There is no debate around the fact that Donald Trump is one of the most polarizing figures in recent political history. People either love him or hate him, and it drives how they vote all the way down the ballot. In 2018 the democrats seized on those that hate Trump and were able to secure massive wins from coast to coast, and in crucial suburban districts. With 2018 in the rear-view mirror and countless are candidates looking to either retain their seats they hung onto in 2018 or looking to win back one of those lost districts. In the minds of these candidates, Trump looms large. That being said, Trump can be as much of an asset to a campaign as he can be a liability and its all about how one campaigns and the distinctions a candidate makes between themselves and the President while not sacrificing their beliefs.
Analyzing the 2016 and the 2018 numbers in Washington State for legislative races specifically, there is a stark contrast. In 2016 Republicans were able to hold many seats in swing districts, and even picked up two new seats. One being a coastal district that hadn’t gone red in decades. What happened in two years to create such a shift? It can be argued that Trump’s rhetoric turned so many people off that they voted blue down-ballot in 2018. While this has some truth to it, it must be remembered that Trump not being on the ballot in 2018 may have also hurt Republicans. There is a group of Republicans (no one can give a clear estimate on the number) and independents that only vote when Donald Trump is on their ballot, and they were extremely excited to cast that vote in 2016. With him not being on the ballot in 2018, this group didn’t see a reason to vote, however wrong that maybe. With all this said, there is another group that voted blue in 2018 because they didn’t like Trump, and campaigning to them can be just as important and a candidate’s success hinges on learning to balance the two.
To a certain voter, the minute a candidate mentions the smallest support of Donald Trump all hope of getting their vote is out the window. That’s why starting off local is the smartest way to campaign. Focus a local community race on community issues, things that affect people locally and voters can all connect to. Even if someone disagrees with an approach, they will still understand the ins and outs of the issue and can probably have a more rational conversation. Keep it this way in speeches, social media, and print media because after all, all politics is local they say. However, being on the campaign trail for months, the questions of Trump will no doubt come up, and if asked answer open and honestly. It does not serve a campaign well to lie. Explain that policy-wise Donald Trump aligns with your specific platforms, but sometimes maybe the rhetoric he uses goes over the top and isn’t helpful to the conversation. Here that dissatisfied voter knows the truth, but maybe they are left with something they can cling to, and they may still respect you.
Campaigning in the age of Trump is tricky. Remember that the more hyper-local campaigns focus the better. Keep the issues that affect that community on the forefront, and only talk national politics if its an absolute must. The issues facing Washington State go above this vitriolic response to Donald Trump and people can connect with them on another level, and keeping the conversation there can serve campaigns well and will be a clearer path to victory.