Democratic strategist Dave “Mudcat” Saunders believes Donald Trump will beat Hillary Clinton like a “baby seal,” and that working class whites who haven’t already left the Democratic Party for cultural reasons will due so now for economic ones.So now it's a baby seal? The simile has changed since Politico talked to Saunders in early March, but otherwise the talking point seems just as phony and canned:
“I know a ton of Democrats -- male, female, black and white -- here [in southern Virginia] who are going to vote for Trump. It’s all because of economic reasons. It’s because of his populist message,” Mudcat told The Daily Caller Wednesday.
Saunders has experience working with Jim Webb, helping getting him elected to the U.S Senate in 2006 and advised his failed bid for the presidency in 2016. Saunders was also an advisor to John Edwards in his 2008 presidential bid. The Democrat strategist is renowned for connecting politicians to “Bubbas” -- white, working class Southerners.
“I think Trump could beat her like a tied-up billy goat,” said Mudcat Saunders, a rural Democratic strategist who’s supporting Bernie Sanders. “There are many areas in key swing states like Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania that look like Sherman went through and didn’t burn anything. Empty factories, empty buildings, few opportunities for young people. It’s sad. It should be no surprise to anybody that voters in those areas are gravitating to Trump.”The economic argument here isn't off base, as I'll explain later, but before we start wringing our hands and assuming Saunders is right about the political strategy, let's recall the Saunders schtick and track record:
Webb's longtime strategist, Dave "Mudcat" Saunders, is an even more ardent fan and defender of the Confederacy. As the New Yorker reported in 2008, Saunders "sleeps under a Rebel-flag quilt, and when challenged on such matters he has invited his inquisitors to 'kiss my Rebel ass' -- his way of making the point that when Democrats are drawn into culture battles by prissy liberal sensitivities they usually lose the larger war."In 2006, Saunders thought the following was a winning message when an anti-gay marriage amendment was on the Virginia ballot:
"I'm pretty sure I ain't a queer. And I've never had queer thoughts, but I do have several queer buddies who called me and asked me to help. I think it's blasphemy to put this on the ballot and try to divide God's children for political gain. God loves them queers every bit that he loves the Republicans."The amendment Saunders opposed passed 57%-43%, so trying to fight it via gay-baiting wasn't particularly effective. (His presidential candidates -- Edwards and Webb -- haven't set the world on fire, either.)
Oh, and did I mention the fact that Saunders endorsed Republican Ken Cuccinelli for governor in 2013 over Democrat Terry McAuliffe, based on the belief that the Koch-affiliated Cuccinelli wasn't a corporatist?
Saunders has one idea: that if Democrats prostrate themselves before rural whites and offer to lick their hip waders, electoral success will follow. Never mind the fact that in the last two presidential elections a citified, urbane black Democrat won two convincing victories -- Saunders is still out there flogging this idea.
I'll admit that I thought Hillary Clinton would talk more about (and to) the white working class in this race. I remember her connecting with whites in blue-collar bars in her 2008 race against Obama, and I assumed that she was going to try to add the Obama coalition to this base of support rather than focusing as much as she has on non-white voters and women. I don't see why she can't do both, and maybe in the general election campaign she will.
But if not, it's quite possible that it won't matter. Saunders says he knows a lot of Democrats in southern Virginia who back Trump? I'm guessing that those same voters, regardless of party affiliation, have been voting Republican for a while -- Saunders is from Roanoke, and while Obama beat Mitt Romney 59%-38% in Roanoke City, he lost to Romney 62%-36% in nearby Roanoke County. In fact, he lost a lot of southern Virginia:
Yet he won more populous and urbane counties, and won the state overall by 3 points.
You know the size of Clinton's lead over Trump in Virginia? It's 13 points, according to the Real Clear Politics average. It's 7.4 in Pennsylvania, which Obama won in 2012 by a bit more than 5. It's 2 points in North Carolina, which Obama lost by 2. Shall I go on?
Saunders has a strategy built for the 1990s. It doesn't apply anymore. It's certainly unlikely to apply in a race against Trump, who's alienating Hispanics, young people, and women (including suburban Republican women) much more effectively than Clinton is alienating Bubba.