A voter marks a ballot for the New Hampshire primary inside a voting booth at a polling place, Feb. 9, 2016, in Manchester, N.H.
Photo by David Goldman/AP

Trump offers Democrats some ‘bulletin-board’ material on turnout

Updated

In politics, mobilizing one’s base is nearly always beneficial, but it carries an inherent risk: politicians who generate excitement among loyal partisans can simultaneously motivate the other side.

For example, if a Democratic president moved to the left and delivered a message intended to motivate liberal voters ahead of an election, voters on the right, some of whom may have been indifferent about voting, might suddenly feel an urge to head to the polls.

Clearly, Donald Trump doesn’t see much value in this model. The president sat down with the Wall Street Journal yesterday, talked about his plans for the 2018 midterms, and bragged about his physical stamina. “I have to make 50 stops, it’s a lot,” Trump said. “So, there aren’t a lot of people that can do that, physically. Fortunately, I have no problem with that.”

It led to this exchange:

Asked if his campaign appearances might also mobilize Democratic voters, Mr. Trump said, “It may – but it energizes my people much more than it energizes them.”

“I think the Democrats give up when I turn out,” he said. “If you want to know the truth, I don’t think it energizes them. I think it de-energizes them. I think they give up when I turn out.”

In sports, there’s something called “bulletin-board material.” A player or a coach will make some audacious boast about an upcoming game, and it’ll get posted to the bulletin board in the other team’s locker room for motivation.

Trump’s quote struck me as bulletin-board material for Democrats: he thinks they’re more likely to stay home when he shows up in their area. The president is practically daring Dems to turn out in greater numbers in the fall.

And by some measures, there’s some evidence that this is likely. Trump may believe that Democrats “give up” in the wake of his campaign appearances, but he campaigned in Ohio’s 12th congressional district ahead of its recent special election, and Democratic turnout looked pretty impressive.

In March, after Trump campaigned in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district ahead of its special election, Democratic turnout soared.

Late last year, after the president traveled to Alabama ahead of its Senate special election, Democratic turnout was so impressive, the Dem candidate actually won in one of the nation’s reddest states.

“I think the Democrats give up when I turn out”? I think Trump’s wishful thinking is getting the better of him.