Reprinted from Campaign For America's Future
Politicians and campaign consultants, listen up. There is a lesson to learn from Michigan's Democratic primary upset: Voters are tired of having their intelligence insulted by cynical politicians using 90's-style "gotcha' politics."
"Gotcha politics" is a tactic where a politician attempts to lure or entrap an opponent by use of a supposed fact, gaffe, mistake or statement that makes it appear the opponent is a hypocrite or untrustworthy. Then the politician "pounces," hence the term "gotcha."
Just two days before the Michigan primary, Hillary Clinton tried to use this cynical tactic on Bernie Sanders. During the Flint debate she said, "I'll tell you something else that Senator Sanders was against. He was against the auto bailout."
Tuesday's post, "Auto Bailout Controversy: 'Gotcha' Politics vs. Building Trust" wondered if the long-term costs of cynical politics outweighs potential short-term gains:
"This kind of '90's-style' politics is a 'scorched earth' tactic, leaving little goodwill in its wake. In the short term it might gain votes, even win a primary, but those votes bring with them longer-term costs.
"Over time, as the fact-checking of Clinton's 'gotcha' accusation unfolds, Clinton risks increasing voters' perception that she has a 'trust' problem. Winning a primary with a tactic that risks increasing voter perception that she can't be trusted could cost her.- Advertisement -
"...The stakes are very high in this election, and if Clinton is the nominee she is going to need goodwill -- and all the votes she can get. Isn't there a higher road with lower risks that Clinton can follow in this campaign?"
Gotcha Politics Backfired On Clinton
It seems there are short-term costs to this kind of negative politics now as well. Clinton's attempt to mislead voters not only didn't work, it looks like it may have backfired and cost her votes in the primary itself. The voters Clinton was attempting to win over -- auto workers -- knew darn well that Bernie Sanders was on the side of auto workers and had been for a very long time. Michigan voters appear to have resented the attempt to mislead them.
A quick trip around Google shows that Sanders has been there for the auto workers for years, decades even, and auto workers knew that:
In August 2015 at the United Auto Workers Community Action Conference, "Bernie Sanders addressed the annual conference about the importance of workers' rights and the important issues that, as he said, many of his colleagues do not address."
Sanders' relationship with the UAW goes back much further than that. Here are his ratings at Vote Smart: Bernard 'Bernie' Sanders's Ratings and Endorsements on Issue: Labor Unions:
1996 United Auto Workers -- Positions on Workplace Rights 100%
1997 United Auto Workers -- Positions 100%
1998 United Auto Workers -- Positions 92%
1999 United Auto Workers -- Positions 100%
2000 United Auto Workers -- Positions 100%
2001 United Auto Workers -- Positions 92%
2002 United Auto Workers -- Positions 100%
2003 United Auto Workers -- Positions on Workplace Rights 93%
2004 United Auto Workers -- Positions 93%
2005 United Auto Workers -- Positions 93%
2006 United Auto Workers -- Positions 100%
2007 United Auto Workers -- Positions 100%
2009 United Auto Workers -- Positions 100%
There is also anecdotal evidence that the tactic backfired. For example, Noam Scheiber, a New York Times labor reporter with a finger on the pulse of the UAW, tweeted "Have heard from plugged-in labor source that UAW worked v. hard for Bernie in MI. Thought Hillary totally misrep'd his auto bailout vote." He also tweeted, "UAW liked Bernie on trade to begin with, then was backlash to Hillary portraying him as anti auto-bailout. Got UAW folks very revved up."
Robert Borosage, writing in "March Madness: Sanders Takes Michigan in Huge Upset":