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On March 13, 2018, Democrat Conor Lamb beat Republican Rick Saccone in the special election for Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional district. What made Lamb's victory in the 18th extraordinary was that just 16 months ago Donald Trump won the district by 20 points over Hillary Clinton.
Watching Lamb win the congressional seat was gratifying to me because he followed the playbook I explicitly laid out in those dark days after Trump's presidential election in a piece titled Election Aftermath: A Practical Handbook to Survive and Thrive in the Age of Trump.
I wrote that playbook in the shadow of my correct prediction that Trump would win the election. In fact, I not only predicted he would win but correctly predicted WHY he would win. Of course, this did not matter to many people as I was vilified by many for my prediction and later for my diagnosis in the form the of the handbook. I lost many good friends during this period of time as people back then were not interested in Truth, only in emotionalist horseshit that satiated their adolescent, and sometimes infantile, desires to lash out at anyone who dare not tow the company line.
I was exiled into oblivion by many friends, some of them people that I thought were my best of friends, all because they didn't like what I had written. In my writing I had blasphemed against the Church of Identity Politics and therefore must be cast out of the Garden of Eden and shunned for the sin of telling the truth and being correct.
Watching Conor Lamb execute my playbook for electoral victory will not make my exilers wake up and realize that their emotionalism is not only pathetic but most importantly…ineffective. These close-minded simpletons would rather stick their fingers in their ears and stay locked into their intellectually myopic echo chamber that more resembles a circular firing squad than actually think rationally and act strategically. But if you believe that will stop me from breaking my arm patting myself on the back you don't know me very well.
So I am going to take this opportunity to say to my detractors "I told you so"….because I did, indeed, tell them so.
In my strategic handbook one of the points I made was about how it was vital for Democrats to stop with their self-serving emotionalist rants (some of the more cringeworthy ones were videotaped and put on the internet!!) where they cried racism or misogyny at anyone and everyone who voted for Trump. The reason I wrote this is because doing that would alienate valuable potential allies in swing states that would hold the key to future victories. The people these rants would alienate would be what I call Springsteen voters…people who used to be Democrats that are progressive on economic issues and less so on cultural issues. These Springsteen voters went for Obama twice but voted for Trump over Hillary.
In my strategic handbook I wrote , "it is equally important to remember there are a pivotal and key group of Trump supporters who can be convinced to change their allegiance. Those are the 77,000 voters that you need for victory in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. By lumping those 77,000 in with the other more rabid Trump voters, you are alienating crucial potential allies. Your empty-headed, emotionalist vitriol is forcing people away from your point of view and your candidates and towards Trump.
Another serious issue with these arrogantly self-serving tirades is the call for "unfriending" of anyone who dared disagree with the pompous ranter. Epistemic closure and living in a bubble is exactly how democrats got themselves into this whole mess in the first place. To demand even more epistemic rigidity and isolation is so mind-numbingly moronic as to be amazing. I understand that these ranters are irritated by people who disagree with them, but you just lost an election because your arguments were so remarkably flaccid. Shutting out any contrarian opinions now will only lead to more severe political and intellectual impotence. Arguments need to be forged in fire and strengthened by opposition. If you cannot sharpen your arguments against your enemies or even mildly oppositional forces, your arguments will atrophy and wither in the delusional comfort of your epistemic bubble. Calls for immediate removal of all oppositional opinions is literally sticking your head up your own ass. What is desperately needed now is not a tighter bubble, but the humility to admit you were wrong and to sharpen your arguments against the rock of those who oppose you. I totally understand why these ranters want to only shout and not to engage, life seems easier that way, but that is a one way ticket into further political and intellectual oblivion...these social media rants against Trump voters may feel good when you're doing them, but they are terribly counterproductive. Emotionalists want to feel good in the moment, strategists want to succeed in the long run."
I think those paragraphs were very accurate and over a year later hold up well. Conor Lamb succeeded in Pennsylvania's 18th because he did not spit anti-Trump fire and brimstone at Springsteen voters, he treated them with respect and took their concerns seriously. Lamb did not tap into emotion to defeat Saccone and Trump, he appealed to the Springsteen voter's reason, not their emotion, and he did so by virtually ignoring Trump and instead focusing on Springsteen voters and their needs. What Lamb was really doing was playing to his strength and to Trump's weakness…as I wrote in my handbook in December 2016.
"It is vitally important to remember this, in the battle for power, emotion is Trump's weapon, not yours. If you take Trump on, on emotional grounds, he will destroy you. You must take him on rationally, using unemotional language and arguments. Trump is a narcissist who desperately needs an emotional foil in order to maintain his self image. By not engaging him emotionally, and not reacting to his tweets or what he says, you neuter him. Without a foil, Trump flails about like a frantically drowning man. Trump needs an enemy to emotionally invigorate and engage him, if you do not give that to him, he spins out of control, then withers and dies. Emotionalism is Trump's power source, cold rationalism is his Kryptonite.
So in order to weaken Trump you must ignore his tweets…all of them, no matter how infuriating they may be. Ignore every single word he says as well, no matter what. Ignore his neo-Nuremberg rallies and his playing to the crowd with his loaded language. You must understand that Trump's words are meaningless and are meant to make you react and not respond. Do not let him control you so easily. Instead, only respond, not react, to the things he actually does, never what he says... Let Trump react to what you do, not the other way around. And when Trump reacts to you, ignore his reaction and keep on calmly working to undermine and destroy him."
Conor Lamb also used another tactic from my handbook to attain victory, he agreed with Trump on a key economic issue. In Lamb's case it was steel tariffs, that played very well in the 18th district in the heart of the former steel capital of the world outside of Pittsburgh. Some in the media speculated that Trump raised the tariff issue just as a way to try and win the district for Saccone, but Lamb out maneuvered him by using my strategy…to embrace Trump on economic issues where you can and it will incapacitate him. Trump won in 2016 by running to the left of democrats on economics, and Lamb outflanked him for his victory in the special election this year…Democrats would be wise to follow suit in the fall.
Here is what I wrote in my strategic handbook in December of 2016...
"Which brings us to another key strategy to derail Trump which may seem counter-intuitive, but it is to embrace Trump on any and all economic issues you even remotely agree with him on.
By embracing Trump on economics, it will force him to occasionally search for a different enemy and Trump's need to find a foil might land squarely on Paul Ryan and the Republicans. Trump always desperately needs an enemy and if you can make Paul Ryan and the establishment wing of the Republican party his enemy, you make them fight each other and they end up weaker and you get stronger. "
Lamb also followed my advice by going against the current establishment Democratic and mainstream media opinion when he embraced the second amendment in his election. This issue is key to winning over Springsteen voters in the midwest and Democrats need to follow Lamb's lead and my advice on this issue. I wrote in my December 2016 handbook...
"Another strategy that is very Machiavellian but would be vital to eroding Trump's support, would be to embrace guns and the second amendment.
What advantage would Democrats gain by embracing guns? Well, those 77,000 Spingsteen voters are from rural, hunting states and they live in the gun culture. Guns are a wedge issue used to make Springsteen voters occasionally vote against their economic interests. If you remove the wedge issue of guns, you have taken a very valuable weapon out of the hands of your enemies. It would be very wise to do so in order to weaken your opponents and strengthen yourself."
Lamb was also successful in the 18th because he avoided the trap of identity politics. Lamb avoided any of the usual talking points and rhetoric that surrounds issues of identity and hot button issues like immigration. Instead, Lamb ran a campaign on economics, not on identity. This is the road to victory for Democrats with Springsteen voters, if they can summon the courage and intelligence to follow it. Conor Lamb did so and won a district in which Trump absolutely routed Clinton in 2016…maybe Democrats would want to learn from that…maybe? Here is what I wrote in my December 2016 strategic handbook…and yes, be forewarned…it was written by a Straight, White, Male (GASP!!)...
"A final note about identity politics. In an article in the New York Times recently Cornell Belcher argues that focusing on the dying demographic of white working class people is foolish. Belcher claims we should disregard white, working class voters and instead focus on the Obama coalition and getting those younger, non-white voters to the polls. It is not surprising that Belcher was so terribly and arrogantly wrong about the last election and he is just as wrong about the next one as well. The most important thing about the Obama coalition is not the coalition of young, Black and Latino voters, the most important thing about the Obama coalition is Barrack Obama. Obama is a once in a generation or maybe lifetime political talent. If you think his coalition is coming together for anyone else, you are very mistaken. And I have bad news for you, Barrack Obama is not walking through that door. Going forward you are going to have to deal with second rate political hacks like Hillary Clinton, and she didn't get the Obama coalition to rock the vote. Someone ought to buy Cornell Belcher a calendar for Christmas, since he fails to understand that while white working class voters are a dying breed, they ain't nearly dead yet. Their projected year of death is 2050…another 34 years from now. 34 years is a long time to sit around waiting for the demographics to change so you can get another shot at the throne. "
Lamb's wisest move on the march to victory was that he ran against the corporate/Wall Street Democratic establishment. While Lamb was touting steel tariffs which establishment Democrats hate, these same hypocritical Democrats whores for Wall street, like Pelosi, Schumer and Kaine, voted in support of a bill that gutted Dodd-Frank that had placed restrictions on Wall Street banks meant to protect the American people from another catastrophe like the housing/credit collapse of 2007-2008.
Establishment Democrats have proven that they are the party of the investor class not the working class, as was highlighted with their support of the bill gutting Dodd-Frank, and they are obviously beholden to Wall Street not Main Street. Conor Lamb ran against these repugnant fat cats and succeeded, just as I said would happen in December 2016...
"I think that the wisest course forward is to build a broad based political coalition based on economics and class. Democrats must turn their backs on Wall Street, corporate interests, free trade and globalization and turn their focus back to working class people and the poor. Trump won by using an old school, Democratic, populist economic message. There is no doubt Trump will completely ignore that economic message as president, so Democrats must be there with a genuine form of populism in order to remove Trump from power. If they fail to embrace this economic populism and class warfare, the Democrats will be left in the dust."
Lamb also wisely ran specifically against Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi is a disaster area for Democrats and for progressive politics. She is an easy target and an albatross around the necks of any Democrats or progressives trying to bring Springsteen voters back into the fold. Why Democrats, who suffer from a perceived detachment from "regular Americans" aka Springsteen voters, would want the optics of a 70-something year old from a rich coastal city to be the face of their party is beyond me. Republicans pay no penalty for attacking Pelosi like they would if say, someone from Pennsylvania, Michigan or Wisconsin were the Democratic leader instead. Lamb's decision to hang Pelosi out to dry was a masterful strategic move and one Democrats would be extremely wise to emulate as quickly as possible. As I wrote in my handbook...
"I do not expect the hapless Democrats to follow my handbook at all, and they are off to a really shitty start with the re-election of Nancy Peolosi as leader of the house Democrats. Pelosi's victory is a strong sign that Democrats would rather double down on the same insanity, with insanity being defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, that got them here rather than learn anything and adapt going forward. But hey, just like with the election, you can't say I didn't warn you."
As hard as I was on Democrats in the wake of Trump's victory and over the last year and a half, I must say that the Democrats in Congress did follow at least one portion of my advice and have had success because of it. I wrote in my handbook...
"Also, Trump's great strength is in form and appearance as he is the ultimate improvisational showman, and his great weakness is detail, structure and function. So attack Trump's weakness, detail and function, with your strength, bureaucracy. What I mean by that is you must make Trump have to slog through the muck and mire, the monotonous and grueling process of actually governing. You can tie Trump up in knots over the process of writing minutely detailed and specific legislation and actually passing it."
I do not agree with Conor Lamb on everything, but I was pleased to see him use my strategic handbook as a blueprint for his win in a Springsteen district. If the Democrats want to win the House and the Senate back in the fall, they had better wise up and read my handbook and start moving far to the left on economic issues as fast as they can.
My advice for the 2018 mid-term election is for Democrats to stop with the identity politics and run on progressive economics. Ignore the Russia story and all of the accompanying nonsense and run on blue-collar, bread and butter economics. They should run not just on Obamacare but Universal health coverage. They should embrace the steel tariffs and any other tariffs Trump wants to throw out there, and unabashedly run against "free trade" and Trump's tax cuts. They should run on a massive infrastructure bill, free college tuition and a guaranteed government job program. Democrats need to run on an proud progressive economic platform and toss Wall street and the Silicon valley uber-rich vampires overboard.
Will Democrats heed my advice? I doubt it, but I admit I am less skeptical now than I was before Conor Lamb pulled off the upset victory in Pennsylvania's 18th. There could be light at the end of the tunnel for Democrats if they get smart, get strategic and you know… actually listen to me. If they listen to the usual suspects of Pelosi, Schumer, Clinton and the rest of the establishment Democratic hustlers, that light at the end of a tunnel will end up being a freight train. The Springsteen Express is barreling down the tracks, Democrats can either get on board, get out of the way or get run over. The choice is theirs.