Dear Mr. Trump,
Let’s admit it: It has not been a good couple of weeks for you. Your “winner” persona certainly showed some cracks; polls show you slipping. You need to turn things around in a very short period of time.
So now what? I have the solution. You’ve gotten remarkably far by recycling the near past—using “Make America Great Again” from 1980 and all that. But I urge you to keep going, to venture deeper into the cobwebs of America’s attic.
You should borrow a campaign tactic effectively employed by none other than George Washington. You should, in short, “treat the voter.”
I know… what? No, it doesn’t involve any anatomical grabbing. It’s an archaic phrase with a simple meaning: You should buy every voter a drink.
Yes, I’m aware you’re a teetotaler. But you want to win, right? And you also used to have a vodka and now have a family winery, so I assume that you’re not opposed to drinking in concept. If nothing else, this is a nonconformist ploy for a nonconformist candidate. Also, three words: Nixon to China.
I’ve run the numbers (details below). You can do this. It would be the biggest, most beautiful campaign gambit ever. It would be huge.
Buying potential constituents drinks in hopes that they’ll vote for you is such a simple and straightforward tactic that it really needs no explanation. No conclusive evidence exists, but I’d wager that treating first arose several minutes after the first ballot was invented.
But indulge me in some brief history by way of justification. First off, yes, treating was quite common. “The provision of drink was a standard electoral ritual” in England, writes James Van Horn Melton in The Rise of the Public in Enlightenment Europe. It proved to be a ritual that traveled well when colonists settled overseas. “Treating voters with strong drink was a common if not universal practice” in colonial America, writes historian Rhys Isaac. Another historian notes that in the Southern Colonies especially, election time was an occasion “for eating, drinking, and being merry at the expense of the candidates, who acted the role of genial hosts of county or parish freeholders.”
The Baltimore Sun explained in 1840 exactly how the process worked:
“A candidate for office, or the friend of such a one, will mount the rostrum, and harangue his fellow citizens by the hour, on the beauties of liberty, law, order, and good government; then he will awake their fears for the ‘safety of our invaluable institutions;’ anoint them from head to foot with the oil of sweet phrases; cover them all over with compliments on their virtue, patriotism, integrity, incorruptibility and intelligence… [he then] comes down from the political pulpit, steps into the nearest tavern followed by these good friends, where the conclusion of the speech may be heard in the form of an invitation to ‘take something to drink.’”
For logistical reasons, treating was usually a local or regional practice. Washington used it when he ran for his first term in the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1758. He ponied up for drink, bigly, paying out £39 at several local taverns. This may not sound like much to someone with a bank account as impressive as yours, Mr. Trump, but it was “several times more than enough to buy the house and land of the voter who barely met the minimum franchise requirements,” according to one historian. In the end, Washington bought some 144 gallons of drink and it yielded 307 votes.
Note that it was his first election. But he won. Just saying.
Treating wasn’t strictly a pay for play transaction. It also made a candidate seem more like a man of the people. “The paternalistic dominance of the gentry was expressed in their acceptance of an obligation to show ‘liberality’ toward their poorer neighbors,” wrote electoral historian Chilton Williamson. “The candidates confirmed their character as magnanimous gentlemen when they stood to treat all voters, regardless of how they voted.”
Note also that if you bought America a drink, you would effectively neutralize that focus-group-tested phrase “trumped-up trickle down.” Because what trickles down best? Liquor. In fact, I’d suggest you make this your new campaign slogan.
Treating the voter has never been done at a national scale. As such, it would be historic and dominate the news cycle for several days. It would also probably break Facebook from all the selfies of people having “A Drink on The Donald.”
How much would it cost? For simplicity sake, let’s assume that you’d buy everyone a glass of wine, specifically a glass of wine sourced from the Trump Winery. You could pay for this expense with your campaign funds. And buy it at retail. If you know what I’m saying. (Note to eyebrow-raisers: It’s called good business.)
So how many glasses would you need to serve?
Recent census figures report that 221 million Americans are over the age of 21.
According to National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 87.6 percent of Americans have tried alcohol at one point in their life, and 56.9 percent had a drink in the past month. So let’s say that the number of people who would take you up on your offer falls exactly between the two, or 72.25 percent.
That means treating 159.6 million Americans. If you give everyone a 5-ounce pour (it’s a short pour, but, hey, it’s free!), that’s five pours per bottle. I see that you sell your meritage for $20 per bottle and your chardonnay for $18, so let’s say an average of $19 per bottle, or $3.70 per pour.
And… drum roll: It would cost you $590,520,000 to buy the next round.
Admittedly, that’s not pocket change, although it’s less than you earned last year, according to your own self-reporting. But I trust you when you say your net worth is $10 billion. So that’s only about 6 percent of your nest egg—or the sort of tip a frugal billionaire might leave to already overpaid service workers after an excellent meal. Think of it as your declaration to America: “Thank you! I had wonderful evening! Also: I am a man of the people.”
How would this be done logistically?
Again, let’s look to precedent. In olde England, a candidate would distribute to the citizenry tickets redeemable for drink, and the innkeeper would later submit these for repayment from the candidate. (Note: These bills could perhaps be renegotiated. After the fact. If you catch my meaning.)
I should point out that treating the voter hasn’t been done openly in decades. Small-minded people will point out that it’s illegal. To this, I would note that treating was illegal in Virginia when George Washington did it. (No person shall “give, present, or allow to any person or persons [who] vote in such election any money, meat, drink, entertainment, or provision… in order to be elected.”)
Did it stop Washington? It did not stop Washington. He was a burgess who could shoot from the hip. He wasn’t politically correct. He went on to lead a successful army, become president, and have a shiny new city named after him.
You know what to do. I’ll be at the bar, awaiting further instruction.