Tuesday, August 25, 2020


Until about a half hour ago, the Republican convention wasn't even the lead story at FoxNews.com -- that honor went to a story about unrest and property damage in Kenosha, Wisconsin, after video emerged of a white police officer shooting a black man repeatedly in the back. Fox's take:

But this seems appropriate. The convention tried to sell President Trump as a great leader who has heroically fought Chinese hegemonists and NATO deadbeats while personally leading the fight to end the coronavirus pandemic, but that wasn't the most prominent message of the convention's first day. This was the most pominent message:

The case for Trump's reelection is that the alternative will be the end of civilization as we know it. It's the old right-wing message about the communist menace, except we're the communists.

Which means it's the time-honored message of Republicans, only cranked up to a pain-threshold decibel level. I don't understand why it works in some election cycles and not others. We look back on, say, Pat Buchanan's 1992 speech and say, "Wow, that was really damaging to the Republicans -- obviously they never want to do that again." But virtually every speech last night was an attempt to replicate Buchanan's speech -- and it's not at all clear that it will fail.

Republicans have a permanent messaging advantage over Democrats: They've consistently argued since the Nixon era that Democrats are a force for chaos, anarchy, economic devastation, crumbling cities, and thugs roaming the streets out for blood. So when there's chaos in America under Republican president Donald Trump, they can argue that it's all the Democrats' fault and at least 40% of Americans -- and probably a majority of white Americans -- will believe it, because they've been hearing precisely that message since long before Trump entered politics. The solution is always a white Republican guy in a suit who's disgusted by all the decadence.

Democrats don't have an overarching message about Republicans. They never have. Down here among the rank-and-file, many of us have developed our own sense of what's wrong with Republicans: They're Bible-thumping gun fetishizers who'd like to purge America of blacks, gays, immigrants, liberals, feminists, and cities, and who shrug as plutocrats take more of the money and more of the power.

But that's not the Democratic Party's message about Republicans. It's now the party's message about Trump, but Democrats insist that Republicans are swell people, at least potentially. This year, Democrats have been proudly showing off their Republican supporters (as they did four years ago).

But suggesting that Democrats need the imprimatur of Republicans reinforces the GOP message that Democrats can't be trusted -- if even Democrats won't say, "We're the good guys, and the other guys are the bad guys," if they say the proof of their trustworthiness is that some Republicans trust them, that's effectively an endorsement of the Republican message that Republicans are good and Democrats should be viewed with suspicion.

So I worry that the Trump campaign's messaging will work. Trump, of course, may be so widely despised that nothing can save him this year. But the talking points he and his party have settled on have worked in the past, and are never fully rebutted by the Democrats.

No comments: