Above: The Georgia race — John Ossoff and the Elephant-in-the-Room
Memos to Demos I:
OK, it’s been a year. Democratic candidates have now focused their hopes on tying Trump as the bogeyman to the local candidate in each of five elections. They lost them all. They are doing the same in the Virginia governor’s contest that, as usual, is gradually narrowing. There’s some hope, of course, that the paradigm may change as Trump continues to exhibit erratic behavior as his Presidential norm. But it may not.
No one really imagined that Hillary Clinton’s focus on disqualifying Trump as a President — which frankly appeared to be the lowest of low-hanging fruit — would backfire. But it did: it led to a rather aimless Clinton policy narrative that was so focused on Trump that it allowed partisanship and candidate negatives to seep in around every edge of her own campaign. This is a danger for all Democratic candidates. For Hillary, this occurred in spite of a large majority of voters’ sentiment that she was by far the most qualified candidate, that she won all three of the debates, and the fact that she had assembled one of the most substantive and knowledgeable set of issue papers ever issued by a presidential candidate.
In fact the Donald Trumped them all because he paid attention almost exclusively to narrative: repeating his dark story of social, cultural and economic disaster simply and continuously throughout every campaign event — a compelling narrative that spoke to people’s fears. And because of his outrageousness, he gained continuous, almost fawning and amazed press and TV coverage. Each act of his Presidency has been imbued with primarily symbolic value that reflects on this narrative.
So for Democrats to continue to hope that Trump’s outrageousness gets pinned by voters on every Republican candidate and, at the same time, hope that they don’t just energize the entire Trump universe, is becoming tinged with insanity. Besides, while Trump may be dangerous and authoritarian, this a not a problem that you can currently paste on every Republican!
The problem here is that the Democratic party has not paid attention to creating their own narrative (see my post: The Stories We Tell Ourselves) that creates a story-arc of the Republican Party’s current immoral and unpatriotic incarnation. From policy flirtations with naked cruelty, to their dissolution of “regular order,” as McCain has observed, on everything from Supreme Court nominations to passage of important legislation, to their vacuous lockstep “talking points” that are demonstrably false handed down from their oligarch funders, to their lockstep with Trump for political gain, they have demonstrated convincingly the emptiness of their hearts, their brains, and their party.
In contrast to this narrative, the anti-Trump campaign strategy is only marginally effective at tarring Republicans, but actually comes across as tangential and complacent — aimed at a demonstrably unstable, volatile leader who is being duly investigated for his transgressions.
So I’m begging you, Democrats! Leave the wide-eyed fascination with Trump — as well as the shock and awe — to the news media.
Democrats need to be sober and honest, perhaps never mention Trump again (it would infuriate him!), and instead turn the debate to policy, partisanship, the democracy-destroying, craven cave-in of a once-proud party — a cave-in that preceded Trump by years. The story is of a moral vacuity that has sacrificed the party’s conservative ideals and surrendered to rich plutocrats and sloganeering populists for the short term political gain of a few judges and tax rebates for their rich friends. It’s a storyline to which, in many respects, prominent Republicans are now adding their voices!
How does this narrative work in local, regional and state elections? There is in fact, a paramount risk of electing even reasonable-sounding Republicans: when they get in power, they fall into a unison lockstep with the Freedom Caucus, Breitbart, Fox News axis of talking-points that are identifiably false, policies that roll back protections of the middle class, and the absolutely unpatriotic destruction of the norms of our democracy. Even a seemingly good Republican is, in this way, likely to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Now that’s a story that people can believe, because they’ve seen it.
What smears ALL republicans is much larger than Trump’s shortcomings…becoming the rudderless party of NO, a politics built on fake news, faux news, and Fox News…
In addition, what hangs on this storyline raises questions about all Republicans and is much larger than Trump’s shortcomings and goes back much further in time, to wit:
- The wanton destruction of government functions at every level (except the military)
- Becoming the obstructionist, rudderless party of NO — and no ideas!
- Living in a partisan bubble built on fake news, faux news, and Fox News (Fox pre-scripts their “news” broadcasts for maximum rage-inducement of their base) and pre-dated Trump’s rantings and tweet-storms by at least a couple of decades
- The Republican Party’s winks, nods, and even warm embraces for the most open racism since Nixon’s Southern Strategy (Trump’s racism is merely the latest iteration.)
- Meekly handing the GOP over the rich oligarchs and their bought media which has its spiked heels on the heads of every Republican representative and senator
- Their attempted obfuscation, sometimes embrace, of Russian efforts to destroy the US institutions of elections, democratic governance, and law. Not to mention their own hyper-partisan gerrymandering which has so radically distorted the will of the people.
- The baseless, sustained taxpayer-funded partisan smear campaign that ran for seven years against the Obama Administration and primarily against presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, without ever proceeding to any serious legal charges, because those “investigations” were based on pure politics.
- And more recently, when they are in control, the difficulty of ever producing a single piece of decent legislation.
With this campaign strategy one might be able turn the ineffectual Trump-based campaign narrative on its head: arguing that Trump is, in fact, a cipher in the battle for America’s soul. He’s a RESULT (maybe a VICTIM) — not a cause. In fact, it might be useful to take it a step further: to claim Trump’s declaration of support for health care, medicare, social security, — as opposed to all those other Republicans — not as another lie, but rather as an unfulfilled promise that he is being prevented from realizing by the manipulative apparatchiks of his adopted party.
This was the Faustian bargain, after all, that the smirking McConnell and the (pre-dead zombie) Paul Ryan made with America’s future: they would support and defend a unqualified, volatile, anti-democratic and perhaps tyrannical President — and advance our mortal enemy’s campaign to destroy America — in order to get a chance to roll back important progress toward a fair society that had been made since the New Deal. And to give all the redistributed money back to the plutocrats and billionaires that have created this shrunken, homunculus version of the Grand Old Party.
This story — if the Democrats can assemble it and make it part of EVERY public statement — could be the heart of a nationalized congressional midterm campaign that actually targets the complicit Republicans. The narrative is that this heartless party has been enabled by Trump’s victory (as a moderate!!) to take the Trump agenda in a vastly different direction than Trump himself campaigned on. Since all politics is local, this effort should remain a background narrative, not front and center.
Don’t feel sorry for our modern Robber Barons. Class warfare, which is the admonition of the language-controlled Republican party is only possible when there IS a class structure in America. Remember that these plutocrats and their predecessors in the 19th and 20th Centuries are responsible — by their unmitigated greed and sense of spoiled entitlement — for the breakdowns in our economy going all the way back to the 1890’s. Breakdowns that destroyed people’s lives. The first President to redress that shift of wealth was a Republican: Teddy Roosevelt. That same fervor could be in fact the foundation of the positive narrative that can be built for the policy ideals of the Democratic Party.