Will Trumpism stand up to local realities this time?

October 19, 2020

Photo by Xavi Moll on Unsplash

With the election now just under 3 weeks away, it is easy to get caught up in the national race between President Trump and Former Vice-President Biden.

But to really understand what is going on across America, you have to look a little deeper.

If you dig into some of the great reporting from local newspapers on Congressional races, you can get a really good idea of the issues that are being debated in communities around the country.

And one thing that really stands out is how the politics of those candidates that have endorsed Trumpism stand out against pragmatists, usually Democrats, but also sometimes moderate candidates in their own party.

The big question is though, can the bluster and rhetoric of Trumpism stand up to scrutiny and the reality that Congresspeople face in their local community? Let’s see.

Masks vs. Wishful Thinking

In Florida’s 15th district that includes Tampa, Trump endorsed candidate Scott Franklin has been on Fox News responding that he doesn’t know if masks do anything to prevent Covid-19 or not. When pushed on the approach to the virus, he is quick to point to the negative economic impact of shut-downs, while saying that we “just can’t go there again.”

He admits that Covid-19 is a threat, yet he says it is just as important to protect economic “livelihoods” as “lives.”

On the other hand, his opponent in the race, Democrat Alan Cohn, has said that wearing a mask is a “matter of patriotism” and that “we do not have the right to endanger others.” He also stresses the importance of Obamacare and how the pandemic has proven how vital it is.

At the same time he highlights how his opponent has been a vocal supporter of President Trump’s ambitions to fully repeal Obamacare. Franklin doesn’t deny that and he still says that Obamacare should be repealed, citing the need for a more free-market solution.

And just this one short exchange sums up so much about politics across the country.

  • One one side there is the Democratic candidate who is putting forward common-sense proposals such as: follow the guidance of doctors, wear a mask and don’t think about cutting healthcare programs in the middle of a pandemic
  • While on the other side the Trumpist candidate has framed all of these issues ideologically: focusing on why the idea of Obamacare is bad (not free-market enough for Republicans) and taking the hypothetical position that the economy should be prioritized over health measures, while in reality they go together

Without a doubt, people vote according to their ideology, but they also vote according to their self-interest and what keeps them safe. And in this election, the bluster of Trumpist candidates seems to ring hollow for many local communities.

Climate Change vs. Socialism

If you look in Northern Virginia, you have more ideology coming from Republican candidate Jeff Jordan claiming that what we need is a “Covid-19 commission” to “look at what works, what doesn’t work, and how to protect people’s civil liberty.”

It’s tough to see how this kind of “let’s think about it some more” approach would do much to keep people or businesses safe today, but more striking than that is the difference between him and his opponent, Democrat Don Beyer, when asked what the biggest problem facing our country currently is.

The response from current Representative Don Beyer was climate change,

While the answer from candidate Jeff Jordan was socialism.

Yes, in a year where record forest fires were burning and the nation is still in the grips of pandemic, the biggest problem according to the Trumpist candidate is socialism and leftist extremism.

In a way it is taking the ideology argument that we saw in Florida one step further by saying that they don’t even claim to have any answers to the most pressing issues that our facing our country. Instead, they just want to scare people into thinking that the other side’s solution will be worse.

Again, these arguments don’t sound too off-base when someone speaks like this running for national office - but when you are running for office to serve your local community, it might be a message that struggles to win people over.

Where the rubber meets the road

Maybe the most interesting race to keep an eye on is Minnesota’s 7th district, where deeply entrenched 15-term Democratic representative Collin Peterson pulled off an astounding feat in 2016:

He won re-election by 5 points while his district voted for Trump by a margin of 30 points.

How did he do it? He is chairman of the powerful House Agricultural Committee that controls funding to rural areas and his district is full of farms that recognize the benefit of having him looking after their interests.

This year though, he is in for a tough fight with former Lt. Governor Michelle Fischbach who has the backing of Trump and the GOP. She is described by Republicans as the “perfect challenger”: somebody with name recognition and strong fundraising ability.

But when asked what she would do for farmers in the district, she came back to ideology:

“The biggest thing that affects agriculture is who the representative from Minnesota’s Seventh District puts into power. If there’s another vote and another term for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker, it keeps the Democrats’ drive alive for the Green New Deal.”

Sure that is one way to look at it - but the farmers whose self-interest are very much aligned with Rep. Peterson might not see it that way.

In 3 weeks time we will really see if voters are willing to put Trumpist ideology before their own self-interest.

Greg Dickens grew up in a small town of less than 2,000 people in rural New York State. After a decade working in finance and technology, he's now taking everything he has learned to create new opportunities for the people he grew up with by building digital tools that help local communities. You can check out his work here.