Every politician faces the same three fundamental challenges in their pursuit of gaining and sustaining the support of their constituents. These challenges are their personality and appearance, their legislative record, and their supporters.
The first challenge is personality and appearance. There are plenty of outstanding politicians with brilliant legal, philosophical, and political minds whose personalities or appearances bother voters. I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard, “I don’t like the way he looks”, in response to queries as to why voters oppose a particular candidate. During Ron Paul’s 2012 bid for the Republican Nomination, time and again I heard voters complain that he looked like a prickly old man. They never stopped to ask themselves if Congressman Paul might have had a reason to be prickly. It didn’t matter. They didn’t like his personality.
The second challenge politicians face is their constituents perception of their legislative record. With more and more voters in possession of increasing amounts of information (and misinformation), politicians face a great deal more scrutiny today than in the past. Social Media has created large, comfortable echo-chambers for like-minded constituents to gather and establish purity tests for their elected, wherein politicians are excoriated for legislative records that fail to fully mirror the entire political plank of any particular faction of voters. This is, I believe, partially to blame for the relative unpopularity of politicians, since they are forced to represent many factional constituencies with absolutely no hope of making a single one of them universally happy.
The third (and possibly most significant) challenge politicians face is the temperament, behavior, intelligence, and maturity of their supporters. Angry, mean-spirited, uninformed, and immature supporters will do more damage to a politicians reputation than a hundred negative ads on television or in print. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders’ popularity have both suffered a great deal due to the temperaments, behavior, and political naiveté of some of their supporters.
Being aware of the manner in which we support our favorite politicians and candidates is of the utmost importance, lest we offend, annoy, or anger voters who otherwise would have given them a chance. Politicians can control just about every aspect of their candidacies. They control their voting records, their stump speech, and their level of interactivity with their constituents and communities. They cannot, however, control the behavior of their supporters on twitter, facebook, and the blogosphere.
The Republican Party is a big tent with many factions of constituents who hold a wide range of beliefs and ideals. As the Republican Party has grown since 2010, the contentiousness between factions has grown more vitriolic and a great many bridges have been burnt. Republicans have become increasingly reactive and defensive in their debates; and they have, in general, become increasingly intolerant of anyone perceived as not belonging to their side.
As a result, compromise and cooperation have died horrific deaths. So has our decorum.
The opinions our politicians hold about other politicians have now become important campaign issues. If you are running for office in a district with an older, whiter, more blue-collar population, it might be a wise political strategy to jump on the Donald Trump train. On the other hand, politicians living in districts or states with a younger, upperly-mobile population may want to drop some digs at Trump in their campaign speeches. So long as voters can identify who their friends and enemies are by how they feel about particular politicians, politicians can be forced to make comments about their colleagues, identifying themselves as someone specific voters can support.
The most important lesson here isn’t for our politicians. It’s for their supporters. The best thing you can do for the politicians you support is to behave and advocate for them in such as way as to earn the respect, not the ire, of others. Bombastic and mean-spirited comments aimed at politicians you seek to defeat will serve as locker-room fodder for their supporters, encouraging them to dig in their heals and go on the offensive. Supporters who rile up the opposition tend to galvanize resistance to the very politicians they desire to support.
This brings me to the curious case of one Donald J. Trump. Trump supporters are some of the most passionate people I’ve met. They are furious with the status quo and believe that Donald Trump is the solution to an entire host of problems plaguing our governments. However, in their zeal, I have witnessed numerous occasions where Trump supporters have so infuriated the supporters of other Republican candidates, that these supporters have up and joined the #NeverTrump movement. This is infuriating to Trump supporters and the more people that wave the #NeverTrump flag, the more Trump’s true believers aggressively attack anyone whose support seems less than enthusiastic – which of course drives even more Republican voters away from Trump.
As someone who does not care for Donald Trump, but who will work hard to ensure that Trump wins in his county, I would like to encourage Trump supporters to be more thoughtful, tolerant, and inclusive with your fellow Republicans. Lambasting every Republican who doesn’t feel warm and fuzzy about The Donald only discourages support for your candidate. If you really want to help get Donald Trump elected president, then you need to support him in positive ways. You need to write and talk about his policies that you support, his accomplishments, his vision, and his political platform. You need to focus more on praising your candidate, rather than ripping apart those who are less excited about his candidacy.
Positive advocacy brings more people to your side and it makes people feel better being there. Imagine having the opportunity to choose between two bars. In one bar, everyone is fighting and yelling at each other and the place is constantly filled with loud, bitter voices and the atmosphere is thick with drama. The other bar is full of people with their arms over one another’s shoulders, laughing and joking and singing old Irish drinking songs. Which bar would you like to frequent? Which bar would you take your friends? Which bar would you rather spend more time frequenting?
We, the supporters, create much of the atmosphere surrounding our favorite politicians and we are responsible for making that atmosphere as pleasant as possible in order to gain the support of folks who might still be sitting on the fence. The election in November will be close. Donald Trump’s supporters could make or break his campaign.