Is President Trump a relentless character on Game of Thrones?

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As if afflicted by a stubborn hangover, some Democrats continue to grapple with the political aftermath of the special counsel report from Robert Mueller, woozy and perhaps regretful at having over imbibed. This is the second such sobering experience for Democrats, the first being the election of Donald Trump after admitting he sexually assaulted women, leaving many Democrats to wonder: Is Trump Teflon? The answer is no.

Sure, he wears a suit of shining armor that glistens to his base. For that segment of the electorate, he is the Game of Thrones character “The Mountain,” who is larger than life, foreboding, dangerous, and well sheathed. He is often left for dead, then comes roaring back to life.

{mosads}But Charlie Cook, whose team includes the best analysts in the political forecasting business, wrote a column showing where the kinks in the armor may be. He found 35 percent of the electorate is locked in for Trump no matter what bad he does, 45 percent is locked in against him no matter what good he does, and the remaining 20 percent is up for grabs. That means that 2020 will be the “Battle for the Quintile.”

These are the voters who supported Trump in 2016 and House Democrats to check him in 2018. They are not swing voters but rollercoaster voters who chose Barack Obama in 2008, the Tea Party in 2010, Obama in 2012, Republicans in 2014, Trump in 2016, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2018.

Who wins these voters in 2020? It will be the candidate who effectively answers concerns that really impact their lives. It will be who these voters believe will reduce their prescription drug costs, preserve their access to affordable health care, address the prosperity of farms under pressure, build infrastructure, and restore a sense of economic fairness.

We still do not know what is in the Mueller report. We deserve to know. As a matter of truth, full disclosure is vital. But as a matter of politics, it is less important. Democrats cannot afford a strategy that keeps placing eggs in that basket. They were never going to win those quintile voters with wishful thinking. Idling while hoping for impeachment is not a strategy. Betting on what is out of your control is a bad bet in politics.

Strong campaigns win elections. It is the stuff of targeting, mobilizing, messaging, and fundraising. You win on the ground, not in the pages of a report that you cannot write. Trump and his opponents will be waging war to claim the quintile. The battles will play out in a concentration of bellwether counties in bellwether states. The messaging is likely to be Medicare rather than Mueller. It will be crops rather than collusion.

That is where the real mettle will be tested. For fans of Game of Thrones, the season finale starts on April 14. The president reflects how various characters on the show act, including the relentless and often risky pursuit of “winning” exhibited by Queen Cersei and the nimble shifts of loyalty, always in the interest of loyalty to self, shown by Little Finger.

There is one unremarkable but foretelling scene in season two, where the savvy character played by Peter Dinklage said of the seeming naive and way over her head Princess Sansa, she “may survive us yet.” She ends up doing so, at least going into the final season, by taking control and defining events rather than being defined by them. We do not yet know her ultimate fate. It is in the script, and we are just spectators, which is certainly a fitting strategy for a television series but not an election.

Steve Israel represented New York in Congress for 16 years and served as the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now the director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. You can find him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael.

Tags Barack Obama Business Congress Democrats Donald Trump Election Government Nancy Pelosi Politics President Republicans Robert Mueller Steve Israel Voting

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