In “A Citizen’s Guide to Beating Donald Trump,” David Plouffe offers succinct tips for the energized civilian to help their favored candidate ascend the White House steps. Each chapter gives insight into the general campaign process. His book provides a crash course in what a campaign manager would want volunteers to know about how to best utilize their labor and the campaign’s materials. When reading “A Citizen’s Guide to Beating Donald Trump,” Plouffe’s optimism reads as genuine as he avoids the demoralizing rehashing of status quo politics. Like Plouffe, the American Democracy is hopeful, a promise to be fulfilled with coalitions and earnest votes.
However, beyond general industry insight and tips, Plouffe’s 2020 work is an unimaginative contribution to the 2020 political book selling season. The novel’s thinly dispersed advice stretches across 225 pages and offers few novel strategies.
The novel opens with a play-by-play of Election Day 2016. In his introduction, Plouffe narrates the collective American shock at Donald Trump’s 2016 win. He notes MSNBC’s somber realization and Fox’s surprised jubilation. Though he does not fully resuscitate the liberal November 2016 ethos, Plouffe succeeds in setting the stakes of his guide and asserting the possibility of a 2020 repeat. This direct introduction is followed by a somewhat patronizing yet engaging sequence of floating, repackaged ideas.
Plouffe does not pontificate on the validity of the U.S. electoral process or explore policy issues. Instead Plouffe strips the election down, interpreting the Great American Democracy as a numbers game of voters and delegates. 270 to victory — a victory requiring effective volunteers.
In every chapter, Plouffe leans into his 2008 and 2012 industry acumen, giving his first hand accounts of Obama’s stunning loss in the 2008 New Hampshire Primary and Obama’s rousing concession speech. His anecdotes help bind and substantiate the book. However, his constant references to the Obama Era feels misplaced in 2020, tinged with nostalgia for a president and political climate past.
For 2020, Plouffe imagines heroic volunteers and a winsome Obama-esque candidate. He writes about a repeat of Will.i.am’s rendition of an Obama speech and campaigns pushing volunteer apps. His ideas outlined are sound and conventional. The Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign underscored their “Bern” app at the candidate’s rally at the University of Michigan’s Diag in early March. The democratic nominee frontrunner also has his Team Joe App intended, too, to help coordinate volunteers.
Plouffe’s core message reads as follows: Given enthusiastic volunteers, the power and passion of the people will prevail. His novel, as per the title, envisions a broad audience — citizens unhappy with Donald Trump — and presumes that they are fired up to engage in politics publicly. His “Anti-Trump” plan requires all discontented citizens to collectively rise up and “GOTV” in 2020. However, not a single chapter is dedicated to either convincing or reaffirming political involvement.
Plouffe assumes a base level of political engagement in his readers. He fails to invest in convincing a passerby, an interested Barnes and Noble reader and vital 2020 voter, to become politically active. Perhaps, for someone as inured in politics and activism as Plouffe, he forgets and leaves behind the vast majority of Democratic votes, the so-called “whole-food” moms: those dissatisfied with the political climate yet unwilling to publicly speak out. What those readers require are strategies to get “political” without outing themselves as political individuals. Plouffe incorrectly assumes that most Americans disapprove of Trump and adore Obama. He harkens back to 2008 as a political Golden Age, forgetting that following Obama’s 2008 blue wave was a Republican backlash, fueled in part by disaffected Obama voters.
Plouffe needs to start at square one, offering policy issues where the 2020 Democratic candidates diverge from current leadership. He missed an opportunity to produce, present and push salient ideological arguments for interested but politically shy readers to internalize and later use in daily conversation.
Politics is a numbers game, but in trying to recruit, Plouffe alienates the politically unsure, common citizen. Plouffe’s novel reads as a general plea for the individual dissatisfied with Donald Trump to become active and for the already converted volunteers to optimize. In trying to convince too many, Plouffe converts and energizes none.