Winning Politics And The Culture War, Are They Inseparable?

Editor's note: Vanguard President and CEO TJ Bucholz joins a panel of political pundits to discuss the degree to which contentious "culture war" issues are impacting the political landscape.

Q. Considering today's current period of political polarization nationally, to what extent is it possible to successfully run for political office without aggressively engaging in our nation's culture wars?

T.J. BUCHOLZ, of Vanguard Public Affairs, said it's hard to chart a course down the middle when disruptive waves are hitting from multiple directions. "This election -- like it or not -- will be a referendum on Trump," Bucholz said. "As John BOEHNER said at the Mackinac Policy Conference, the Republican Party has transformed into the Trump Party -- while Democrats are doing their best to align with the rest of middle-class America. Both parties, however, are dealing with extremists in their own ranks. Democrats have Bernie SANDERS' supporters and younger people galvanized by the fact that they believe the system no longer works for them, while Republicans are dealing with a large group of Tea Party isolationists who fear cultures not like their own. "It remains to be seen, however, if either party can emerge from primaries in August and unite behind their candidates," Bucholz continued. "Frankly, Republicans have a better track record of suppressing their gag reflex and standing behind their party's nominee. It's really the only way the GOP can counter a November Democratic blue wave."

Q. Which candidate, or candidates, in Michigan would you say are doing the best job of taking advantage of the culture wars? "I don't think any candidate has done a better job than Democratic Attorney General nominee Dana NESSEL," Bucholz said. "She's effectively tapped into millennial anger at the system to best a better qualified, establishment style candidate in Pat MILES at a convention of 6,000 activist Democrats over ancillary issues. That success at the convention will not translate into victory in November without a massive attempt to unite and unify Democrats behind her campaign and I don't think she's capable of it." Bucholz did work for the Miles campaign, in full transparency. "On the Republican side, Sen. Pat COLBECK (R-Canton) is working to scare the hell out of his base on issues related to immigration and his brand of conservatism, at the expense of turning off his more moderate base," Bucholz continued. "I think Lt. Gov. Brian CALLEY is hoping that all three of his opponents -- Colbeck, Jim HINES, and presumptive favorite Bill SCHUETTE -- spilt the extreme vote in their party and he can slip through the gap by attracting undecideds and moderate GOP voters."

Q. If you were advising a candidate for political office in Michigan this year, would you advise thatthey avoid aggressively engaging in culture-war issues as much as possible, or would you be more likely to advise: "Go for it -- engage, engage, engage?"

Bucholz said much depends on the dynamics of a particular race. "As the owner of a consulting firm who, among other things, tries to get progressive candidates elected to office, I don't generally refer to working to appeal to your base as a culture war, but rather as an opportunity to turn out voters who agree with your platform and point of view," Bu​cholz said. "Not every district is the same -- in competitive districts, there's always a balancing act between tackling base issues while marketing to middle-of-the-road voters."

Q. During his appearance in Washington Township in late April, President Trump said he'd force the 'build the wall' southern border security issue at the end of September even if it meant shutting down the federal government. If that actually happens, isn't it likely that how that situation plays out will impact the November election more than any other issue?

According to Bucholz, Trump is just bluffing. "This administration has shown -- with the recent reversal of its stance on the separation of families attempting to immigrate into the U.S. -- that it is dreadful at playing chicken on polarizing political issues if enough pressure is applied to the President publicly," Bucholz said. "I think the emotive apricot's stance on building a wall is only designed to appeal to his base in middle America, social media, and Fox 'n' Friends. I think a threat to shut down the federal government over the wall is one big bluff from the world's worst poker player, sorry, I meant checkers player."

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