The surrogate gap

Very interesting take from Greg Sargent based on the Day 1 speakers at the Democratic and Republican (e.g., Elizabeth Warren vs. Scott Baio!) conventions:

What last night really showed is that there will be a profound, fundamental imbalance between the Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump campaigns when it comes to the wattage of surrogates out there making the case this fall.

The biggest speeches of the night, from New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders, projected a tone that seemed designed to contrast sharply with the hate-and-rage-fest otherwise known as the GOP convention. All of them, in one way or another, sought to align the Democratic Party, optimistically and aspirationally, with culturally and demographically changing America. They explicitly called out Trumpism — the rendition of it featured at the GOP convention — as brimming over with reactionary hostility towards the evolving and diversifying America of the 21st century.

All of this is driven in part by the fact that the voter groups out of which Democrats hope to assemble a winning national coalition — college educated whites, nonwhites, women, young voters — appear to rejectthe xenophobia and ethno-nationalism at the core of Trumpism’s appeal. But there’s a key nuance here. There is a direct link between Trump’s alienation of key demographics and the lack of high profile surrogates that will be there for him this fall. Senior Republicans are keeping Trump at arm’s length in part precisely because he’s putting off those voter groups, which many top Republicans know the party must improve among for the sake of its future. [emphases mine]

This is a dynamic that both Republican and Democratic strategists are taking note of this morning.

“Hillary will have Bernie Sanders, the Obamas, Elizabeth Warren, who has been elevated to star status by Donald Trump, and Joe Biden,” Stuart Stevens, the chief strategist for Mitt Romney in 2012, tells me. “Who will be campaigning with Donald Trump that has a large constituency?” Stevens adds that many Republicans who do have large constituencies — such as Mitt Romney, George W. Bush, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio — will likely be M.I.A. once the campaign kicks into high gear.

Stevens also noted a connection between the disparity in high wattage surrogates and Trump’s alienation of key demographics. “The essence of politics is about addition, not subtraction,” Stevens said. “Donald Trump finds it very hard for any given moment not to be about Donald Trump, which makes coalition building and the blocking and tackling of politics more difficult. If you’re in a fight with the Republican governor of Ohio and the Hispanic governor of New Mexico, how can you expect to build a broader coalition?”

“Trump’s fight with Susana Martinez is a perfect illustrator,” Stevens concluded, referring to the governor of New Mexico. “He desperately needs women and Hispanics.” …

Obviously there is no telling whether all of this will matter enough to prevent a Trump win, which of course remains very possible. Clinton still has serious weaknesses, and it remains to be seen how, or whether, the rest of the convention will successfully address them. But the point is, Day One revealed that Clinton has a very clear structural advantage that very well may assert itself this fall, when voters are really paying attention. And this is also another way in which there is simply no equivalence between the degree of disunity that is afflicting the two parties.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

2 Responses to The surrogate gap

  1. J. Palmer says:

    “The biggest speeches of the night, from New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders, projected a tone that seemed designed to contrast sharply with the hate-and-rage-fest otherwise known as the GOP convention. ”

    This is partially true, but that positive tone was tough for Sanders and Warren to marry with their long-running and strong focus on economic inequality. There is a really weird tension at the DNC regarding these opposing forces and I don’t think it is possible to balance the two approaches gracefully–at least, the DNC has not done so thus far.

    • R. Jenrette says:

      I don’t see much of a gap between the Sanderites and the Clintonites on economic inequality. The unifying theme of most Democratic proposals is to advance the income and wealth of the 98% by taxing the wealthy more, by keeping the inheritance tax as it is, by raising the minimum wage, by making college debt free, by creating single payer health insurance for all Americans, by creating good paying jobs in clean energy and infrastructure improvement and by expanding Social Security.
      The difference is that Sanders told the millenials and others that they could accomplish that revolution tomorrow, right after the election, while Clinton said she has the same goals but thinks they will be more surely achieved incrementally.
      If you know any millenials, you may have noticed that they tend to live in the present. No wonder they are angry that the revolution won’t be fully achieved the day after the election.

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