Nobody asked me, but…

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

To be clear, the small number of misguided souls who call themselves Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists and the like should have no serious place in our public discourse (I’ll make the same argument for anyone, left, right, middle or otherwise who would use violence or intimidation to further their political aims).

And aside from the small group of vocal, angry folks who would equate Neo-Nazis and those who oppose them, most across the political spectrum would agree with the above statement. I’m not here to debate that issue — from cable TV to the Web, it’s been argued, over and over.

To wander off into a different take on this, I’ve been asking myself how I would advise Republicans and Democrats, were I back in my old gig of running races and managing messaging for candidates.

For Democrats, it’s fairly straight forward — with one or two pitfalls — and I’ll address that later on along with a calculated misdirection by Republicans that could leave Democratic candidates in jeopardy of hurting themselves.

Understand that none of the following is a policy endorsement, but rather a discussion of tactics and options.

But if I were advising Republicans….well, I’m not entirely sure what I’d say. I was ruminating over this with another former political operative the other day and it quickly became clear that good advice for one person might fail spectacularly for another, because of the complicated dynamics.

Obviously, as a Republican, you have to denounce the Nazi and Klan types and the like. They’re bad. Electorally, those who support them are a small number, so it’s not a big hit and it’s not like they’re going to vote for Democrats if you turn them off. The tricky group is the next and much bigger slice — white voters with racial and economic grievances, a hunk of which is in the Trump Coalition.

How you craft your message to suggest Nazis are bad but allowing that some folks have legitimate concerns about feeling marginalized, is tricky. You have to do so while convincing educated voters you’re not racist or pandering, a difficult task.

Although the go-to for the last three decades has been for Republicans to play the cultural issue, it might be a major mistake in this environment (you may get support among the aggrieved, but come across as too extreme to the moderates in the party and independent voters). Obviously, if you go too far in the opposite direction, you may face an ugly and costly primary.

Better to focus on economic opportunity, I think; make an argument for a more inclusive economy, tax credits for manufacturing and promote a fiscally sustainable infrastructure program. Tax cuts — unless they happen deep into the cycle of 2018 — might prove counterproductive. Most folks in the lower and middle classes don’t pay a ton of taxes and may not notice small increases in their take home pay —  and it is likely that much of the media focus will talk about the seemingly giant cuts for the wealthy. And while we can argue the merits of such a plan, that’s not my point here, it is managing the messaging — what does the end voter hear at the end of the day?

A lot of folks are angry, with some reason, about the lack of upward mobility or even the ability to stay even. GOP candidates need to talk about opening up economic opportunity and growing the economy, and helping workers evolve into their next career. Folks need hope of a better life.

Coal mines aren’t coming back — not for regulatory reasons, but because of market-driven forces — and eventually voters will figure that out and be even angrier at those who led them on. While American manufacturing is never going to come back the way it was, there are strong economic and national security reasons for working to make sure some segments (high tech stuff for defense) return to U.S. shores. Here, a program of targeted tax credits, worker training incentives — and yes, the likelihood of federal defense contracts would spark growth, both in terms of good paying jobs and economic growth.

For both parties, health care is a landmine. I’ll deal with the perils Democrats face further down the page. Republicans have to walk a very careful line between those angry about the failure of the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and those angry about the repeal proposals — and the things that potentially could have been stripped from folks under the bills that failed to pass in the U.S. Senate.

At this point, GOP candidates, particularly those in swing districts, will have to choose their language carefully. While “Repeal and Replace” is red meat for some portions of the Republican base, it is also a reminder of a failure and represents something a lot of moderate Republicans and independents were at best uncomfortable embracing. Republicans painted themselves into something of a rhetorical corner on this issue and there is no easy way out.

New language will help. Repair — there is widespread agreement even among many Democrats that the ACA needs some reworking to be sustainable and workable — is a better, more positive word. Already, we’ve seen Chester County Republicans such as Ryan Costello and Lloyd Smucker move to back such a position. Again — I’m not here to debate the policy, but rather the politics and strategy. This gives Republicans something of a moral high ground — “We tried repeal and it failed, so we’re going to do something to help as many people as possible and work to fix the worst parts of the ACA — especially the job killing provisions.”

It won’t be an easy sell — and may prompt some angry exchanges at public events — but it is one that will bring along some of the anti-ACA folks, most of the middle and some of the left.

Republicans face a tough 15 months. While voter turnout in the local elections tends to be poor — especially for Chester County Democrats — I expect to see a lot more Democratic turnout (aside from the fact that the county party has more GOTV resources than any time in memory) for the fall, 2017 elections. Democrats are angry — and no small number of independent voters are, too. The angry democratic voters will be looking to send a message and this fall’s races may well be a harbinger of things to come.

For Democrats, they must go well beyond Trump trashing if they expect to win. While that argument may pump up the base — and turnout — in the short term, Democrats haven’t done a great job in sharing their vision for economic growth and inclusion. This should be in the wheelhouse of the party, but somehow got dropped out of the playbook in recent years.

There are great opportunities to talk about jobs, fairness and opportunity and to map out a vision to accomplish strides forward. If Democrats can lay out a passionate and optimistic vision for the future, they can make inroads with moderate Republicans.

But….as always, there is a trap: single-payer health care.

I know it is a holy grail item for some on the left. With the behavior of insurance companies and big pharma, it is increasingly more tempting to make the argument.

But don’t. While it might win a few more primary votes, it will be a general election killer. That’s why Republicans are trying to taunt their most formidable Democratic challengers into backing it.

Look, maybe single-payer is a good goal for the distant future, but at this point, it is not something that is sustainable financially. Backing it means allowing Republicans to define the terms of debate, casting you as being in favor of “big new taxes and letting Big Government control healthcare.”

Folks, that’s what called a messaging loser. Yes, I know a lot on the left want you badly to fall on this sword in some sort of nod to liberal purity, but it would be a massive tactical mistake.

My suggestion — as this is really the biggest stumbling block Democrats face in the next 15 months — is to shock people by being honest.

“We didn’t get here overnight, and we’re not going to be able to fix it overnight,” said a wise, theoretical Democratic candidate. “While there are clear issues with the ACA, let’s not forget what it was like before it passed: folks being getting tossed off their coverage when they got sick, lifetime caps and bankruptcies that ruined people’s lives. Clearly, we can’t go back to that.

“The first step must be to stabilize the ACA exchanges and reduce the burdens on small employers and ditch the medical device tax. There’s broad support for that — and those basic fixes will help stabilize things, so we can take some time and figure out what makes sense in the long haul.”

Then said Democrat can make arguments for incremental change: “As older Americans — those over 55, but too young for Medicare — tend to be the most expensive to insure, why not allow them to buy into Medicare? This would offer a real-world test of whether a future “Medicare For All” system would be workable, and reduce price pressure on insurance premiums for everyone else by taking some of the sickest folks out of the pool. With that, though, we must allow Medicare to negotiate with Big Pharma on drug pricing — this is another common sense measure with broad support, if you can negotiate when buying car, why can’t Medicare negotiate drug prices? — and another way to bring down health insurance premiums.”

You can even throw a bone to the left by suggesting: “The day may come when single-payer makes sense — but that is a journey best taken slowly and carefully. There is no return and no easy do over. The smart move is to work toward reforms that will have immediate impact on improving coverage and reducing costs. Steps like Medicare55 would allow us to take evolutionary steps, rather than revolutionary steps — crucial when we’re talking about something as important as healthcare.”

Is that going to please everyone? Obviously not. But it keeps you out of the trap, keeps you from a mountain of scare TV ads (they’ll find something else, as the GOP remains driven by the anger of its base — but healthcare is so personal it tends to resonate beyond the base, while other issues likely won’t) and gives you a reasonable framework, without seeming to duck the issue.

Both parties face serious mine fields in terms of messaging in the next 15 months. Whichever party does a better job of navigating them will win in November of 2018.

***

There was an outpouring of comment about Charlottesville and President Donald Trump’s reaction to the events there. Not all of it fit in our one straight news story this week on the fallout, so I wanted run it here without comment.

“The repugnant hatred spewed last Saturday in Charlottesville by white supremacists has absolutely no place in our country — it is beyond disturbing and un-American. Bigotry — whether religious or racial — is vile. Let me be very clear: anyone who promotes bigotry is not welcome in the Republican Party of Pennsylvania, and we disavow them in the strongest terms. We do not want or need their support and the cowards that perpetrate violence should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. It is time for Americans of all backgrounds, races, and creeds to unite as one nation.”

— Val DiGiorgio, Chair, Republican Party of Pennsylvania.

“I am outraged, horrified, and disgusted by the white nationalist rallies, violence, and domestic terrorist attack that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia, however, I am not surprised. Violent, racist, hateful white nationalist rhetoric has been on the rise over the past several years. White nationalist ideology has recently attained new prominence having been given a national platform at the presidential level. Several of our President’s top advisors, and the President’s own willingness to incorporate racist rhetoric from the first speech of his campaign have emboldened racists of every kind. Pennsylvania ranks 6th with the number of organized hate groups, with at least one hate group headquartered in Lancaster County. This is unacceptable!

When leaders remain silent in the presence of racism they in effect give it consent. It is long past time for us to confront racism head on, and ensure events like the violence and attacks in Charlottesville do not become more common, and white nationalist ideology does not become more prevalent. Strongly worded condemnations of white supremacist ideology are a good start, but they are not enough, we need decisive, effective action.

In 2007, as the superintendent of Warwick School District, I saw with my own eyes the danger of racist ideology and white supremacy. Threats of violence driven by racism began to wreak havoc in our schools and community. At the first manifestation of racism, I immediately spoke out and denounced the violent white supremacist rhetoric as hateful and evil, and made sure that our community understood that it will not be accepted.

Beyond simply speaking out, I took immediate action to raise awareness and educate our students, staff, parents, and our community about prejudice so that our children and youth would reject all forms of bigotry and respect the dignity and worth of every person. I partnered with the Anti-Defamation League, the U.S Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General, and many other organizations to extinguish racism and bigotry from our schools and create a culture in which respect, compassion, and safety of all individuals is assured.”

— Dr. John George, Democratic Candidate, 16th Congressional District.

“You know, one of the locations that we visited in Israel was the Holocaust Museum, the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and Museum. If you’ve visited that museum or the Holocaust museum in Washington, D.C., it’s a really somber experience to visit that memorial, or that type of memorial. But it’s necessary and valuable to do that to better understand the horrors of the Holocaust. And it’s just a really stark reminder of the racism and the hate that drove Hitler and drove the Nazis.

It was really horrifying to come back to what had happened in Charlottesville, which was absolutely unacceptable. We simply cannot accept that kind of behavior here, and we can’t tolerate what were really horrendous acts of racism, displays of white supremacy, and the idea of Nazi flags being waved. It just simply is unacceptable.”

— U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-16), in a conference call with reporters on Aug. 15 (before President Trump’s impromptu press conference), discussing his recent trip to Israel.

“Those who march under Nazi flags or with KKK-affiliated groups are not ‘fine people.’ “

Smucker, later that same day, on Twitter, reacting to the President’s comments.

“The recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, are nothing less than an act of domestic terrorism, and the resulting deaths are an abomination to our country, our people, and our democracy.

“Representative Lloyd Smucker and President Trump have failed to address the severity of the situation, neither clearly denouncing the actions of these hate groups. On Saturday and again yesterday, President Trump said in the clearest terms that he supports these anti-Semitic, Nazi-loving, domestic terrorists.  

“Rep. Smucker was late, half-hearted, and on the fence about his stance on these acts of hate. At a moment when Americans and his constituents need a strong voice, he is incredibly weak.

“There is no place in America for the anti-Semetic, Nazi-inspired intimidation and violence on display from these neo-Nazi and white nationalist hate groups. I denounce the actions of the cowards in Charlottesville. I laud those that stood up against them.

“Today, I call on Congressman Lloyd Smucker to denounce the President and his actions in no uncertain terms, through a proper, public, on-the-record statement that lays clear exactly where his loyalties lie. Rep. Smucker’s actions, unfortunately, show a Congressman who shares President Trump’s goals and agenda 97.6% of the time.

“Representative Smucker: you are on notice.”

— Christina Hartman, Democratic Candidate, 16th Congressional District.

“Our entire nation has been deeply affected by the horrible events in Charlottesville. These are times when we cannot remain silent, especially those who hold or seek to hold elected office.  

As the Democratic candidate for Chester County Treasurer, I unequivocally denounce nazis, white nationalists and racist groups of every variety and by any name.  These groups should have no home in Chester County or the United States of America. 

Further, I call upon all elected officials and candidates who have not yet done so to join me in repudiating the un-American hatred that we saw in Charlottesville. Although President Trump could not bring himself to acknowledge it, there is only one side here: the side of good, decent Americans and true American values. 

Speaking out is not enough.  When standing up to this kind of tragic violence and the hate, bigotry and racism that drives it, we must have the courage to stand behind our convictions and take action to foster equality, acceptance and understanding among all people.  

We may want to believe that our community is immune to this problem, but we all know that it is not.  Stamping out racism demands that each of us, especially those elected to serve the public, do all we can, with the power and authority vested in us, to take real and meaningful action to address these problems in our society.  As County Treasurer, I will be an advocate and fight to make sure we are investing in the communities and people most in need and do all I can to support programs and policies that recognize that we are all part of the same community and that each of us regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality or income should receive equal treatment and dignity as human beings.”

— Patricia Maisano, Democratic candidate for Chester County Treasurer

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