In some of our recent discussions about How to Fix Everything, we’ve had a lot of talk about messaging, positioning, and the like. These are all worthy topics, but to me the real issue is credibility.
Take the recent healthcare vote, especially John McCain’s role in it. You could take the view that he first grandstanded, and then sandbagged McConnell and Trump. But the public didn’t see it that way. I heard a caller to WBUR saying how she always votes Democratic, but she loves McCain.
McCain of course has been buttressed by fawning coverage from the national media, and the fact that he’s the most frequent guest on Sunday shows. And he also sounds credible.
McCain’s best friend in the Senate is Lindsey Graham. Granted, Graham doesn’t have McCain’s compelling biography. But he does have McCain’s sense of when things have gone too far. McCain showed it with Bush, and Graham is showing it now with Trump. But somehow, Graham will never be as credible with the public as McCain.
Closer to home, I’ve seen no polling on this, but I think Elizabeth Warren has a lot of credibility, even among people who politically oppose her. Markey does too, but in a quieter way. And people may have hated Ted Kennedy, but they knew where he stood, and he was the best dealmaker in the Senate.
Most of Trump’s credibility came from his EFF YOU-ness. He had no respect for Washington, and he said it every chance he got. This made him refreshing (especially to the press, who hold establishment Washington in contempt as well). But Trump is finally beginning to erode that sense of trust. People still hate Washington, but now Trump is a) not doing anything to change Washington, and b) lying to their faces.
I could go on — Bernie Sanders, a cranky old guy who is almost a Socialist, had broad appeal because he believed in what he was saying.
Our 2018 field, and especially our 2020 field, just needs to be people who believe what they say. We can remain the big tent, and accommodate Manchin, Heidi Heitkamp, Cory Booker (he needs to stop making things up, but on issues he sounds credible), and whoever else.
In these confusing times, I think people want leaders they can trust.