Embrace the Boring
By: Scott Jennings
I wrote in this space before the midterm that Donald Trump has a better than 50 percent chance of being reelected in 2020. Since the results of the 2018 election rolled in, several people have asked if I feel the same way given the Democratic gains in the suburbs and upper Midwest.
I continue to favor the president for reelection, but Mr. Trump must do what he clearly hates: embrace the boring.
At a pre-election rally, Mr. Trump told West Virginians: “They all say, ‘Speak about the economy, speak about the economy…Well, we have the greatest economy in the history of our country. But sometimes it’s not as exciting to talk about the economy.”
This was an unfortunate tactical mistake by the president, sending a message that he has other things on his mind than the personal financial well-being of millions of voters who came around to him before but have been bothered by his behavior in key moments (i.e. Charlottesville).
The economy is decidedly not boring. In fact, it is rather exciting to think of a dynamic marketplace with more job openings than people looking for jobs. And many people in the suburbs—I speak from experience—moved out there because they find comfort in stability and routine. We wake up every day, drop our kids at school, go to work, rinse, and repeat. We get crazy on the weekends by watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and The Weather Channel.
This is the American dream for many who supported Trump in 2016 and must be convinced to do so again.
What Mr. Trump really finds boring is staying on message. He wants original programming every day instead of a repeating script about low unemployment, solid wage growth, strong gross domestic product, etc. How many presidents would kill for Mr. Trump’s boredom? The only hiccup in his economic message was a volatile October stock market.
But this story is decidedly not tedious for the people who left the Republican Party and voted Democrat last week. Suburban voters fled for bluer pastures partly because the president prioritized something other than the economy as his closing argument. Slightly right-of-center voters will put up with bushels of drama if they believe the president is looking out for their job. But when Mr. Trump became distracted by a migrant caravan two or three thousand miles away from Milwaukee, they wondered: why am I tolerating this, again?
The same is true for the blue-collar workers in the upper Midwest, where Democrats won senate and gubernatorial races in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania (Ohio was a stubborn holdout for the Democrats, where the GOP held the governor’s mansion). A core reason Trump won those states in 2016 was a belief among the residents there that the political elite—embodied by Hillary Clinton’s candidacy—had forgotten them. As they saw it, Clinton and the elites had lost touch with what it meant to build an economy that works for people in non-urban areas, too.
The president—perhaps thirsting for a drink from the well that delivered him the GOP nomination—thought he needed to reinforce similar immigration messages to again galvanize his party. But Republicans of all stripes were already ginned up thanks to the fight over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. To close the deal in the suburbs and Midwest, Mr. Trump needed to relentlessly sell the good economy that he and the Republicans have created, creating a personal connection for wavering voters. Mr. Trump needs yoga moms and their husbands to connect his policies to their swelling 401k’s and 529’s as a salve to the more cringeworthy moments of this presidency.
“Democrats produce mobs, Republicans produce jobs,” the president said a few times in October, a perfect six-word slogan capturing the unhinged nature of the American left and the GOP-led economic revival. Fleeting as it was, this motto could have been embraced by any Republican anywhere. Sure, voters might have thought, I don’t like Trump Drama but my job is solid and these Democrats are ruining people’s dinners, for goodness sakes.
Fortunately for Mr. Trump, the 2020 Democratic primary is likely to produce a nominee more representative of the liberal mob than of suburban America. And when they make this mistake, Mr. Trump must spring the political trap of reminding suburban voters that while Democrats would rather swing from the Supreme Court’s chandeliers, he is looking out for the jobs and futures of real people in real America.
Enjoy your landslide, Mr. Trump. Learn the phrase “peace and prosperity” and say it often. A campaign like that may feel boring but taking the oath of office a second time will more than make up for it.
Scott Jennings is a CNN Contributor and Partner at RunSwitch Public Relations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @ScottJenningsKY on Twitter.