The Main Thing

Way back when…. All the way back to July 2020 as a matter of fact (my gosh, that seems like a lifetime ago) I was having a “Messenger” conversation with an old friend from bygone days who, after we lost touch, went on to live a fascinating and productive life in a much sunnier climate. 

Daniel and I had become close friends while working in a very demanding and stressful profession in northern Alberta.  As fortune would have it a series of transfers, and life in general, took us in different directions and we lost touch.  Daniel stayed in law enforcement, and after a distinguished career and retirement went on to a second productive and rewarding career as a health care professional.  An incredibly happy second professional life if you will. 

I was thrilled when we reconnected through Facebook, as I have been when reconnecting with so many other close friends from that period of my life.  But regarding Daniel, I was happy to hear that he had eventually relocated to Australia, which if I recall correctly was a long-term ambition of his that he made happen.  Good for you, Daniel.  Following one’s dreams and making them happen is a blessing.  You made it to Australia, and I got to play adult politics in Newfoundland, Ottawa, British Columbia and eventually, finishing up in Ontario.  We both made it with varying degrees of success I suppose depending on which political party you support (insert a little laughter folks, please, because some of you will no doubt believe that I went over to the dark side).  But, oh dear, as is my habit, I digress……  So, back to the point….. 

Daniel and I were, of course, exchanging mild opinions and good-natured insults about what was going on – or more to the point, who would win – the upcoming US Presidential election in November.  I offered that although I acknowledged Trump’s strengths as a political upstart and as what I consider him to be – a marketing genius, it was my opinion that Biden would win.  Daniel asked me why I thought Biden would win, and I had to dig deep and go all the way back to basic political campaign theory and practice to give him my answer.

Which is………  In any political campaign, the number one rule is IDENTIFY THE MAIN THING, AND MAKE SURE THE MAIN THING REMAINS THE MAIN THING.  If you can do that one simple thing, you more often than not will win a political campaign.  If you cannot do that one simple thing, or if you try to make things much more complicated that that, you more often than not will loose a political campaign.  It Is That Simple!

In July 2020, the one main thing going on in the US and throughout the world was Covid-19.  Hundreds of thousands and millions of people were becoming infected with the virus, and people were dying at a rate almost twenty times that caused by a flu.  Trump et al were trying to pretend at the time that Covid-19 was no biggie, that the US had “rounded the turn”, and that the economy was the main thing. 

Biden disagreed.

Now, boys and girls, this is where it most likely gets boring, because no doubt for most of you politics is all about great ideas and bold new policy initiatives – especially ideas and policies that encourage a great deal of emotion.  I mean, who doesn’t like to argue politics?  There are particularly good reasons why one of the most popular sayings in history is “The two things you never discuss at the dinner table are politics and religion”.  Both politics and religion evoke a great deal of emotion, mainly because they are a window (if not THE window) into our individual and collective fundamental belief systems.  Nothing, and I mean nothing, exposes us emotionally as much as discussing – or telling other people – publicly, what we believe and what it is we stand for. 

But……..  emotional ideas and policy positions based on individual beliefs do not a successful political campaign make.  Indeed, successful political campaigns are won and lost based on good or bad data.  Yes, data helps a campaign identify the Main Thing, and data is what keeps you on track (or as we say during a political campaign, on message) throughout the campaign.  If you have crappy data, you have a crappy campaign.  Simple!

Early this year, when Covid-19 caught us unawares, Trump and the Republicans correctly identified the coming pandemic as a major threat to the United States specifically, and to the world in general.  The administration, however, soon realized that shutting down the world’s greatest economy, in an effort to control the virus, would put the US at an economic disadvantage vis a vis their economic and trade competitors, and a fundamental choice was made by Trump and the Republicans in favour of the economy. 

The Republicans without doubt had a ton of data that supported their abrupt change in direction when they moved to “re-open” the economy in April and May 2020.  Or, at the very least, they had data that suggested they could convince voters of the merit of favouring the economy over the virus.  In the absence of such data, especially in an election year, they would never have changed course. 

Nevertheless, the Republicans, knowing that Covid-19 was the main thing, set out a campaign designed to convince voters that Covid-19 was not the main thing, and they tried to change what was, in fact, the main thing.  Republicans talked about the economy; they talked about law and order; they talked about immigration; they talked about trade deals with China; they talked about taxes; they talked about Supreme Court appointments; the dangers of socialism; and they talked in such a way as to demonize Joe Biden as a corrupt politician who was somehow mentally deficient.  Trump kept dropping these “shining objects” throughout the campaign in an effort to get people/voters to believe that Covid-19 wasn’t “the main thing”.  In the end, obviously, some of that worked to varying degrees in different areas of the US, but not sufficiently well enough to win the overall campaign.

Biden and the Democrats made a different choice; but again, a choice based on data.  The Democrat’s campaign coalesced around Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, making a strong case to use government resources to fight the virus while not completely shutting down the economy.  This simple strategy allowed the Democrats to suggest tactics involving increased production of personal protective equipment, the use of arguments based on medical and scientific information, a coordinated effort encouraging a “safe and effective” return to schools, universities and the work place without completely shutting down the economy, and a focus on health care that would prevent the loss of health insurance for approximately 20 million Americans. 

In short, a majority of people measured by about 4 million people felt the main thing was Covid-19 and the pandemic, while a minority of people measured by about 4 million people felt the main thing was the economy. 

Because of good data, Biden recognized that the main thing was Covid-19, and through the execution of a disciplined campaign he was able to make sure the main thing remained the main thing.  As a result, Biden and the Democrats were able to turn the campaign into a referendum on Donald Trump and his handling of the pandemic, and the Republicans.   

Now, many of you will argue that this is just too simple, and that I’m approaching this simplistically.  You can argue that the Democrats did a masterful job in keeping a very diverse coalition together; a coalition made up of African Americans; the Latino communities; the Native American communities; the LGBTQ community; suburban women; plus 40% of all white voters, and so on.  You can argue that Trump is just a despicable human being and not fit for office, and here I agree totally.  After all is said and done, you may be right, and I may be wrong in my fundamental argument.  After all, this is a political discussion, hahaha.  But then again, this is my Blog, so I get to write this end of it, and you, on the other hand, can reply, agreeing or disagreeing. 

I will concede that there were a host of other issues and factors that entered into and influenced the final results.  But at the end of the campaign, it was Trump’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis that did him in. 

But back to my friend Daniel, and our July discussion.  In our exchange, I also made the observation that history reveals all (honourable mention here to friends Keith, Sadie and Linda); that a number of identified interest groups have had a great influence in determining winners and losers of modern-day Presidential elections in the US.  But, none of the many groups discussed here have had a greater influence in modern day elections than suburban women aged 30-60.  And it appears that this group has again outperformed all other groups in this election cycle.

I was reading an article this morning by Nick Bryant, who is a BBC correspondent headquartered in New York.  His article this morning was titled US Election 2020 – Why Donald Trump lost.  I won’t go into too much detail regarding this article – if you want, it’s not hard to find.  But the premise of the article is clear.

Trump lost this election; more so than Biden won it.  Why?

The simple answer is suburban America, and suburban women.

Trump lost the support of suburban women because of his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.  As Bryant said this morning, “those who supported Trump four years ago were put off by his aggressive behaviour.  This was especially true in the suburbs.  Joe Biden improved on Hillary Clinton’s performance in 373 suburban counties, helping him claw back the Rust Belt states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, and enabling him to gain Georgia and Arizona.  Donald Trump has a particular problem with suburban women”.

Wow!  I can’t wait to dig into that data.  More to come………..

One thought on “The Main Thing

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