America: Pick A Torch

It’s impossible to read a newspaper without encountering a solemn “analysis” of what the Democrats absolutely must do in order to defeat Donald Trump in 2020.

Meanwhile, it becomes clearer every day that–stripped to its essence– the 2020 election will be about one overarching issue: what kind of country do we want to be?

A widely shared visual summed it up nicely with two photographs, side by side. One was a picture of Neo-Nazis with their tiki torches in Charlottesville; the second was a photo of the Statue of Liberty, focused on her torch. The caption asked “which torch will you choose?”

I rarely visit Twitter, but a friend directed me to a thread directly relevant to that question. 

The author was Tim Wise, a political consultant who was involved in two Louisiana campaigns against David Duke. Wise dismissed the handwringing, trolling and well-meaning advice being heaped on the Democrats.

If the Dems blow this election it will not be because they were “too far left on policy” or because they “weren’t left enough.” It will have little to do with policy at all. They are making a mistake caused by traditional consultant theory that does not apply here…

And by listening to influential pundits in liberal media who also don’t get the unique nature of Trumpism, relative to normal political movements & campaigns…this election is NOT going to be won by talking about all your “great plans” for health care, jobs, education, etc..

 And the reasons are several…Let me begin by saying that I have experience confronting the kind of phenomenon we see in Trumpism, and far more than most. Any of us who were involved in the fight against David Duke in LA in 90/91 know what this is and how it must be fought…

Wise then relayed his experience with campaigns against Duke. Political consultants warned against highlighting Duke’s racism; they said such a focus would play into Duke’s hands, and allow him to set the agenda.

Sound familiar?

In the Senate contest, the campaign followed mainstream advice not to “make a big deal” out of Duke’s racist appeals. To the extent they went negative, they talked about Duke paying his taxes late and avoiding service in Vietnam. They won, but very narrowly.

Wise regrets that approach because it normalized Duke. Attacking his bill paying habits or inadequate policy proposals “treated him like a normal candidate. But he was/is a NAZI…”

And none of his voters were voting 4 him bc of jobs, or tax policy or support for term limits, etc. And none were going to turn on him over late tax payments, Vietnam, etc. Indeed throwing that stuff out there & downplaying the elephant in the room (racism) seemed desperate..

It allowed people to say “well if he’s really this racist, white supremacist, why are they talking about all this other stuff?” It actually undermined our ability to paint him as the extremist he was/is. And as a result, the threat he posed was not clear enough to voters…

 And this didn’t just allow him to get votes he might not have gotten otherwise; it also depressed turnout among people who almost certainly disliked him but didn’t think he could win or would be all that big a deal if he did. In fact I recall convos with “liberals”…

Who said they weren’t going 2 vote bc after all Duke’s Dem opponent was just a shill for the oil and gas industry, and that was just as bad, blah blah fucking blah…because some lefties can’t tell the difference between corporatist assholes and actual literal Nazis…

 But we bore some responsibility for that because we got suckered into playing this conventional game and “not playing into his narrative.” Anyway, black and white liberal turnout is lower than it should have been and Duke gets 44% of vote…

In the Governor’s race we dispensed w/all that bullshit. We talked about Duke’s ongoing Nazism and the moral/practical evil of his racist appeals. We discussed how that moral evil would have real world consequences (driving tourists and business away, rightly so, from LA)..

Because it was wrong, and it was not who we wanted to be, and it was not who we were. We were better than that and needed to show the rest of the country that…

Now, did this flip any of Duke’s 1990 voters? Nah, not really. Indeed he got 65k MORE votes in the Governor’s race than the Senate race. But it was never about flipping them. We knew that would be almost impossible…

To flip Duke voters would require that they accept the fact that they had previously voted for a monster, and people are loath to do that. Our goal was not to flip them, but to DRIVE UP TURNOUT among the good folks, many of whom stayed home in 90…

And that is what happened. The concerted effort of the anti-Duke forces (not just us), challenging Duke’s “politics of prejudice,” and making the election about what kind of state we wanted to be, drove turnout through the roof…

When it was over, Duke had gotten 65k more votes than in 90, but his white share went to 55 (from 60) and overall to 39 (from 44) because the anti-Duke turnout swamped him…So what does this have to do with 2020 and Trump? Do I really need to explain it?…

First, trying to flip Trump voters is a waste of time. Any of them who regret their vote don’t need to be pandered to. They’ll do the right thing. Don’t focus on them. That said, very few will regret their vote. They cannot accept they voted for a monster or got suckered…

Duke retained 94% of the folks he got the first time out (and got new people too), as Trump likely will. So forget these people–or at least don’t wast time tailoring messages to them. And policy plans for affordable college don’t mean shit to them, nor health care…

Their support for Trump was never about policy. It was about the bigotry, the fact that he hates who they hate…

Wise is right. Much as we might wish it were otherwise, in 2020, America will choose a torch. Pray it’s the right one.


  1. Tim Wise argues a rather base counter-attack for what is to come toward 2020. His description of Louisiana politics is as filthy and distasteful as the swamps I trained in with the infantry. Let me just say it pays big time to keep your mouth shut when jumping into a swamp with full combat gear and fixed bayonet. It takes a few cups of the most bitter canteen coffee to remove the after taste of foul water. Given the choice of fighting for the Torch of Lady Liberty or succumb to a torch-lit Nazi parade, I would do it again. This is the base reality. Getting rid of a rabid raccoon from the attic is not pleasant work.

  2. Trump understands something that too few Democrats do. Don’t forget your base.

    Discrimination is anathema to Democratic voters and candidates. Thankfully it’s become anathema to many independents and Republicans too. Covert discrimination and dog whistles could be missed, dismissed or ignored, but Trump’s blatant and continuing racism and bigotry is too apparent to miss or ignor.

    Additionally, I think many more Americans now suffer from Trump fatigue. The polarization he relishes has fractured families, friendships, and even international alliances. The daily chaos, outrages, and staff turnovers are exhausting. He used to be a novelty act, but the act is old, offensive, and alarming. Next act please.

  3. People who will vote for Trump do so because he promises them power. It is the oldest story in all politics. All of the thoughts about what they will do with that power are irrelevant because no matter what they want to impose on the rest of us it’s the opposite of who we fundamentally are; freedom lovers who understand that our freedom stems from all of us with the same power over government, the ability to freely hire and fire those who behave in ways that understand and accept and are consistent with our Constitution: government of, by and for all of we the people.

    We surprisingly have been called on in our times to be freedom fighters, not necessarily warriors but fighters just the same.

    The only relevant question is our numbers compared to those besotted by the thought of power over us and in addition considering all of the electoral advantages Republicans have given themselves.

    The fact of domestic enemies of the Constitution snuck up on us. We screwed up and now we have to repair the damage. Time to just do it and move on.

  4. Our “Torch” should be a return to the Constitution of the United States of American MINUS Citizens United.

  5. If policy positions mattered, Hillary would be our President. She had somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 position papers available through her web site. We have to understand that we are engaged in a real life “Short Attention Span Theatre.” Americans want great sound bytes, not great policy.

  6. If the dems were serious about beating Trump there wouldn’t be 20+ people still in the race. There is no mechanism to cull the heard so to speak. This will just go on and on while Trump just gathers his money pointing out the insanity of his opponents. I suspect a few candidates will go all the way to the convention giving Trump a long unobstructed path to election. If there is a war for the soul of the country, the dems are clearly losing because no one is at the front. They are in the rear with the gear making plans, debating issues, and desperately adjusting their badges of “honor”. This blog today is absolutely spot on… and “the front”, so to speak, is turning out people who no longer want to be what we have become.

  7. if djt’s ‘base’ is in fact a majority then the war for democracy is lost until we do away with those that are perpetuating this perversion of government. Personally, I think we are about to witness real history – the downfall of the American Empire. Where are YOU going to go? As for me. I was born here – I am not going anywhere. djt is invited along with all those that have helped him to go to HELL at their earliest convenience, there are a lot of folks out here more than willing to expedite that process! (and they said it couldn’t happen here…)

  8. 2020 will define the US going forward just as 1776, 1861, and 1941 did. Freedom won all of those other times. Will it lose on our watch?

  9. In, I assume liberal, LA the focus on racism strategy ended with victory that was larger, but the increase seems to be almost within the margin of error.

    I might be careful taking an LA plan and applying country wide. Just a thought.

  10. It is past time that we Dems fight fire with fire.

    We need to consistently bring up the awful results of trump’s tax give-away to the already wealthy and how it enabled corporations to buy back stocks rather than create good paying jobs for the unemployed.

    We need to harp on how he has damaged our country’s status as a world leader and how he has given economic and political power to both China and Russia while causing both economic and political harm to us with his tariffs.

    We need to create a strong message to Dem and potential Dem voters that their and their children’s futures are in great danger if they don’t vote and especially if they don’t vote for a Dem President. We need to point out the long list of injuries that trump and his cabal will cause to them.

    We have got to stop trying to get the voters’ attention by being quiet and civilized and hoping that those who see no reason to vote will somehow hear us or realize that this time is different. The Dem Party must spend the funds necessary to reach those people and be loud and clear about the dangers they will suffer if they choose not to vote and specifically choose not to vote trump out of office.

  11. Sounds like the Resistance strategy, which also relied on showing Trump getting help from Russia and then impeaching him. It’s a losing strategy.

    In 2016, the election was all about populism because Americans are tired of traditional politicians. The election in 2020 will be about populism as well and if the Dems through another corporate-controlled Dem at them, they’ll lose.

    By the way, Pete Buttigieg just got nailed by Diane Ravich as a corporate school reformer. Watch him drop in the polls.

    Policy contrary to the status quo will win in 2020 as it did in 2016, but Trump lied to his base. His tax giveaway to the rich increased the deficit and Pelosi handed him a gift. Same old shit, different day.

    Americans want to be excited about their future and throwing out status quo candidates for POTUS will keep the torch in Trump’s hands and all his Neo Nazi-Fascist base. They’re excited over being over the majority and having a POTUS who hammers the “lazy blacks who get freebies” and the immigrants who are job killers and also get handouts.

    Dems need a candidate that will excite their base — not simply be not-Trump.

  12. TLentych; THANK YOU! That overextended lineup should at least be trying to unite on major issues, even with some differences. They are dividing the Democratic party with their back-biting and insults, looking more like Republicans at the Kavannaugh hearings.

  13. Follow the lead of the Baltimore Sun responding to Trump’s shading their city:

    “Better to have a few rats than to be one”

  14. Lived in DC in the early 90s. At night the rats in the streets around the White House and Blair House were legend.
    He who lives in rat infested city should not throw rat insults.

  15. Todd, I agree with you. Two statements from the blog above encapsulates rather well the Corporate Democrat philosophy:

    “It will have little to do with policy at all.” And ” this election is NOT going to be won by talking about all your “great plans” for health care, jobs, education, etc.”.

    Of course the Corporate Democrats do not want to discuss Medicare For All. The Corporate Democrats as exemplified by Joe Biden want to continue subsiding the Insurance Companies. K. Harris is backtracking on Medicare For All.

    If you have no policy, or no plans what do you have – Nothing.

    For President Agent Orange it is all about centering all that adulation and fervor on himself, he plays the evangelical bible thumper’s like a virtuoso musician.

    I had to laugh when I read this in The Onion:
    Pelosi Concerned Outspoken Progressive Flank Of Party Could Harm Democrats’ Reputation As Ineffectual Cowards.

    Admitting she had worries about the rise of left-leaning activist groups within her party, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed concerns Thursday that outspoken progressives could do permanent damage to Democrats’ reputation as ineffectual cowards.

    We are dithering, incompetent doormats who are infinitesimally less objectionable than our opposition.”

    The Onion is satire. There is more than a grain of truth in what they have written.

  16. Yes to the Nancies’ analyses today. Let’s not get too excited about a choice of approaches to winning the next election. We, after all, are in a decided majority, and like Trump’s base, our “base” is virtually immovable and capable of expansion among independents and a few disillusioned Republicans.

    After all the political bloodletting, we simply find that the final result depends upon arithmetic. The trick is to let Trump’s mouth help win it for us by exciting those Democrats and independents who might not otherwise vote while not ourselves becoming complacent, talk up his racism and Nazism, marginally discuss his tax bill and sex life, but all against an overarching effort at Turnout! Turnout! Turnout!

    While early in the game and the potential for “many slips twixt the cup and the lip” before November, 2020, current numbers among independents show a strong bias in our favor. Let’s expand on that number and get lazy Democrats off the couch come crunch time, not just to send Trump packing but to send his congressional backers and agency heads packing as well, since preservation of our most precious asset held in common, our democracy, depends upon it.

  17. The essence of the coming election and the existence of the monster is this: “First, trying to flip Trump voters is a waste of time. Any of them who regret their vote don’t need to be pandered to. They’ll do the right thing. Don’t focus on them. That said, very few will regret their vote. They cannot accept they voted for a monster or got suckered…”

    Most of the above comments are still trying to assume Trump voters and supporters are rational. They are not. They are mostly white males who have a cultural problem with their masculinity. Trump empowered them and brought forth their testosterone-laced hate and anger. THAT is what these creatures vote for. The author is right. Forget them. They are lost to democracy, just as those who supported Hitler were lost forever.

    The policies are the easy part. Now, the Democrats, corporate or otherwise, must alter their message and frame the campaign about saving our Constitution and democratic republic from the fascist monsters of the Trump government. If frightened people votes their fears, then those who respect our institutions should be scared shitless right now. Getting them out to vote will, as it did in Louisiana, swamp (pun intended) Trump. Trump stokes those fears daily. Why should it be a problem?

  18. Trump hopes to win by making his hater base act out with open hostility. Try going door to door to register voters in red areas? As a liberal I have done this and it is not fun. Will my neighbors target me because I “Want to take away their guns and make them potty with weirdos?” That is how fear works. Trump uses fear and the threat of violence. Fox News is free. Good journalism takes subscriptions and reading widely from credible and non-credible sourcing. I see the sort of posts my older white friends share on face book and some that my liberal ones share. Often they are easy paths to marking the sharer as a gullible mark. After all when Cambridge Analyticall wanted easy marks for their client state, they tagged those who shared certain conspiracy theories. Ant Vaxxers and other popular notions or sentimental but contrived stories of victimization or illness. Who would not want to share the war dog on his birthday, or this honorable non existent BTW soldier?’ Cant he get some likes or prayers.’ Think before you like or share. Editorially controlled journalism that answers to publishers, readers, and reporters matters. Be it TV Print or Digital. FCEBOOK IS a war zone of ideas, as is instant gram or snapping chats but be wary of the aims an ideals of the businesses behind them. What are they selling?

  19. I watched a Nova episode about “Myths and Monsters”. It’s about how historically we create a narrative to see our way through a crisis.

    Wise, Ms. Kennedy, the Baltimore Sun et al have it correct. Keep the story simple.

  20. Getting good stuff today! YES – ignore Trump voters, any “reformed” will take care of themselves. Focus on the seldom/non-voters indys/DEMS (historically minorities and young people) – they are the low hanging fruit. Use simple messages about powerful, emotional issues: separation of mothers and children, treatment of children in custody, corruption (“a fox in every henhouse”).

    Show we care about the few key issues that arouse folks: cost of healthcare/drugs, college debt, infrastructure, jobs for the non-college degreed.

    We at CommonGoodGoverning used this strategy in 2018 for the House and helped flip at least 4 GOP districts.

  21. Tim Wise has some views that we must digest and use to beat the President in 2020. We must also “motivate” people to vote next year as it will be the most defining election shaping our countries fate for many, many years to come!!

  22. Building a campaign around Trump’s affronts to the human race may not be as simple as Mr. Wise suggests. How can you discuss his racism without highlighting his white nationalism? How can you emphasize his treasonous activities (no response to Russian hacking) without mentioning his self-dealing? How can you call down the wrath of the electorate on his treatment of immigrant children and demonstrate how he has damaged America in the eyes of the world?How can you build a case on his hatred for the rule of law without showing how he mocks some of America’s most honored and accomplished citizens? How can we get voters to focus on his love of dictators Kim and Putin and Xi without laying out his idiotic views on tariffs? How can people be made to see that he has created a monumentally corrupt and incompetent swamp without bringing up his multiple neuroses? Discussing Trump’s crimes is overburdening – a treasure trove of riches.

    We need to determine (quickly) which are the most impactful issues with the electorate, how to make the strongest case possible against those offenses, how to craft and stay on a simple message, and how to ignore his almost unlimited ability to use his microphone to amuse his base while destroying people. None of these are activities at which Democrats are particularly talented. But given the number of really smart liberals, it seems to me to boil down to a question of discipline. Once we identify his Achilles heel, how do we get campaigners to stay on message? Maybe appointing Pelosi as the enforcer could help Democrats stay on theme.

    Yet some pundits say that focusing on Trump the man will not prove effective. Fortunately for our side, he is doing his best to self-destruct and maybe our best strategy is to support this effort.

  23. We brought Tim Wise to your attention just a few days ago. Thanks, Sheila, for reinforcing what Wise has to say.

  24. Terry,

    We must do all these things. This criminal, traitorous enterprise must be identified, detailed and framed such that the real Americans will stand up and vote them all out. When I say all, I mean to include the silent Republicans who have let their dysfunctional politics help and abet the destruction of our Constitution and our government. Moscow Mitch, Putin’s Bitch should be the first to go. He’s so corrupt that a jail should crumble before he’s let out.

  25. I intend to call him out as a racist, a blatant woman hater, a thief and a liar at every opportunity, with verifiable facts to back it up.
    Unfortunately, all his supporters seem to be able to overlook, ignore or embrace all of the above character flaws if the economy is “good”. (Good for whom is another topic for another day.) As long as the money is coming in and the jobs (often more than one) are working for the indies and disaffected Repubs, they will either vote for him and his party nominees, or they will stay home. His supporters are rubes in the most common sense of the word. Marks seldom will admit to their bad choices.
    Remember that he is just the tip of the iceberg. Below the waterline are the state and local hangers-on who want to ride his bandwagon to power. DT voters will also likely vote for those on the down ballot as well.

  26. Keep the messages on policy simple and to the point and orchestrate the rest of along the lines of what Admiral William F. Halsey said to his command after assuming it in October 1942 during the battle for Guadalcanal against the Japanese….STRIKE, REPEAT, STRIKE. This war has to be taken right to Trump and his sycophants in the Congress and elsewhere at all costs and with no holds barred. Time is short and there is far too much too lose, more than we can probably even now imagine, if this vile charade continues much longer.

  27. I wish I could say I have some insight into why anyone voted for The Trump, but then, I don’t understand why anyone would refuse to vote for Clinton or why they would throw their precious vote away on a third-party candidate either, I have some suspicions and theories, but… it still mystifies me.
    I do believe that it is impossible to change the minds of people you don’t understand so I will deem them to be indecipherable curiosities and leave them alone.
    I am upset with the fault finders and finger pointers that call themselves Democrats, I am sure they mean well, but they are really just counter productive noise, as far as I am concerned, they miss the point. This impending campaign has nothing to do with how accurate your 20/20 hindsight is or how firmly you believe your perception to be the only true path to Democracy. The only control any of us really has is control over our own vote. We can’t allow others to tell us what ”the truth” is, nor can we always presume our righteousness is justified .
    11/3/2020 is about how committed you are to defeating the ideology (ies) of our fellow Americans who support the current leadership.
    I have a plan that works for me:
    1… I will chose a candidate to support some time prior to the Primary in the state where I live, (Tuesday, March 10, 2020 here in Washington.)
    2…I will research him or her as thoroughly as I know how and I will allow myself to reevaluate my decision if I encounter something I can’t abide or if I discover someone I think will make a better President.
    3…I will contribute and actively campaign FOR that candidate.
    4…I will ignore all attacks and negativity regarding Democratic candidates and only pay attention to people who can tell me who they support…and why.
    5…I will vote for my candidate in the Primary.
    6…I will support my candidate throughout the Primary season.
    7…At the end of the Primaty season I will support the candidate who is deemed to be the winner by the majority of my fellow Democrats, (of whatever ilk).
    8)… I will attack any DINO who disparages the Democratic nominee.
    9)… I will question the nationality, patriotism, intelligence, parentage and sanity of anyone who announces that they will vote for a third party candidate.
    10)…I will vote for the Democtat in the National Election…

    That’s my plan.

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