There are lessons for Canada in Trump’s undeniable setback
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.