Running Against MAGA Extremism
The Republicans have adopted the most extreme agenda in recent political history, Dems must make them pay for it
Much of the discussion around the midterms has centered on what the Democratic Party can do to fix its increasingly dire political problems. The discussion is founded on the idea that President Biden and his party misread the results of 2020 and adopted an agenda too bold and too liberal. Under this theory, the public didn’t want a quiet, competent replacement for Trump. They weren’t signing up for FDR 2.0.
Elon Musk, a noted expert in American politics and someone with a well-earned reputation for thoughtfulness on Twitter, recently posted the following:
This is — of course — a dramatic oversimplification of the political situation. There are fair critiques about whether Democrats waited too long to make fighting inflation a centerpiece of the message. Some believe Democrats didn’t market/explain their popular agenda in the most compelling fashion. But I think the political conversation has it backwards. It is not Democrats who have lost touch with the voters, but the Republicans who are adopting an unpopular and extreme agenda. The most vital question is whether Democrats can convince the voters in time.
The Proof is in the Polling
The current polling demonstrates that the public wants Republicans in control of Congress. The RealClearPolitics polling average shows that Republicans have a nearly four-point lead on the generic congressional ballot. While it’s impossible to be precise about the magnitude due to the shifting congressional map, a four-point advantage on Election Day would be a VERY bad result for Democrats. We would certainly lose the House and be in deep trouble in the Senate. The reasons for the Republican advantage are myriad, but they are exemplified by the fact that, in most polls, seven in 10 Americans are unhappy with the direction of the country. And Democrats are in most positions of power. The Republicans are essentially putting the generic in “generic ballot.” A nameless faceless alternative benefiting from general malaise and the country’s historic (and misguided) desire for a divided government.
The Republicans are in the driver’s seat despite pushing one of the most unpopular, extreme agendas in modern political history. For all the handwringing about how Democrats can win the culture wars, it’s the Republicans who should fear a high-profile conflict on those cultural issues. Here’s a sample of the polling:
More than 80% of voters disagree with Republican proposals to ban books with which they disagree. (CBS News/YouGov)
57% want the Supreme Court to support abortion rights and 56% believe that abortion should be legal in most or all cases. (Politico/Morning Consult poll)
The Republican assault on Disney is also very unpopular. 62% of voters and 55% of Republicans are less likely to vote for a candidate “if they support laws that punish companies for taking stands on politically controversial issues.” (POLL)
Six in 10 Americans oppose laws like the Florida “Don’t Say Gay” law that prohibits “classroom discussion over sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Republicans believe they have stumbled on a winning issue by focusing on trans participation in youth sports, but once again they picked the wrong side of the issue. Two-thirds of voters oppose legislation banning transgender athletes from participating on sports teams that match their gender identity.
And it’s not just the “culture war” issues where Republicans are off base. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stated that one of his first acts as Speaker would be to shut down the investigation into the January 6th insurrection, but that investigation is supported by two-thirds of Americans. Florida Senator Rick Scott, the Republican in charge of electing senators (and Donald Trump’s choice to replace Mitch McConnell were he to fall into a barrel of garlic), recently proposed taxing everyone who does not currently pay income tax — a group made up of retirees and the working poor. This is supported by only a third of voters.
On issue after issue, Republicans choose to adopt extreme positions. Not only are these positions unpopular and outside of mainstream American values, they are also disconnected from the issues that demand focus.
Making the Case
The evidence of Republican extremism is clear, but it’s up to us to prosecute the case. We must take these proof points and weave them into a coherent, compelling and consistent narrative about who the Republicans are and why they cannot sniff power again. A few thoughts on how best to do that:
Turn the Trees into a Forest: There is always a lot of harrumphing about individual Republican outrages. Clips of Republican politicians saying horrendous things about sexual assault go briefly viral. The was a big brouhaha when a state legislator proposed burning books. These outrages are fleeting and ephemeral. Democrats need to combine every slip-up into an incessantly repeated summary of the Republican agenda. I gave a back-of-the-envelope attempt at such an exercise on Twitter after the Roe v. Wade opinion leaked:The Republican Agenda - Ban Abortion - Ban books - Bully LGBTQ kids - Raise taxes on working people - Cut Social Security and Medicare - Commit crimes to hold onto power to do all the above
There are undoubtedly better ways to frame the argument. Opinion research will be instructive. President Biden did an excellent job of making this point in a recent set of remarks:
An Opportunity to Recapture American Values: Most of politics is a battle over defining American values. Decades ago, Republicans laid claim to patriotism and freedom. Picking on kids, banning books, and punishing companies for their political opinions runs afoul of mainstream American values. The story of America (or at least the one we tell ourselves) has been about expanding rights. With its pending Roe decision, the Supreme Court and the Republican Party are about to take rights away from the majority of Americans. Democrats have an opportunity to take the moral high ground, reclaim freedom as a value, and paint the Republicans as anti-American extremists.
And/Both not Either/Or: I do not believe Democrats must choose between calling Republicans out for their extreme cultural positions or their extreme economic positions. In fact, I believe that these positions go hand-in-hand. The targeting of trans and gay kids, the laws punishing companies, and the book bans make the extreme economic positions more believable. It is all part of a larger whole.
Trump is Part of, not THE Story: I don’t think its possible (or advisable) for Democrats to run a campaign ignoring the former and potentially future President who is saying insane shit at rallies across the country. It’s not practical, but Trump must be incorporated into the larger story of Republican extremism. Trump is the most unique figure in American political history. Making direct comparisons between Republican candidates and Trump will fail. Just ask Terry McAuliffe who ran around calling his opponent “Glenn Trump-kin.” Instead, Trump is an avatar of GOP extremism, and his rise can be used as a point of demarcation for when the GOP fully embraced extremism. If we make this all about Trump, we will be letting the rest of the Republicans off the hook.
None of this is easy. Democrats are facing monumental political headwinds and an incredibly powerful Right-Wing media machine, but if we can make this election about an extreme Republican agenda, we have a fighting chance.