I learned the best lesson about politics from a missionary.
I was covering a church event. The missionary had come to town to promote a book. It didn’t go well, and she pegged me early on as someone who wasn’t there because I identified with her message. Maybe the notebook gave me away.
Three long hours later, determined to salvage something, I waited to get a comment. What I got was a cold look and a colder response.
“I do not talk to nonbelievers.”
My first thought was that she needed to brush up on the job description for “missionary.” My second thought was that this was no way to sell a book.
I have the same thought about President Trump and some of the contenders for the 2020 Democratic nomination.
The president is wildly popular among the people who are already in his camp, with approval numbers that are rock solid in those strongholds. Outside those areas, they are much lower, and some wonder if just staying with his base is enough to win a second term.
In the ever-expanding ranks of those running for president on the left, you have a number who are turning their backs on those same voters and their favored broadcast source, Fox News.
Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris have opposed the idea of participating in the channel’s moderated town halls while embracing appearances on MSNBC and CNN. The Democratic National Committee has declined an offer from Fox News to host one of the primary debates, which include 12 clashes and are set to start June 26.
Now, admittedly, Trump gets good optics from his rallies speaking to enthusiastic supporters, but they do nothing to win anyone else over. Warren and Harris get kudos for standing their ground and simultaneously not giving Fox a chance to make money off of beating them up, but they also give the network an opportunity to crow about how they aren’t talking to a chunk of the electorate.
The ones who are talking outside the echo chamber are making headlines, for good or ill. Sen. Bernie Sanders did one and got cheers from a Fox audience in Pennsylvania talking about his “Medicare for All” idea. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg got applause for telling another Fox crowd that he didn’t care about Trump’s tweets.
This week, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand challenged some of the network’s presentation of abortion discussion. Chris Wallace said it wasn’t “very polite.” She’s raising money off that sound byte by selling merchandise on her website.
In any situation, it takes more than the people who agree with you to get things done, and Washington’s intrinsic failure to recognize that is what is leading to wider and deeper divides, less bipartisan cooperation and fewer accomplishments.
Preaching to the choir will get a missionary a lot of “amens,” but it doesn’t save any souls. Or sell those books.