When I say “rejected,” I mean they rejected it as a party-wide strategy. Pitting Trump against Ryan is Team Hillary’s strategy. Look no further than her speech on the alt-right, when she mentioned Ryan (and Bush and McCain and Bob Dole) in contrast to Trump twice. She hasn’t said anything as explicit as “you’re either a Ryan Republican or a Trump Republican,” but that’s the takeaway she was going for yesterday and at the convention last month. And you know why: She’s winning right now because a critical mass of traditionally Republican-leaning white college grads and white women have been alienated by Trump and are tilting to her. As long as she can keep them from returning to his column, she’s a prohibitive favorite to win. One way to do that is to convince them they’d be betraying the values of Republicans whom they actually like by handing power to Trump.
But that message makes the DNC nervous because, unlike Hillary, the DNC has to worry about more than one election. How are Democratic House candidates supposed to campaign on the idea that their opponent is no different from the deeply unpopular Trump when Hillary Clinton’s out there insisting that the leader of House Republicans is different?
The Clinton camp’s quick-response arm “basically want to make the case that you either stand with Ryan or with Trump, that Trump is much worse than regular Republicans,” then-communications director Luis Miranda told CEO Amy Dacey in May. “[T]hey don’t want us to tie Trump to other Republicans because they think it makes him look normal.”
“That’s a problem,” he added in the email, which had a subject line “Problem with HFA,” using an acronym for Hillary for America.
“We would basically have to throw out our entire frame that the GOP made Trump through years of divisive and ugly politics,” he wrote. “It just doesn’t work from the Party side.”
Adopting the Clinton campaign’s line, he insisted, would “hold up Paul Ryan as a good example” and “give down ballot Republicans such an easy out.”
If you’re pushing the idea that Trump is the logical end result of modern Republican culture, you don’t want your nominee saying, “No, they produce nice guys like Paul Ryan too.” That makes sense logically, but you’re giving American voters an awful lot of credit — or maybe not enough credit? — by thinking they’re following discrepancies in candidate/party messaging that closely. Some voters will be savvy enough to understand that presidential candidates and House candidates from the same party may tailor their messages differently to suit their own ends. For cripes sake, some Republican House candidates will basically be running against their own nominee by October. Other voters are so low-information that this will fly right over their heads. Hillary says Trump is a jerk, unlike that nice Paul Ryan, while the local Democrat running for Senate says all Republicans are jerks? What’s confusing about that?
I don’t think the DNC’s quest to take back the Senate would suffer a major setback if they adopted the line in the abstract that there are “good Republicans” and “bad Republicans” and Trump is a “bad Republican.” Obviously each individual Democratic candidate would end up arguing that, wouldn’t you know it, his opponent happens to be one of those bad, Trumpy Republicans. In other words, the universe of “good” Republicans would exist exclusively of Paul Ryan. And the next time Ryan ends up crossing Democrats on something, wouldn’t you know it — they’ll decide they were wrong about him and that he’s a bad Republican too. It’d be a ridiculous reversal, but no one outside of political junkies pays much attention to inconsistencies in candidate messaging. As long as the larger pitch Clinton is making to Republican voters is absorbed — Trump bad, you good! — Democrats can finesse it however they like downballot.
Oh, by the way: The news about the Hillary/DNC squabble over good and bad Republicans was circulated on Twitter today by an “interesting” character.
I find this to be an interesting story https://t.co/pZMX87mRzL
— Brendan Buck (@BrendanBuck) August 26, 2016
Brendan Buck is Paul Ryan’s communications director. He wanted people to see this story. I wonder why.
Speaking of Hillary pandering to Republicans, via the Daily Rushbo, listen below to Rush Limbaugh claiming this afternoon that her speech on the alt-right was an appeal to moderate Republicans and #NeverTrumpers to abandon him. That’s almost exactly right, although, by definition, the #NeverTrumpers have already abandoned him, most of them long ago. They don’t need a pitch from Hillary Clinton to sour them on Trump; if anything, since many #NeverTrumpers are conservative ideologues, a Clinton trying to claim them as allies is bound to grate on them. The precise target for her speech, the white college grads and white women who typically vote Republican, are better described as Trump-skeptical. They were open to voting for him and might still be persuaded, but right now a meaningful number have wandered away in disgust. They’re not #NeverTrumpers, but Hillary is trying to turn them into that. Just as Trump, in showing his good faith towards minorities over the past two weeks, is trying to turn them back into loyal Republicans.
Exit question via Benjy Sarlin: Did any Republican leaders, starting with Ryan, speak up yesterday in defense of the GOP nominee after he was accused of being in bed with white nationalists? No? I wonder why.