Today, I woke up to the news that President Donald Trump had created “political headaches for Republicans,” and my immediate response was yippee. No, not because I am mean. I, for one, love when something unanticipated opens up a big fat opportunity – one I couldn’t create no matter how hard I tried. For anyone trying to bridge the political divides and encourage collaboration across the aisle, “political headache” is code for “now is your chance.”
Science tells us that attitude change is possible when partisanship is weak and social identities are conflicted. We saw this when Trump tweeted about a transgender ban. Because notable Republicans and military leaders broke with Trump and said that the ban was a bad idea, they depolarized the issue (it wasn’t Republicans vs. Democrats) and made people wonder if they were going to follow Trump or Senate leaders with national security credibility.
Now we see another opportunity with off-shore drilling. Republicans who said they were supportive of drilling are now facing drilling right off their coast. This isn’t popular with constituents. In an election year where popularity is really going to matter, they may have to rethink when and where we should drill. Same thing with a crackdown on marijuana. Gallup reports that 64 percent favor legalizing marijuana (including a majority of Republicans).
These types of political headaches offer three important opportunities for nimble organizations:
- Recruit new allies. People’s self-interest has been triggered and now is the time to build large-tent coalitions that represent the popular view. Begin tracking supportive statements that give you an in to set up meetings and start finding common ground.
- Shape the discourse. Suddenly legalizing marijuana isn’t just about drug use. It is about states’ rights. This moment offers a chance to shape how this debate unfolds. The grounds it plays out on will decide which side wins.
- Reinforce the shifting norm. These types of debates give us a chance to showcase what the majority of the public thinks about an issue, which will suggest to people who haven’t formulated an opinion where they likely stand. Most people like to stand with the majority. This is especially true when we have changing social norms, like decriminalization and a preference for energy sources.