During the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump tapped into Americans' anger and frustration with our government, our politics, the media, the banks and the status quo.
As a campaign operative, I gave Trump a lot of credit for understanding just how angry folks were and having a game plan to manipulate that anger into votes. He beat a formidable field of Republican candidates, then beat the most qualified, most experienced presidential candidate on the Democratic side since, well, ever.
2016 Presidential election
Donald Trump, Jr.
Elections (by type)
Elections and campaigns
Government and public administration
Government organizations - US
Political Figures - US
US Democratic Party
US Federal elections
US political parties
US Presidential elections
US Republican Party
Protests and demonstrations
As he moved through the primaries and into the general election, Trump shifted from tapping into our anger to fueling it. Early in the campaign, he said Mexican immigrants were "bringing crime. They're rapists" -- and dominated the news for days.
Over time, he came to identify with the crowds of people he attracted, and they fed off one another. The Donald and the Deplorables became a thing. When protesters disrupted his speeches, Trump urged his supporters to "knock the **** out of them," and said he'd pay their legal fees.
Amid the fistfights and chants of "Lock her up," Trump called out a reporter by name to his angry crowd (and regularly singled out news organizations for derision). As President, he said there were fine people among the white supremacists, some of whom had shouted "Jews will not replace us" last year in Charlottesville, Virginia.
And now Democrats are angry. Women are especially angry. Some are expressing their anger by running for office. Most of us are voting in record numbers. And millions are protesting, marching, calling, tweeting, posting and screaming at their televisions. It's an advantage, yes, but how Democrats use it now will mean the difference between winning and losing.
It's no surprise that Trump can dish it out, but he can't take it. He called football players kneeling during the National Anthem "sons of bitches" who should be thrown off the field. Now he's calling Democrats "a mob." Yes, the guy who tells his crowds to beat up protesters and reporters is calling us a mob. Well, ain't that a kick in the ass?
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has picked up Trump's "mob" attack approach, accusing Democrats of the "fact-free politics of hate, fear and intimidation." Kellyanne Conway insists Trump has called for civility and that he represents "all Americans." Really?
Trump's self-righteous, hypocritical manipulation of our anger will work again -- at least for some Americans. (Trump's base will believe him, no matter how Democrats behave.)
But here's the problem: There are a lot of independents out there who are tired of the fighting in general -- and they will blame both sides equally. Losing their votes could cost Claire McCaskill, Beto O'Rourke and Joe Donnelly in their Senate bids. Democrats need to be careful.
Michael Avenatti, attorney for Stormy Daniels and potential (he says) presidential contender in 2020, says he thinks he could beat Trump by fighting like Donald Trump. "When they go low, we hit harder," he promises, in a pretty clear rebuke to Michelle Obama's "we go high" credo. A strong argument, yet many analysts in both parties argued that his inserting himself into the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation process hurt the Democrats' case and helped Republicans.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton argued we are "stronger together" -- and lost. Today, she believes "you cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about. ... If we are fortunate enough to win back the House and/or the Senate, that's when civility can start again. But until then, the only thing that the Republicans seem to recognize and respect is strength."
Republicans want to lump Clinton and Avenatti together, but I think there's a difference between being strong (Hillary) and trying to beat Trump at his own game (Avenatti). If you get in the gutter with Trump, no one will be able to tell the difference between the two of you. A three-round mixed martial arts fight between Avenatti and Donald Trump Jr. may be a spectacle to rival one of Trump's press conferences, but really, have we gone that low?
Look at Eric Holder, former US attorney general who is now defending his "when they go low, we kick them" statement. Holder is a star in the Democratic Party who was our nation's top law enforcer. Of course, he was not advocating violence with his recent statement at a Georgia rally -- just saying Democrats need to be tough when fighting for principles. In truth, the "fight like Trump" style did not work for him and frankly, we should be grateful for that.
So, what should Democrats do?
First, stick to the facts, because they still matter to independents. Focus on Trump's rhetoric, which has divided our country more than any time I can remember. Focus on how the GOP tax cuts helped the rich and passed costs onto our children. Focus on Trump's hard-line attitude toward immigration, which has caused our government to rip children away from their mothers at the border and place them in pens. (There are still more than 200 children who have not been reunited with their parents.)
Focus on how Trump's steel and aluminum tariffs have hurt American manufacturers and strained relations with our allies. Focus on how with Kavanaugh's appointment, Trump has successfully turned the Supreme Court into a conservative political entity for the next generation -- and, in the process, thumbed his nose at victims of sexual assault and harassment everywhere.
Second, as Democrats have been doing for the last two years, channel anger in productive ways. Protests, advocacy and civil disobedience can be remarkably effective. We've seen how this can energize voters in the special elections that Democrats have already won, and in the incredible over-performance by Democratic voters across the country.
Making sure your elected officials know where you, as a citizen, stand is the hallmark of our democracy. But forcing Ted Cruz and his wife out of a Washington restaurant doesn't do anything except garner sympathy for the senator from Texas. However, making your case directly to a pivotal vote in the Senate may result in a long-sought-after FBI investigation of a Supreme Court justice nominee. Such was the case with Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher, who confronted Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona at an elevator in the US Capitol during the Kavanaugh confirmation process.
Third, stay focused on what, in the end, can make the difference. Register to vote. Get 10 friends to register to vote. Knock on doors. Make phone calls. Drive folks to their voting place. And for the love of god, go vote!
Finally, focus on the big picture. Hillary Clinton's "stronger together" may not have been the best campaign message, but it's a great philosophy for organizing -- and life. Don't get me wrong, I'm angry. I'm enraged. But I will not let Donald Trump use my anger toward him and his policies to his advantage. Not this time.