The Trump campaign and Republican National Committee have officially announced their Hawaii re-election campaign team, and have stated in an email blast message to local GOP members that “President Trump has lifted the prospect of voters across Hawaii, overseeing a 16,532 decline of Hawaii residents on food stamps.”

The message to members also says the campaign team will share to locals “the President’s clear record of accomplishments” which is stated to be increasing paychecks through tax cuts and wage growth, reducing healthcare/prescription costs, “putting America first in our trade deals” and “protecting our border and enforcing immigration laws” among others.

Hawaii residents have not voted to give the state’s Electoral College votes to a Republican presidential candidate since 1984 when it chose incumbent Ronald Reagan over Democrat Walter Mondale, and is one of the most solidly blue states, according to the Cook Partisan Voting Index.

President Donald Trump walks with First Lady Melania Trump at Joint Base Hickam Pearl Harbor.
President Donald Trump visited Hawaii in 2017. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Home to some of President Trump’s most strident political critics, not the least of which include the firebrand “badass” Sen. Mazie Hirono, Hawaii has often been said to have “no aloha for Trump” but Hawaii is still not without fervent supporters of the 45th president, and even polled last year to reflect a marginally higher approval of Trump – 28% –  than Gov. David Ige or Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell at 26% approval.

Traditional wisdom has often claimed that Hawaii almost never votes for a Republican presidential candidate because the voters here are majority Democrats. But I would like to challenge that argument by offering that Republicans think too nationally and don’t articulate what local benefits would result from voting red instead of blue.

It goes without saying that when a Republican presidential candidate courts Virginia they talk about building a bigger Navy to curry favor with voters who stand to benefit from the shipbuilding industry, or, when one visits Florida, promises are made by candidates to beef up the space program, and so on.

But in Hawaii, Republican presidential candidates and campaigns more often than not deploy national, broad-brush talking points, and almost never make specific promises that address Hawaii issues. If they were to do that, independent locals might, even in deep blue Hawaii, possibly consider changing sides to vote red.

As a 2016 RNC alternate delegate from Hawaii, when I read the announcement about Trump causing a decline in the usage of food stamps in the islands, my first reaction was that such a statement came across as meaningless, since a household income of $93,000 would be considered “low income” in Hawaii and changes in the State and Local Tax Deduction (SALT) under the new tax law actually makes Trump tax cuts a tax hike for local residents.

Hawaii deserves more than just vanilla-flavored campaign promises in 2020. If Trump’s local reelection campaign wants to make a difference, they need to convince the president to make it a point to come to Hawaii and speak to residents about the crisis in the islands and what he can do about it.

“If Trump promises to drain the swamp in Hawaii, he could probably swing a lot of votes here.” — Alan Yim, former state House candidate

Diamond Garcia, a Waianae coast resident and former Republican state senate candidate, says that Republicans need specific solutions that apply locally in order to win votes.

“It’s time for the Trump campaign and the local GOP to focus on issues here at home,” he suggests. Garcia cautions that blaming Democrats for failure in the islands but not offering counter-solutions is unproductive.

Several Oahu residents when asked what might make a difference suggested that Trump should talk about the Jones Act, which is believed by many to be responsible in part for the high cost of living.

Makena Dyer, a Honolulu resident, feels “Trump has no chance of winning Hawaii ever” but adds, “Trump’s big project is the border wall, and people in Hawaii don’t really feel bothered by undocumented immigrants. Perhaps the only thing that could get people in Hawaii to vote for Trump is if he passed a Jones Act exemption, but that’s a long shot.”

Honolulu County Republican Party chairman Brett Kulbis likewise believes that the Jones Act needs to be addressed. “We need President Trump to break up the Matson monopoly by establishing a free trade zone across the entire state of Hawaii and exempt us from the Jones Act,” he says.

Angie Hashimoto, a Kaneohe resident, believes the White House needs to do more to help Hawaii in costs of living, local infrastructure, and education. Hashimoto also says that she wants more accountability everywhere, and says she is concerned about “leaders who feel entitled to do what they want without following the same rules and laws the community is tasked with.”

Alan Yim, a Hawaii Pacific University student and former Libertarian candidate for the state House who lives in Hawaii Kai, says that “if Trump promises to drain the swamp in Hawaii, he could probably swing a lot of votes here.”

If I were advising the president, I would recommend he address housing costs by building more on-base housing for military and dependents to make more housing available to locals, and that he promise a combination of higher funding for Hawaii’s aging public infrastructure and schools.

Hawaii may be blue, but it is not unreasonable. A transactional president like Trump should definitely consider speaking to Hawaii’s issues, not just reminding us of life on the mainland.

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