TO: Interested Parties
FROM: Priorities USA
DATE: March 1, 2017
RE: 10 Keys To Exposing Trump’s Betrayal of Working Class Voters
President Trump’s record-low approval rating is not guaranteed to last forever. Following his address to Congress Tuesday that pundits graded as his most presidential moment to date, we cannot sit back and assume his numbers will stay dismal on their own all the way through 2018.
Indeed, even as Trump courted unprecedented levels of controversy in his presidency’s opening weeks, most Trump voters have yet to show signs of any buyers’ remorse. And the style points Trump earned Tuesday night may now cause some voters who had soured on him to give him a second look. Further, according to focus groups conducted by Priorities in Florida, Michigan, and Wisconsin, many millennials and African Americans who voted in 2012 but not in 2016 do not regret their decision to sit out the last election.
The bottom line: if Democrats are going to reenergize base voters who did not turn out at all last year and win persuadable swing voters in key battleground districts and states, they cannot just hope Donald Trump remains his own worst enemy. We must drive sharp contrasts that make clear to voters that Democrats are looking out for them—and that Trump, for all his rhetoric, isn’t.
The reality is, while Trump may have shifted his tone Tuesday, he did not shift his policies— nearly all of which a majority of Americans oppose, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll. The broad agenda outlined by Trump Tuesday night sets the stage for a series of upcoming legislative battles in the months ahead. Democrats should lean into these fights as a unique chance to define Trump as betraying the populism he pretends to tout. On one issue after another—from jobs to tax reform to health care—Trump’s alignment with Speaker Paul Ryan and the House Republicans will enable Democrats to drive a wedge between Trump and voters we need to persuade and excite in order to win again.
To help seize this opportunity, below is a suggested, 10-point checklist for framing the economic argument against Trump and highlighting his broken promises to middle-class Americans. This guidance is drawn from initial surveys involving both swing and base voters that were conducted for Priorities USA by Global Strategy Group and Garin Hart Yang Research.
10 KEYS TO EXPOSING TRUMP’S BETRAYAL OF WORKING CLASS VOTERS
- DO EMPHASIZE TRUMP’S TAX REFORM PLAN AS AN UNFAIR SHIFTING OF THE TAX BURDEN ONTO THE MIDDLE CLASS. Trump’s protectionist stance on trade covered up a lot of warts for him during the campaign—including a tax plan that amounted to a massive giveaway to the ultra-rich. As Trump seeks to maintain his populist credentials as President, he has perhaps no bigger vulnerability than that tax plan. Trump doubled down on the proposal again Tuesday night, and Republicans are aiming to enact it on a party-line vote later this year. But how Democrats talk about Trump’s tax plan matters; the best way to criticize it is in terms of how it will negatively impact middle-class Americans, not simply in terms of the benefits it will lavish on others. A January survey by Global Strategy Group found that base and swing voters alike responded more negatively to the idea that the plan would shift the burden to them than the fact that millionaires will get a tax cut. As Congress begins to take up budget negotiations, Democrats should further highlight how Trump’s plan will eliminate programs that improve the lives of middle-class Americans while offering no new ideas about how to raise wages and protect the social safety net. Radical
- DO NOT RELENT IN DEFENDING THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT AGAINST REPEAL. A plurality of both swing and base voters say Trump and the Republicans should not repeal the Affordable Care Act without a plan to truly replace it. Despite having seven years to come up with such a replacement, Republicans still have not unified around an actual proposal; conservative hard-liners in the House just this week rejected Paul Ryan’s most recent draft. Despite these struggles, Trump renewed his commitment to repealing the law on Tuesday night. In doing so, he noticeably seemed to retreat from his previous pledge that a replacement will not reduce the number of uninsured. Democrats should highlight that broken promise as they continue to mount the defense of a law that has never been more popular.
- DO MAKE TRUMP OWN HILL REPUBLICANS’ CONTINUED TALK OF PRIVATIZING MEDICARE AND SOCIAL SECURITY. The top shared concern among both swing and base voters is the possibility that Trump and the Republicans will pursue cuts to entitlements. Despite his campaign pledge to protect Medicare and Social Security against cuts, House Republicans are openly predicting they will succeed in convincing Trump to go along with their plans to privatize the programs. Trump’s OMB Director, Rep. Mick Mulvaney, was a leading architect of such privatization schemes in the House, and Paul Ryan is committing that these ideas will again be contained in the House Republicans’ budget. Democrats should not hesitate to marry Trump to these efforts.
- DO NOT LET TRUMP WIN THE BATTLE TO DEFINE THE BORDER ADJUSTMENT TAX. On Tuesday, Trump flirted with an outright endorsement of Paul Ryan’s controversial proposal to tax imported goods in order to raise $1 trillion over 10 years. Ryan is eyeing the proposal as a means to fund his tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy, but the border-adjustment tax would largely be borne by middle-class consumers who would pay more for all kinds of household goods, from groceries to their kids’ sneakers. Fully 68 percent of Obama-Trump voters identify this tax proposal as concerning. Democrats should be prepared to pounce on this concept as yet another way the Trump tax plan will harm working families, not let him spin it as a fair-trade policy that will make America more competitive.
- DO USE OPPOSITION TO CUTTING MEDICAID AGAINST TRUMP. While conventional wisdom tends to consider voters less protective of Medicaid than Medicare or Social Security, polling suggests Medicaid is a similarly unpopular target for cuts. A recent Politico-Morning Consult poll showed 65 percent of voters oppose reductions in Medicaid spending. The House’s likely repeal vehicle rolls back the Medicaid expansion provision that helps insure millions across the country. The provision is extremely popular among many Republican governors who accepted the expansion—such as Nevada’s Brian Sandoval and Ohio’s John Kasich. This provides an opportunity for Democrats to spotlight another Trump broken promise—since he promised to protect Medicaid during the campaign—and utilize members of his own party, as well as those who are harmed by the cuts such as those with family members in nursing homes, as validators in making this criticism.
- DO NOT LET TRUMP GET AWAY WITH DISTORTING REALITY ABOUT THE OBAMA ECONOMY. Once again last night, Trump tried to claim that he “inherited a mess” and once again, he pointed to indicators like the recent rise in the Dow to suggest his election has marked an economic turnaround. The reality is, despite facing a historic recession in 2009, President Obama has left Trump with one of the best economies in decades—marked by 4.7 unemployment, 75 months of consecutive job growth, rising home values and consumer confidence, and even, in 2015, a record jump in income growth for middle-class workers. Trump is starting his Presidency on third base and acting like he hit a triple. If Democrats are ever going to disrupt voters’ perceptions of Trump as good on the economy, we cannot allow him to claim the favorable trends he inherited are the product of his own policies.
- DO HOLD TRUMP ACCOUNTABLE FOR PUTTING INFRASTRUCTURE ON THE BACK BURNER. During the campaign, Trump promised to massively invest in infrastructure as one of his top job creation ideas. But while Trump briefly name-checked the idea Tuesday night, media reports suggest the administration and Hill Republicans plan to punt any action on it until next year, as they prioritize more controversial items like Obamacare repeal and tax reform. Democrats should hold Trump’s feet to the fire for not prioritizing the issue and should resist all efforts to turn the any legislation into a giveaway to the rich and corporations.
- DO NOT LET TRUMP SEIZE CREDIT FOR JOB ANNOUNCEMENTS BY LIKES OF CARRIER WITHOUT SHARING BLAME FOR CONTINUED LAYOFFS AND OUTSOURCING BY OTHER COMPANIES. In his speech Tuesday, Trump rattled off a list of companies that he claims have made decisions to reinvest in America following his election. Fact checkers have unpacked how many of these jobs claims are exaggerated or were planned prior to Trump’s election; Democrats should promote the truth about these job announcements in order to blunt Trump’s attempts to take credit. But in general, if Trump wants voters to associate him with corporate jobs announcements when the news is good, Democrats should make him own the downside, too. For every Carrier that announces it will keep some jobs in the United States, other companies—like Rexnord, Caterpillar, and Nucor—are quietly proceeding with plans to outsource jobs to Mexico. Democrats should work to give these stories added attention, and force Trump to answer for them.
- DO EMPHASIZE HOW TRUMP IS BREAKING HIS PROMISE TO PUT PEOPLE FIRST, AND INSTEAD LOOKING OUT FOR BIG CORPORATIONS WITH DEREGULATION AND TAX CUTS. Trump’s heavy focus Tuesday night on removing vital protections for American families and allowing big business to run amok is out of step with what swing voters believe will actually help improve their lives. Among Trump’s early executive actions was a fiduciary rule rollback that sides with stock brokers over the working Americans whose retirement savings they manage. The more Trump dwells on these priorities going forward, the easier it will be for Democrats to argue to middle-class voters that Trump’s focus is on powerful, corporate interests, not them.
- DO NOT FOCUS ON HOW TRUMP’S BUSINESS CONFLICTS PERSONALLY ENRICH HIM; INSTEAD, POINT TO HOW IT MAKES AN ALREADY RIGGED SYSTEM WORSE. Trump’s remarks Tuesday that he had made good on his promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington prompted laughter in the House chamber. Voters are aware that Trump has refused to divest his holdings or release his tax returns, but to make this issue resonate, it is important to convey its impact on real people and Trump’s decision-making in the Oval Office. Decrying how foreign governments patronizing Trump’s hotels further enriches him is not sufficient to spur outrage. Better instead to call attention to how it is clouding Trump’s judgement and further rigging the system they believe is already working against their interests. In Global Strategy Group’s January survey of swing voters, 62 percent said they were most concerned about Trump’s conflicts of interest because they thought it make an already corrupt system even worse.