At the beginning of the summer of 2020, then-Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale made an ominously prescient statement. He called the campaign's digital messaging plan a "Death Star." On the one hand, he sounded pretty scary. On the other, and to people who have, y'know, actually seen Star Wars, he accidentally told the truth about the glaring and obvious flaw in the campaign's reelection strategy.
That's to say, there wasn't one.
For the Trump campaign, the flaw in the reactor was there never was a reactor to begin with. The reason why the Republicans lost in 2020 and, quite possibly, are poised to take more losses in 2022 is because they're not actually offering to do anything. They're just operating as a vessel for reactionary grievance. There's no there there.
In the American duopoly, political parties are loose coalitions of nominally adjacent groups sharing similar sets of policy-wants. They negotiate within their ranks to prioritize issues. Then they go about finding ways to turn those policies into bills, those bills into laws. In a functioning duopoly, each party's polling would be balanced by leadership teams that work in tandem toward a rational outcome. Compromise, bargaining, negotiation and outcomes that everyone likes enough to vote for.
Unfortunately, since 1994, the Republican Party has been steadily jettisoning its attachments to governing and has, instead, been more focused on the consolidation of power for the sake of power. Each successive dispatching of principled policies for the sake of the consolidation of power has slowly hollowed out the GOP's ability to function in an actual democracy. That's put them on the glide-path to Trumpism.
By 2016, after having consolidated their power at the state and congressional district levels, following Karl Rove's playbook for a "Permanent Republican Majority," and after having embraced the unreasonable whims of the Tea Party, the modern GOP found itself out of ideas. Conservatism became a proxy for anti-democratic populism. Donald Trump showed up just in time to stoke the flames of division, antipathy, white supremacy and fear—to completely bend the weakened political party to his will.
And this is why they're basically screwed going into 2024.
There are no ideas. Only Trump.
There are no plans. Only Trump.
There's no policy agenda. Only Trump.
If our republican democracy really is built on the foundation that the marketplace of ideas is where voters decide, then the Republicans are in terrible shape. Embracing Trump means rejecting any ideas for any platform actually planning to do anything.
So what are Democrats to do?
If Democrats want to keep, or even grow, their majorities, the easiest thing is reminding voters that Democrats actually have a plan to make their lives demonstrably better. We know this is a winning message. Democrats, promising to pass stimulus checks during the pandemic, flipped Georgia's Senate seats with that simple promise.
Elect us and your life will get better. Even the Republicans in the race tilted their messages toward being pro-stimulus. It was clear that's what the people wanted. The problem was that their promises rang hollow after spending the better part of the pandemic doing nothing and, honestly, talking about economic austerity instead.
And this is really the glide-path to a new normal. Once people saw that, after 40 years of Reaganite thinking, the government could actually cut checks, get shots in arms, provide expanded nutrition assistance, keep people in their homes and generally step in to provide survival-capital in the face of a once-a-century catastrophe, it's hard to get them to vote for you if you're promising not to do that. Or to do, y'know, anything.
This is the Democrats' easiest path to victory in 2022. Don't just frame up the Republicans as the Party of No. Specifically remind voters the GOP is the party that did nothing and plans to do nothing. Remind voters of the long, long string of failures of Trump's time in office. Contrast them with Joe Biden's agenda and the positive outcomes being produced in their lives. It's a simple three-point messaging strategy:
- Look at what we've done.
- Remember when all those people died and Trump didn't care.
- Not only do they have no plans. They want want to make your life worse.
Voters have shown they respond positively to ideas and action. Republicans are banking on them voting for antipathy and grievance. We have evidence (see: 2020) that the former works and now we know (again: 2020) that the latter doesn't close the deal.
Outside of a vocal minority shrinking by the day, the GOP has nothing to offer. They have no plans. Only Trump. They have no ideas. Only Trump. They have no platform. Only Trump. After losing the popular vote twice, causing them to lose the House and the Senate, I don't know how much juice they think is left in the Trump squeeze. But I also don't think they have a better alternative. It's going to get worse for them as they stress loyalty to Trump over trying to compete in the democratic marketplace of ideas.
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