President Richard Nixon, in the middle of the Watergate scandal, famously said, “People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook.” In the case of Donald Trump, America has already weighed in on that issue. According to a recent Quinnipiac poll, “64% of voters said Trump had committed crimes before entering office.” This is particularly astounding, given how difficult it is, in our hyperpartisan nation, to get nearly two-thirds of voters to agree on anything! (For the record, Trump denies any wrongdoing.)
And sure, it would be tempting for the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates to capitalize on this, and make Trump’s past actions (and tweets) their No. 1 issue during the Democratic primary contest. But they shouldn’t.
By now, American voters are very familiar with who Trump is. There’s a reason why Trump has the highest disapproval rating of any modern president: almost 53%. Even Jimmy Carter, who lost re-election, only had a 39.3% disapproval rating at this point.
Trump is flawed, but it’s not enough for Democratic presidential candidates to point at that. What voters need to hear from them is how they’ll be different from him – where do they stand on the critical issues facing our country? And this is precisely where the candidates should focus their time, both in the primary and in the general election.
In short, they need to give voters a reason to come out and vote for them.
For example: Exit polls from November’s midterm election found nearly 70% of voters said they “want major changes” to our nation’s health care system. And in the days before Trump’s February 5, 2019, State of the Union, the top issue that voters wanted to hear Trump address was how he would improve our health care system.
The good news for Democrats is that polls find that Americans view the Democratic Party as more likely to fix health care. In one 2018 midterm exit poll that asked respondents which party will better address coverage for pre-existing conditions, 58% named Democrats; 34% cited the Republican Party. And a November 2018 Gallup Poll found only 36% of Americans approved of how Trump was handling health care policy. If Democratic candidates can offer concrete solutions to pre-existing conditions, rising deductibles and soaring prescription drug costs, they will likely find they have a receptive audience.
Beyond Trump’s failure to deliver on health care, there’s also his signature issue of immigration. A recent CNN poll found Trump’s approval on immigration at only 39% – while 58% gave him a thumbs down. That means Trump’s fearmongering about immigrants and his obsession with a wall that he failed to get Mexico to pay for are not playing well with the American public. Democrats can turn this issue against Trump by offering a vision of immigration reform that is consistent with American values of compassion and diversity – a stark contrast to Trump’s.
The same goes for foreign affairs. According to that same CNN poll, only 40% of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of foreign policy, while 54% disapprove.
This is not surprising, given that a recent Pew poll found that America’s global image has plummeted under Trump and nearly 70% of respondents in 25 countries, including our close allies, have little confidence in his ability to lead. Here’s yet another chance for the 2020 Democrats to make a compelling argument to our fellow Americans as to how, as president, they would restore America’s glory on the international stage.
Democrats can and should be championing issues that will make the lives of millions of Americans better, such as raising the minimum wage to $15, addressing the growing threat of climate change and pushing for gun safety laws – especially since, in 2018, we saw the highest numbers of Americans killed by guns in decades.
American voters clearly disapprove of Trump’s handling of numerous key policy issues. Now it’s time for the Democrats to show how, if elected, they would address those same issues in a more constructive and effective manner. And if they do that well, we may not only see a Democrat in the White House come 2021, but also a Democratic Party-controlled US Senate.