By Sean O'Connor, University of Delaware junior and intern for the University of Delaware's Center for Political Communication
JUNE 10, 2020—Since 2016, the Democratic Party has been left with one overwhelming question: How can the Democrats defeat Donald Trump, who has broken every conventional rule about politics and reshaped the political playbook forever? Enter Democratic political strategists David Plouffe and Jennifer Palmieri, who are using their connections and experience to educate and inform Americans in the final months of the 2020 presidential election.
After the University of Delaware switched to online instruction last March in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Lindsay Hoffman, Ph.D., director of the National Agenda program, began hosting weekly National Agenda “happy hours” via videoconference. On May 13, old friends and colleagues Plouffe and Palmieri connected virtually with National Agenda students and alumni. Plouffe, a UD alumnus, was a senior advisor to former President Barack Obama, and Palmieri was the former communications director for the 2016 Clinton campaign. The two last joined National Agenda in November 2016, to discuss the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump.
During the 2016 election, the Democratic Party’s goal to beat Donald Trump superseded state and congressional races across the country. Ultimately, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton defeated Trump in the popular vote count by about 2.8 million ballots, but she lost the Electoral College vote and ultimately failed to secure the White House.
Plouffe’s new book, A Citizen's Guide to Defeating Donald Trump, details how Americans can help the Democrats win the election in 2020. Despite its release last March in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak in the US, Plouffe was confident that Americans can still use it as a guide to help defeat Trump—even from the comfort of their own homes. “I did spend a fair amount of time talking about things you could do from your home,” Plouffe explained, “They didn’t require door knocking, but the spirit of the book is more important than the specifics.”
A veteran of presidential politics, Plouffe realized how difficult this “call to action” could be in the face of an incumbent like Donald Trump. Media resources like Fox Broadcasting Company, Breitbart News Network, and Sinclair Broadcast Group provide “built-in advantages” for President Trump’s reelection campaign. As a result, former Vice President Joe Biden (also a Blue Hen and Delaware native), is “behind in money, organization, [and] technology.” When it comes to the election and COVID-19, Plouffe said that if the negative effects of the pandemic linger long enough—that Biden could “win with some margin.”
Plouffe’s confidence in the Biden campaign is not as high as it could be, however. “I’m worried about the state of their campaign right now simply because they just got finished with the primary. Trump is ready for them, this campaign will be fought on our phones and Trump has more alignment.” Trump’s advantage of having been able to prepare during the Democratic primary—and Biden’s lack of time to prepare—is only elevated by COVID-19.
Palmieri, on the other hand, expressed shock that Biden became the Democratic nominee because “we are living in a different universe now [than in 2016] and so are voters.” She pointed out that Biden placed fifth during the critical New Hampshire primary, but still managed to win the nomination. Biden is “not the most disciplined, not always the most on message and not the most exciting.” Palmieri said that the sort of name-calling and taunting that Trump used effectively against Hillary Clinton may not work this time around with voters. Biden has become the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, said Palmieri, despite efforts by Trump to derail him, because voters saw him as “the most known” and “the most trusted to take on Trump.”
While working on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, Palmieri said she “talked to some women” who believed Trump became the Republican nominee because of “forces in the Republican Party who decided that he was the one they wanted to go up against her [Clinton], and the one who will be the nastiest against the first woman,” something which won’t play a factor in 2020. Hillary, a documentary by Hulu released last March, covers Clinton’s life, accomplishments, struggles, and her 2008 and 2016 presidential campaigns. Palmieri described it as “painful to do and watch but it was worthwhile.”
Plouffe and Palmieri agreed that the increased sentiment by Americans that their vote doesn't matter is extremely concerning—especially among young people. Plouffe remained hopeful that people will realize their worth, however, and believed we can all do better. “If you can affect two or three people and enough other people are doing the same, that can be the margin of difference.”