How do you defeat Donald Trump?
“You don’t beat Trump. I think that’s the wrong frame. When you go into any intention trying to defeat someone else, then you’re going to lose because you’re automatically playing by their game. You’re using their narrative. You’re trying to undo what they’ve done, which means you’re not doing yours,” Democratic powerhouse Stacey Abrams told Tina Brown in a rousing talk onstage at the Women in the World Summit on Thursday.
In the wide-ranging discussion about her past and future, Abrams laid out a plan to win the presidency — and promised to “take it under advisement” when Brown urged her to run, sparking cheers from the audience.
“I believe that you run a campaign, you run a business, you run an organization with your end in mind, telling people what you will do, why you’re the one to do it,” Abrams said. “I think it’s important for us to understand, Trump did not win because he was a good candidate. He won because 70,000 people voted in three states because of the Electoral College, but 6 million people stayed home.”
Indeed, he won three key states, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, by a narrow margin — just some 77,000 votes in total — but those states have a wealth of Electoral votes, giving him the edge. At the same time, 6 million fewer Democrats voted in the election than the last one.
“The reality is we have the opportunity to overcome voter suppression, overcome strategic error. There are a whole host of things that led to his victory, none of which are insurmountable,” Abrams said. “Winning does not mean beating Trump. It means winning America. That’s our mission.”
When her remark drew applause from the audience, she added with a laugh, “Getting rid of him is just a byproduct.”
Turning to her recent race for governor in Georgia — an election that was marred by charges of voter suppression enacted by her Republican opponent, Brian Kemp, who was then the secretary of state — she said, “I can’t prove empirically that I would’ve won, but I’ll never know because we didn’t have a fair fight. And yes, that pisses me off.”
Kemp put tens of thousands of voter registrations on a “pending” list to scrutinize signatures, after reportedly canceling 1.4 million voter registrations since 2012.
After the election, Abrams didn’t concede because, she said, “We need to make sure every vote is counted.” Over the following 10 days, she said, she received 50,000 phone calls from people who faced voter suppression. “If 50,000 people call, that means 50,000 additional people didn’t know they could call, and another 50,000 people just thought it was their fault. So that’s a lot of people who are disenfranchised.”
In the end, she said, “I knew, as a matter of law, we did not have a viable option because the law itself allowed this to happen. Policies permitted him to bastardize an election and manipulate a system. And so I acknowledged the legal outcome of the election. But concession is something very different. As a democracy, we concede when we say it’s okay to strip voters of their voices, when we say it’s okay to tell people that you’re not wealthy enough to be treated equally. Those are things that change our democracy and corrode our trust.”
For her, she said, “The decision was very easy: I could not say the words, ‘I concede.’”
Abrams said she draws inspiration from her grandmother, who had been sprayed with fire hoses and attacked by dogs when she tried to register to vote as a young black woman in Mississippi. “Before she passed away, she told me she was going to be watching me,” Abrams said, “to make sure I didn’t stop — I didn’t stop fighting.”
Additional reporting by Karen Compton.