’s the time to defang the Mitch Snake by giving him a dose of his own medicine.

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