Opinion: Democrats must ‘plant their feet’
Here’s some advice for Democrats. It will run over 600 words, but I can give you the gist of it in two: Stop whining.
Seems like everywhere you go among the party faithful these days, pessimism is all you hear. You can’t shop, turn on the television, fire up social media or just poke your head out of your front door without risk of drowning in Democratic tears. A Pew poll released in January quantifies this. It found fewer than half of Democrats confident of victory this fall. The great and powerful Donald Trump, they moan, cannot be beaten.
Well, not with that attitude he can’t.
Look, I spend my days writing about social, moral and cultural issues, not the nuts and bolts of politics. I am no one’s idea of a campaign strategist. So feel free to take what follows with whatever amount of salt — a grain, a box — feels appropriate. But to me, this narrative of Trumpian invincibility seems wildly overblown.
As has been noted ad infinitum, Donald Trump’s 2016 victory, that win he did not expect to get, hardly reflected dominance in the popular vote, where Hillary Clinton trounced him by nearly 3 million. No, Trump’s win was a quirk of America’s antiquated Electoral College system, which allowed him to eke out excruciatingly close wins in a handful of key states.
He took Florida’s 29 electoral votes by a margin of just 113,000 out of 9 million ballots cast, nabbed Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes by a margin of just 44,000 out of 5.9 million and won Michigan’s 16 electoral votes by a paltry 10,704 out of 4.5 million. So, but for fewer than 170,000 votes in three states, we would have been spared the angry tweet storms, the resurrection of Frederick Douglass, the 16,000 lies, Sharpies on weather maps, good people on both sides, I would like you to do us a favor though, Brett Kavanaugh, Stephen Miller, Steve Bannon and all the other covfefe of the last 38 months.
Consider that, and then ask yourself: How many Democrats do you figure stayed home in 2016, whether because they were angry Bernie Sanders got hosed or sanguine after polls said Hillary Clinton had the election all sewn up? Do we really believe Democrats can’t turn a measly 170,000 votes?
Granted, Trump also lost a few states that could’ve gone either way. But note, too, that he has been the most consistently unpopular president in modern history. In an analysis of polling by the authoritative FiveThirtyEight blog, he is the only one in 70 years whose approval rating has never — not ever, not once — cracked 50 percent.
It is understandable that Democrats are jittery. As was the case in the elections of 1860, 1932 and 1940, nothing less than national survival is on the ballot this year. The machinery of authoritarianism is assembling itself before our eyes, and this is our one chance to stop it. The stakes are unfathomably high.
But that is a cause for determination — not an excuse for pessimism.
Not to trivialize any of this, but I keep coming back to a speech then-Los Angeles Lakers coach Pat Riley gave his demoralized team after a humiliating 148-114 shellacking at the hands of the despised Boston Celtics in the first game of the NBA Finals. Riley, now president of the Miami Heat, recounted advice his late father gave him on what turned out to be the last time the coach ever saw him.
“Somewhere, someplace, sometime,” Lee Riley told his son, “you are going to have to plant your feet, make a stand and kick some ass. And when that time comes, you do it.” For Riley’s team, that time was the 1985 NBA Finals.
For Democrats, that time is now.
— Leonard Pitts is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Miami Herald.