By Bill Mosley
President Obama, speaking at last summer’s Democratic National Convention, heard a chorus of boos when he mentioned the name of Donald Trump. “Don’t boo – vote!” he admonished the crowd.
What he should have said was, “Don’t boo, vote – if you live in a swing state. If you live somewhere else, send money.”
Most DSA members and others familiar with how our presidents get elected know that, despite what we are taught from the first grade, every vote does NOT count equally.
Because of the United States’ peculiar system of presidential elections, in which a bare majority of votes in a state delivers all of that state’s basket of electoral votes (except in Maine and Nebraska where they are apportioned by congressional district), there is a small, finite number of states that, in any close election, will determine the outcome. If you live in one of those, your vote is critically important. If you live in a deep-red or deep-blue state, sure, go ahead and vote, but don’t bear any illusions that you will be making a difference.Before I go on, I must make clear that I start from the belief that we must NOT allow Donald Trump to become president. He is toxic and a danger to the country and the world. A Trump presidency would legitimate racism, nativism, misogyny, and Islamophobia. He is a bully and a serial liar. His Supreme Court nominees would come directly off the Heritage Foundation’s wish list, which means we could look forward to further assaults on the Voting Rights Act, reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, gun control, and more for decades to come. His election would bring about a coarsening of our political discourse that could last the rest of our lives.
I also start from the belief that Hillary Clinton is a seriously flawed candidate. She represents a continuation of the Democratic tradition of neoliberalism with a smiling face. She is a shill for Wall Street and the military establishment. On the issue that was perhaps the greatest test of judgment for a legislator over the past two decades, she failed – voting to authorize the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
And yet, with all her flaws, there is no question that Hillary Clinton must win in November. That she is not Trump is perhaps reason enough – but not the only reason. She will nominate decent (if probably not visionary) justices to the Supreme Court and lower courts. She will respect the rights of racial and religious minorities, women and the LGBTQ community. Unlike Trump, she believes climate change is real and will take action to mitigate it, if not as much as needed.
So does this mean everyone must vote for Clinton to slay the specter of Trump? Not necessarily. Now, this argument probably won’t reach the voters who, for instance, rush to the polls in DC only for presidential elections, and spit on DC mayoral and council races where their votes really might make a difference. Every four years lines wrap around the block, as if the Democratic candidate’s winning 93 percent of the vote is not enough and the voters must push the total to 94 to make absolutely sure the blue party wraps up the District’s all-important three electoral votes.
But in reality, the outcome in most states is pre-ordained, and only in the “purple” states do the candidates invest time and resources. The identities of these states shift a bit from cycle to cycle, and Trump’s unorthodox campaign had seemed to put states in play for the Democrats that are usually solidly Republican red, at least until Clinton’s late-summer swoon. Politico, using data from a variety of polls taken in August and September, identifies the 2016 swing states as Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. An early September poll by the Washington Post listed the tossup states as Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin, with Virginia leaning Democratic in this analysis. Toni Monkovic of the New York Times suggests the election could come down to who wins Pennsylvania. Which states are “purple” can vary over time and according to who’s conducting the poll.
What does this mean? That unless you live in one of those dozen or so states, whether you vote for Clinton, Trump, Jill Stein or Gary Johnson doesn’t mean a whit; one of the major candidates already considers your vote as being in their pocket. Now, if a candidate takes a supposedly safe state for granted, it can suddenly become competitive, because blue or red states can turn purple, and once in a blue moon, if the election is lopsided enough, blue can turn red and vice versa. The inclusion of once deep-red Texas in some lists of swing states is a case in point. In our area, as recently as 1988 Maryland swung to the Republicans, backing George H.W. Bush against the stumbling Mike Dukakis. Likewise, if the “vote your conscience” argument took serious hold, safe states could quickly become unsafe. But most voters look at presidential elections through a national lens – they don’t consider that a vote for Clinton in California is not the same as one in Florida – so this isn’t likely to come to pass.
By the end of October we’ll be pretty sure what the roster of swing states will be. DC, the most Democratic jurisdiction in the country, won’t be on it. We can be pretty sure Maryland will be listed as deep-blue as well – or it not, it means Trump wins the election in a landslide. If Clinton can’t win Maryland she can’t win much of anything.
So if you live in Maryland or the District and your aim is to stop Trump, to do nothing but vote is to do nothing. In fact, you might as well vote for Stein or write in Bernie Sanders for all the good it will do. To make a difference, it would be more effective to send a donation to Clinton or down-ballot Democratic candidates, to volunteer for a national phone bank, or campaign in a swing state. Such as Virginia.
Yes, once again Virginia is the battleground of our metro region. Politico, which is regularly revising its projections, disagrees with the Post that Virginia is in the bag for Clinton; on Sept. 22 it reported that her 9-point August cushion in the Old Dominion had declined to 6 percent. For Virginians, stopping Trump does necessitate voting for Clinton, whatever else one might do. Even with a Virginian like Tim Kaine on the ticket, the state cannot be taken for granted. Virginians bear the burden of the ballot.
Even if living in blue states frees District and Maryland residents to vote their consciences, that doesn’t absolve them from seeking other avenues to defeat Trump. Send a donation, spend some time working in a swing state, join a phone bank, stuff envelopes. When it comes to stopping Trump, all DSA members have a role to play.
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