There are lessons for Canada in Trump’s un­de­ni­able set­back

The Hamilton Spectator - - Opinion - BOB HEP­BURN Bob Hep­burn is a pol­i­tics colum­nist and based in Toronto. Twit­ter: @BobHep­burn

As delu­sional as ever, Don­ald Trump is telling the world that he and his Repub­li­can party “de­fied his­tory” and scored “a big win” in the U.S. mid-term elec­tions on Tues­day, although many Repub­li­cans are call­ing the out­come a set­back for the Amer­i­can pres­i­dent. While Trump is claim­ing “vic­tory” be­cause the Repub­li­cans strength­ened their hold on the U.S. Se­nate, the re­al­ity is that the Democrats gained con­trol of the U.S. House for the first time in eight years and hand­ily won more over­all votes than the Repub­li­cans.

It wasn’t the “blue wave” that Democrats hoped for, but a ma­jor­ity of vot­ers across Amer­ica still sent a clear mes­sage they are fed up with Trump’s na­tion­al­is­tic poli­cies, hate-filled rhetoric, an­gry tweets, bul­ly­ing and moral bank­ruptcy.

Since Trump won the pres­i­dency in 2016, Democrats have worked hard to re­po­si­tion them­selves as a strong al­ter­na­tive to the Trump Repub­li­cans. They learned many lessons from 2016, es­pe­cially the need to ap­peal bet­ter to younger vot­ers, women, sub­ur­ban­ites and eth­nic com­mu­ni­ties. There are im­por­tant lessons also to be learned from this week’s elec­tions for Cana­di­ans vot­ers and politi­cians, who study what hap­pens south of the bor­der closely.

First, the pol­i­tics of fear and loathing work only so far. As all po­lit­i­cal strate­gists know, fear may be the big­gest mo­ti­va­tor in de­ter­min­ing how peo­ple will vote. For weeks lead­ing up to Tues­day’s elec­tion, Trump re­lent­lessly ranted about il­le­gal im­mi­grants, Mus­lims and Demo­cratic foes. It back­fired. Con­ser­va­tive politi­cians here also openly pan­der to fear and ha­tred, try­ing to tap into dis­con­tent in some sec­tors here about im­mi­gra­tion, refugees, and new­com­ers. As hap­pened with Trump, such tac­tics may keep the base happy, but won’t ex­pand the Tories’ na­tional ap­peal. Just the op­po­site.

Sec­ond, health care is the num­ber 1 is­sue. Exit polls showed nearly twice as many peo­ple cite health care as their top con­cern, far sur­pass­ing those who listed il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion. In­deed, Oba­macare, which Trump has vowed to kill, turns out to be very pop­u­lar. Vot­ers in the solidly red states of Ne­braska, Idaho and Utah all backed mea­sures to ex­pand Med­ic­aid cov­er­age for low-in­come Amer­i­cans.

Across Canada there is a mount­ing move­ment in con­ser­va­tive cir­cles to open the door wide to pri­vate health care. Po­lit­i­cal lead­ers would be wise to heed the sig­nals com­ing out of the U.S. elec­tions and not try to rad­i­cally re­tool health care here.

Third, women are a fast-grow­ing force in pol­i­tics. A record num­ber of women ran in the U.S. mid-terms and an all-time high num­ber won. Over the last two years, women have re-en­er­gized the Demo­cratic party, mo­bi­liz­ing against Trump and be­com­ing in­volved at the grass­roots level in record num­bers. The same trend may be gain­ing in­creased mo­men­tum in Canada as more women re­al­ize pol­i­tics is no longer “a man’s game.”

Fourth, the sub­urbs count. Trump loves to talk about his sub­ur­ban sup­port, but the truth is Repub­li­cans lost ground in these ar­eas, which went with him in 2016. In Canada, Tories act as if they have the sub­urbs locked up, par­tic­u­larly the vo­terich 905 area. Given the swings in the U.S. sub­urbs, Con­ser­va­tives should be wary of be­liev­ing sub­ur­ban­ites here are in their pocket.

Fifth, ru­ral ar­eas are im­por­tant. In con­trast to their suc­cess in ur­ban ar­eas, the Democrats lag woe­fully be­hind the Repub­li­cans in ru­ral white Amer­ica. In Canada, the Lib­er­als and NDP can’t con­tinue to write off ru­ral vot­ers. They need to find ways to de­velop poli­cies that will ap­peal to more ru­ral vot­ers, oth­er­wise they will have a tough time form­ing ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ments needed to get their agen­das en­acted.

Sixth, politi­cians rely too heav­ily on polls in form­ing pol­icy and cam­paign strat­egy. That’s a prob­lem when many vot­ers, as we saw in the U.S., seem to have been re­luc­tant to ad­mit they sup­port hardright can­di­dates.

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