Voters who ricochet between political parties are an endangered species, and the candidates and groups seeking to influence them have sorted themselves accordingly (for example, there is only one Democrat left in the country who still gets money from the NRA). As split-ticket voting becomes increasingly nonexistent, politicians can’t help but gloat nowadays when they win over defectors from the other side.
Hillary Clinton is feeling especially good about all the reluctant love she’s been getting from Republicans. Her campaign just announced the formation of a group meant to tempt converts from team #NeverTrump. At least 50 prominent Republicans have already joined the cause, and others are being courted — many of whom have histories that make progressives nervous.
For now, Clinton hasn’t done much to encourage them to come over except not be Donald Trump, and given that the two major American parties have become so polarized in the past few years, it’s not clear that there is much she could do, policy-wise, to become more palatable anyway.
Which leads to the hardest part of the modern aisle-hopping appeal: When there are so few issues amenable to cross-pollination between parties, how do you convince voters unhappy with their choices to switch sides? Looking at the list of pitches presidential candidates have made to people outside their parties over the past 30 years, or reasons that voters and leaders gave for not voting for their designated candidate, reveals some of the only concerns left that can temporarily bring Democrats and Republicans together.
There aren’t many.
1. Working People, Freedom, and the American Flag
“Reagan Democrats” are perhaps the most famous case of voters switching parties in modern presidential campaigns — although they were basically just conservatives who realized that the Republican Party was a better bet, and started voting accordingly. In 1988, Ronald Reagan went out campaigning for George H.W. Bush, trying to convince these Democrats that they should stay with his side by listing random words that generally give Americans fuzzy feelings. “We made the Republican Party into the party of working people, the family, the neighborhood, the defense of freedom, and, yes, the American flag and the Pledge of Allegiance,” he said in 1988. (He had enough restraint to refrain from adding that the Republican Party was also the party of puppies, apple pie, and warm towels fresh from the dryer.) It's a neat trick: If you say enough of these words, they act as a reflex hammer that causes entire crowds to burst into USA chants. Who knew that Republicans and Democrats could agree on so many things?!
It’s a very controversial opinion, but people who have children (or just think children are adorable) can probably support both parties, even if they’ve never tried it before. “There are those in the audience who may not be active Republicans,” Bob Dole told voters in Michigan back in 1996. “If you have children, if you have a job,” he said, “if you want lower taxes … you ought to take a look at the Republican Party and the Republican candidate.” Yes, anyone who has a job might have something in common with someone in the other party. Who knew?
This summer, former Jeb Bush advisor Sally Bradshaw told CNN that she might vote for Hillary Clinton because of her kids. “I can’t tell them to love their neighbor and treat others the way they wanted to be treated, and then vote for Donald Trump. I won’t do it.”
3. Moral Compasses
Hmm … what else, what else? I’m drawing a blank on anything else Democrats and Republicans can agree on … oh wait! Yes, having morals is not always controversial. Principles are like pheromones that can easily attract voters from the opposite party.
In 2000, the New York Times talked to a Democrat from South Carolina who was voting in a Republican primary for the first time. He was voting for John McCain. “I don’t even agree with everything he stands for,” the voter said. “But McCain has a moral compass, a real sense of maturity. He’s the only one who seems to understand what this country is all about.”
This year, former Rudy Giuliani speechwriter Matthew Higgins is voting for Clinton. He told NPR, “You have to have a hierarchy of principles at a time like this. So, even though I don’t agree with her positions on taxation for example ... I do believe in her in terms of how she treats people. I do believe in her fundamentally, in her vision for the country, what kind of country we want to be.”
Utah hasn’t voted for a Democrat since 1964, but Clinton has been trying to make inroads there because, as Trump himself says, “We’re having a tremendous problem in Utah.” Last week, she wrote an op-ed for the Deseret News trying to assert that she and the conservative, often Mormon voters there have something in common. Her argument boiled down to: You have morals, I have morals, but some people don’t, and they want to ban people from this country for religious reasons. Not cool! Or, as she actually phrased it, “Every day, Trump continues to prove he lacks the morals to be our commander-in-chief. … Americans don’t have to agree on everything. We never have. But when it comes to religion, we strive to be accepting of everyone around us.”
4. The Future
It’s a thing that is going to happen! Both parties tend to agree on this, which several candidates try to take advantage of when wooing voters from outside their base. In 2008, John McCain held a virtual town hall where he spoke mainly to Democrats and independents. One participant asked him how they could be proud of America. “We have to be proud of America,” he said, “because of what we’re going to do.” Regardless of what you think about the country right now, both parties are happy to believe in and willing to be swayed by a fictional future in which everything is perfect.
5. Not Being Mean
This is one of the strongest pitches made by the Clinton campaign this year. Basically: You may not agree with her positions on any issues, but she doesn’t mock disabled people. Meanness is also one of the major arguments made by Republicans who aren’t voting for Trump. Senator Susan Collins won’t vote for Clinton, but she also can’t vote for Trump because of “his disregard for the precept of treating others with respect, an idea that should transcend politics.” That is fancy newspaper op-ed speak for “his inability to not be a complete ass.”
Given that the word appeared at least 768 times during both conventions, it’s clear that Democrats and Republicans are super excited about unity. Even though many partisans deeply hate the other party, plenty of Americans have also said they want Washington to work together more. If voters want their own party to be unified but it isn’t, can they just unify with another one? Clinton’s Republican outreach group is called Together for America, which sounds like the third-blandest super PAC name of all time but also conjures images of people with different opinions hugging while “Happy” plays. McCain tried a similar move during his populist 2000 campaign, trying to win over a happy band of all sorts of backgrounds. “I say to independents, Democrats, libertarians, vegetarians: Come on over,” he said — over and over again.
Candidates can also try to win over voters from the other side by saying that their election isn’t about political parties — pause — it’s about the American people. Bill Clinton tried this in 1992, when he centered himself in an effort to steal votes from George H.W. Bush or Ross Perot. “My fellow Americans, I do not seek a victory of political party,” he told a crowd in Las Vegas. “I seek a victory for the American people. In times of change, Americans have to go beyond party.”
This is an endlessly refreshable theme, best summed up by Illinois Senator Barack Obama in 2004: “Well, I say to them tonight, there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America.”
7. Telling People Their State Sucks
Five percent of Democrats plan on voting for Trump right now. This weekend, Trump still decided to campaign in Connecticut, a state that hasn’t voted for a Republican since 1988. Meanwhile, his presence in many swing states remains mostly nonexistent. But who cares about the voters who might support you when you can keep trying to win over ones who never will?
If you are trying to win over seven not-so-crucial electoral votes, follow Donald Trump’s advice and just tell them their state is sad and mostly crappy. Hating sports teams brings people together — maybe hating states can too! Even if you live there! “The U.S. Department of Education reports Connecticut is expected to have the nation’s third fastest decline in students enrolled in high school over the next 10 years, it will probably be number one fairly soon. Congratulations, people!” Trump said in Fairfield on Saturday. “Hey! Am I depressing everybody?”
He also told the crowd, “I love Connecticut. I have lived in Connecticut. I have so many friends in Connecticut.” Yes, Donald Trump is trying to win over a Democratic state by negging it.
A note of warning: This tactic is not on the approved, very tiny list of things that modern candidates have found that both parties agree on — like the word “freedom” — so use with caution.