Former U.S. House Speaker Tip O’Neill said all politics is local, but he never met Donald Trump. Anyone planning political strategy in Georgia – no matter how many campaigns they have run or bills they have written – needs to know that there is a new political sun in the state. It’s so huge that its gravitational pull is bending to its orbit everybody and all things governmental.
President Trump has “nationalized” Georgia politics.
To many Georgians, the major parties’ nominees for governor in 2018 have already been selected: It’s Trump vs. Not Trump, and it’s winner take all. Theree are likely veteran pols in the General Assembly, and even on county commissions and city councils, who could lose seats that they once thought were automatic re-elections because of the epidemic of political fever that has incubated in Washington and metastasized to the states and right down to local precincts.
For political consultants, pollsters and the candidates themselves, strategic assumptions once believed to be axiomatic must now be seen through a new lens. In short, nobody can be certain of anything next year and beyond. The reason? We’re in uncharted territory in modern American and Georgia political history. There is no exact precedent. And that’s almost certain to mean unexpected winners and losers.
Consider that old bugaboo that causes insomnia for candidates and pollsters and consultants – voter turnout. It’s probably the most elusive – and the most vital – variable of all to measure exactly, even in normal times. And times right now times ain’t normal.
Conventional wisdom might have it that the intensity of anti-Trump sentiment among many previously disengaged Georgia voters could trigger of wave of passionate turnout that could sweep Democrats into office in races where they rarely if ever win.
But a national study by a Democratic firm has found that Hillary Clinton lost to You Know Who not primarily because Barack Obama’s voter base stayed home on Election Day. They came out to vote all right. It’s just that many of them voted for Trump.
So in planning, say, a gubernatorial race for Georgia in 2018, wouldn’t it be wise to factor in the incessant drumbeat of sentiment among many progressives that anyone who voted for Trump is little more than a moron or a bigot? After all, the legions of voters who believe that are for the most part already motivated to go to the polls.
Could it be that Democratic candidates and advisors planning their 2018 strategy should take the counter-intuitive route of wooing the undecided voters, instead of over-killing the notion that all Republicans are from the dark side because Trump is also a Republican? Few Georgia voters are likely undecided on Trump or not Trump, but they still might be persuadable in state or local races because of state and local issues.
And that leads to the next strategic problem in 2018: how to portray the federal government/state government/local government relationship to voters.
Although the federal budget proposal put forward by the Trump administration isn’t nearly as severe with its budget cuts as most (anti-Trump) media would have us believe, there inevitably are cuts. Cuts that are going to distress some voters.
Advantage, Democrats. For their Republican adversaries, lecturing a group of voters about the long-term benefit of reducing federal spending may adhere to the sacred talking points in the GOP’s political philosophy primer, but to a Georgian concerned about losing a government subsidy, political philosophy is going to sound more like pseudo-intellectualism than it will like a pragmatic thing to actually do. “All politics is personal.” Take that, Tip O’Neill.
When you’re running for government office, being perceived as “anti-government,” or, more modestly, as pro-government restraint, can be using a millstone as a decorative necklace. A primary political impulse of many voters and plenty of (mostly) Democratic politicians is to do something – anything – on a given issue. But for heaven’s sake, play the card dealt to you as an office-holder or – seeker and just do SOMETHING.
This budget-cutting tension flowing out of Republican Washington this year and next is only going to make things trickier for GOP candidates as they try to ride out the rampaging current of the Trump era without drowning.
President Trump’s methods may be madness, or there may be method to his madness, but the fact is that, at least for today, Donald J. Trump remains the most powerful and influential entity on the planet. Georgia politicos would be wise to ponder the implications of that when planning strategy for the 2018 elections, or when making lawmaking or other governmental decisions in the next year-and-a-half.
As Bob Dylan sneers in his most underrated song, “Things Have Changed.”
Gary Reese is the associate editor of James Magazine.