Much of the Joe Biden convention was an exercise in base mobilization. There’s a reason for that. A Post-ABC News poll on the eve of the convention showed that while 65% of Trump supporters say they are “very enthusiastic” about supporting the president, only 48% of Biden supporters say the same about the former vice president.
If you think Democrats are confident these voters will turn out, count how many times they urged viewers to “make a plan” to vote. An energized base doesn’t need that kind of encouragement.
Those efforts at base mobilization came at a cost. There was virtually no effort to win back the working-class voters who voted twice for Barack Obama but defected to Trump in 2016. The reason Trump is president today is because about one-third of the nearly 700 counties that twice voted for Obama went for Trump in 2016. According to Nate Cohn of the New York Times, Trump won because he “flipped millions of white working-class Obama supporters to his side.” If you were a working-class Obama-Trump voter watching this week’s convention, you heard a lot about gun violence, racial justice, and climate change, but not much directed at you.
That showed in Biden’s acceptance speech. It was in many ways an impassioned and effective address. But not a word about the opioid epidemic and deaths of despair that are destroying their families. Not a word about the outsourcing of jobs that has decimated their communities. Not a word about confronting China.
Trump understands this, which is partly why just hours before Biden’s address, he held a rally in the former vice president’s birthplace, Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Trump is behind in most battleground states polls, but the race in pivotal Pennsylvania has tightened. In July, Biden had an 11 point lead in the Fox News poll; a new poll this week shows Trump within the margin of error.
Trump now has the opportunity to do what Biden did not: use his convention to reach beyond his base, and make a pitch to the voters who have said they approve of his economic policies but don’t approve of him.
Trump needs to give them permission to vote in their self-interest. To do that, he needs to acknowledge his flaws, and the fact that his brash New York approach sometimes rubs people the wrong way. His message should be: Despite my imperfections, I’m fighting for you. With that approach, he can keep his base energized and expand it at the same time. His convention is the place to start.
Follow Marc A. Thiessen on Twitter, @marcthiessen.
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