What Won Wisconsin Voters

This blog was originally published on Forbes as What Won Wisconsin Voters on Tuesday, January 23, 2018.

By all accounts, one of the pivotal factors in Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 was getting Wisconsin’s 10 electoral college votes. Hillary Clinton admitted as much herself in her book, What Happened: “If there’s one place where we were caught by surprise, it was Wisconsin.”

Last week, the surprise was reversed in a special election in Wisconsin’s traditionally red 10th State Senate district when Democratic candidate Patty Schachtner defeated the GOP nominee, Adam Jarchow. Ms. Schachtner’s only experience in public office was as the chief medical examiner for the district’s St. Croix County, while Mr. Jarchow had already won an election as a State Assemblyman.

The seemingly small, local election had actually grown into a larger proxy war about Trump. Mr. Jarchow’s campaign received donations from several GOP groups, among them the Koch brothers, and Ms. Schachtner’s effort was supported by a committee headed by President Obama.

But it was her own efforts that made the real difference. The Washington Post reported that “her campaign focused not on attacking Trump but fighting the opioid crisis, improving access to health care and bringing good-paying jobs to the region.”

Ms. Schachtner did what any speaker or presenter must do to succeed: focus on what the audience wants rather than one’s own qualifications.

On Friday, Joseph Epstein writing in the Wall Street Journal, described this approach as “the ability to win votes through the promise of curing false grievances,” a view he attributed to 20th century conservative philosopher Michael Oakeshott that Mr. Epstein values as “memorable.”

It is memorable, but in simpler 21st century terms, Ms. Schachtner identified her constituents’ headaches and offered them aspirins. Or, as any good salesperson knows, she sold the benefits rather than the features.

Readers of my books will recognize this appeal to focus on benefits as the WIIFY, or What’s in it for you?

What won Wisconsin voters were the WIIFYs.

This blog was originally published on Forbes as What Won Wisconsin Voters on Tuesday, January 23, 2018.