Greg Sargent describes the corner the GOP has painted itself into. They find themselves having to appeal to two very different groups of traditional Republican voters — white collar suburbanites and blue collar rural and exurban voters. And the message that works for one turns off the other.
Trump and Republicans have distilled down Trumpismâ€™s core narratives into a series of ludicrous and menacing cartoons for the GOP baseâ€™s consumption. Why?Â Brownsteinâ€™s analysisÂ provides an answer: Because the bulwark againstÂ truly largeÂ GOP losses in the House is made up of many districts that are competitive but are also heavily populated with blue-collar, rural, small-town, exurban and evangelical whites. Hold off Democrats in all those districts, and if they win the majority, it will be a limited one.
And so, to galvanizeÂ thoseÂ voters,Â Trump has directed bread-and-circuses belligerence at euro-weenie elites and China. He hasÂ employed endless lies and hate-mongeringÂ to hype the migrant â€œcaravanâ€ into a national emergency, and will send in troops as props to dramatize the point. Republicans areÂ running ads absurdly depicting immigrants as criminals and invadersÂ alongsideÂ many other ones that indulge in naked race-baiting. Trump is vowing an end to birthright citizenship,Â confirming the ethno-nationalist underpinnings of TrumpismÂ and further fanning the xenophobic flames.
Polls tell us that Republicans appear to be losing big time in white collar suburbs, which includes the famous soccer mom vote, even though the economy is, by some measures, not that bad, or at least hasn’t crashed from Trump’s policies, yet. Why is that?
One likely answer is that the story Trump has told about the economy â€” and the country â€” just isnâ€™t resonating in many of these districts. That narrative is that immigration and globalization pose major threats to the well-being of Americans, and Trump is now acting on those threats, via stepped-up deportations from the interior, efforts to slash legal immigration and refugee flows, and trade wars. That, plus his tax cut, has created the supposed â€œTrump boom,â€ in stark contrast with the economy under Barack Obama, which is uniformly depicted as a pre-Trumpian hellscape.
But people who live in white-collar suburbs probably noticed that the economy under Barack Obama wasn’t a pre-Trumpian hellscape. Further, upper income people are more likely to be directly dependent on the global economy and are less likely to feel personally threatened by immigration than, apparently, people who live in more isolated rural areas.
So in appeals to surburan voters, Republicans soften the rhetoric quite a bit.
Â While Republicans employ garish race-baiting to galvanize the hard-core white GOP base, this adâ€™s soft-focus messaging directed at white suburban women features none of that imagery. The spotâ€™s iconic white suburban woman is obviously conflicted over her vote â€” we arenâ€™t told why, but we know full well why â€” but finally checks the â€œRepublicanâ€ box out of concern over her childâ€™s economic future.
But even that “soft” ad is based on the fiction that Democrats are bad for the economy, which is a claim that anyone old enough to remember the 1990s ought to at least question.
Republicans are also running ads vowing to protect people with preexisting conditions, yet they have also locked themselves into opposition to Obamacare, which Democrats are now campaigning on protecting.Â As Ezra Klein explains, this has left Republicans with no alternative but to lie relentlessly to obscure the real GOP health-care agenda, which is to deregulate insurance markets and regressively strip protections and economic assistance from millions. This, too, is deeply unpopular.
Trump and Republicans are closing by lying about health care and taxes to limit losses among suburban and well-educated white voters, and lying about immigration while race-baiting against individual Democratic candidates to keep the downscale white GOP base energized. This probably wonâ€™t be enough for Republicans to keep the House. But whatever is to be on this front, the need to lie so relentlessly about all these matters itself constitutes an admission of failure. The public has seen Trumpâ€™s fusion of ethno-nationalism and orthodox GOP plutocracy put into governing practice, and is rejecting it.
But there’s a bigger problem for Republicans, as revealed in research into senior staffers in Congress. It turns out that folks in Washington have no idea what laws their constituents actually want them to enact. This was true of both parties, but much more so for Republicans than for Democrats.
Across the five issues, Democratic staff members tended to be more accurate than Republicans. Democrats guessed about 13 points closer to the truth on average than Republicans.
And this is a problem because …
Whether the Democrats or the Republicans seize control of Congress after the midterms, you can be sure of one thing: They will have very little idea what laws the public actually wants them to act on.
The current Republican-controlled Congress is a good example. Its signature accomplishment is a tax-cut bill that hardly anyone likes or asked for and that is estimated to add about $2 trillion to the national debt over the next decade.
Only about 30 percent of AmericansÂ supportedÂ it â€” unlike the well over 70 percent of Americans who consistently supportÂ raising the minimum wage,Â background checksÂ for gun sales andÂ taking actionÂ on the climate crisis. Bills were actually proposed on these issues, but you would hardly know it; they were barely considered, and it goes without saying that none passed.
So, there is a huge opportunity for Democrats if they take back the House. They can start passing laws that reflect what people in their districts actually want, and then if Republicans block them they can go to their constitutents and blame the GOP. But if they continue their tactics of the past — negotiating with themselves, attempting bipartisan cooperation — Republicans will take the House back again in 2020.