Froma Harrop: Democrats could pick off some Trump supporters

Froma Harrop

Froma Harrop

They support activist government. They’re not socially conservative. They resent big money in politics. And if you administered a truth serum, they would probably say nice things about Obamacare.

These are blue-collar supporters of Donald Trump. Democrats would do well to ask themselves, “Why aren’t some of them ours?”

I say “some” because a good chunk of Trump’s fans consider the combo platter of liberal social policies incomplete without a side dish of racist ranting. Others are simply so hungry for tough talk that they’ll avert their eyes from the nastiness on the plate.

Hillary Clinton talks tough, too, minus the detritus of Trump’s recycled fascism. Those who revere Trump for his theatricality will probably stay with Trump. But it shouldn’t be impossible for Clinton to pick off some supporters of the man who’s on record praising both her and single-payer health care.

Democrats routinely hold up polls showing that the American public favors their agenda. Yet time and again, politicians opposed to what the voters want win the elections. Here’s Trump appropriating some of their agenda while tacking on populist lunacy — and look how well he’s doing.

Here’s an explanation: People badly want respect, and liberal “leaders” tend not to be good at making ordinary folks feel respected — or even noticed. They come to the debate armed with logic, facts and historical analogies. But Republicans go for the gut. To do that, one has to understand what’s in the gut. Trump the salesman has an excellent endoscope.

When Democrats find a candidate who can connect emotionally, then bingo. That was Bill Clinton’s magic potion. Clinton was a magnet for controversy — political and personal — yet he left office with higher approval ratings than did Ronald Reagan.

Many liberals err in attributing too much of President Obama’s alleged low likability among working-class whites to racism. That’s too simple. How to account for Ben Carson’s strong support among many of these same groups of voters?

Obama is an educated intellectual, prone to cold reasoning and recognition of facts. I happen to like him for that, but that’s me. The political reality is that many voters want to imagine the president as their pal.

A rancher from central Nebraska once complained to me that Obama is an elitist who thinks he’s better than everyone else. The rancher was a savvy, well-informed guy. I asked him why he cared that Obama has a high self-opinion. An answer was not forthcoming.

Does a black elitist intellectual seem more grating to some white guys than a white elitist intellectual? Perhaps, but raw racism was not powering the rancher’s feelings.

This time around, Republican establishment candidates seem to have lost the playbook. They’ve been showering almost all their love and attention on the big-money people. That’s an especially bad move at a time when many blue-collar Republicans feel economically beaten up by these same donors. The party leaders seem to assume that working-class voters, however angry with them, will fall into line after watching their 4,603rd campaign ad.

Dear liberal politicians, think tankers and media personalities: You need to rewire your analytical brains for chats with the heart. You need to say “howdy, neighbor” more than you do and to openly express your love of country. And do trade in your “critiques” for sentences starting with “I feel that…”

When Bill Clinton said “I feel your pain,” he meant it — or at least convinced the public that he meant it. It would be hard to match the master for such skill, but Hillary Clinton should have excellent coaching. If she does that, many Trump supporters could be within her reach.

Email:  fharrop@gmail.com

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