Tying Republican candidates to former President Donald Trump won’t save Democrats from a midterm Armageddon, according to one prominent party pollster.
“If our most effective message in 2022 is that Republicans = Trump, we’re going to get creamed,” predicted Brian Stryker, a partner in the Democratic polling firm Anzalone Liszt Grove Research, in a memo for Third Way, a centrist think tank.
Stryker drew that conclusion based on a series of focus groups with suburban Virginia voters who voted for Democrat Joe Biden in 2020 and either voted for (or strongly considered voting for) Republican Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin last month.
He expounded on the limits of a Trump-centric strategy in an interview with The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin.
“The thing that these people disliked about Trump was that they didn’t like Donald Trump the person; it wasn’t Donald Trump the constellation of policies,” said Stryker.
That’s a very important observation. The Democratic attacks trying to link Youngkin to Trump didn’t work because, well, Youngkin didn’t look, sound or act like Trump. Youngkin was a business guy who made a name for himself on the campaign trail for wearing fleece vests. Voters simply didn’t buy that he and Trump were two peas in a pod.
“The respondents kind of laughed at that approach,” Stryker told Martin of the focus group participants. “They said, ‘Oh, these silly ads that compared Youngkin to Trump — he just doesn’t seem like that guy.’”
Stryker’s words – and the memo he penned – should serve as a major wake-up call for Democrats, many of whom are assuming that Trump’s continued prominence, coupled with his deep unpopularity within not only the Democratic base but among independents as well, can save their House and Senate majorities next November.
Stryker says no, and that voters didn’t reject Trump’s policies in 2020, they rejected the man who was pushing those policies.
Without that man on the ballot in 2021 (or 2022), Democrats’ ability to tie Republicans – simply because they are in the same party as Trump – to the former President is very limited.
What should Democrats tell voters? “We should spend 2022 talking about things we’ve done to lower costs for working families and to get people back to work,” recommends Stryker.
The Point: Donald Trump may be the great unifier for Democrats. But voters simply don’t believe that every Republican candidate is a Trump-in-waiting.