GOP’s midterm strategy: Annoy the media, vote Republican
Pitiful, yet logical. Somehow they’re four months into Trump’s term, with total control of government, and already at the stage of desperation where plans are being hatched to run against enemies rather than on their legislative achievements. That’s modern Republicanism in microcosm: Anti-left and not much else.
On the other hand, does anyone have a better idea?
We’ll call this “the Gianforte strategy”:
But interviews with Republican strategists and party leaders across the country reveal that what started as genuine anger at allegedly unfair coverage — or an effort to deflect criticism — is now an integral part of next year’s congressional campaigns.
The hope, say these officials, is to convince Trump die-hards that these mid-term races are as much a referendum on the media as they are on President Trump. That means embracing conflict with local and national journalists, taking them on to show Republicans voters that they, just like the president, are battling a biased press corps out to destroy them…
“Hillary Clinton is not on the ballot so you have to have something else to run against,” said Charlie Sykes, a former conservative talk radio host from Wisconsin who has been openly critical of Trump. “And the media is perfect.”…
“I don’t think that issues like media bias are going to be the prime motivator for Republicans,” said [strategist Barney] Keller. “But, combined with other things, that can be part of a theme of standing with the president – reminding those people who voted for him the first time that they should continue to vote for Republicans.”
Right. The “media bad!” message isn’t sufficient but it may be necessary. Nate Silver noted today that hardcore Trumpers are probably only 20-25 percent of the electorate; another 20 percent or so voted for him last year out of partisan loyalty, anti-Hillary sentiment, worries about the tilt of the Supreme Court, and so on. Those people could defect, and some have. Case in point, his approval rating at Gallup today is a feeble 37 percent, which is actually up a point from his low over the weekend. Assuming that’s accurate, for the moment he’s lost about half of the “lukewarm” Trump voters who came out for him last November. But maybe that’s not a disaster: Turnout in midterm elections is always lower than it is for presidential elections, so if the GOP found a way to get that first hardcore group to turn out next year en masse, they might offset enough of the enthusiasm on the left to preserve the party’s House majority. But how? What’s the message that gives the average Trumper motivation to show up for his local milquetoast Republican congressman?
The GOP has few major accomplishments to run on so far except Gorsuch, and that can and will go up in smoke at any moment if he’s the deciding vote in a big case that goes against Trump. (Imagine a 5-4 decision striking down the travel ban with Gorsuch in the majority.) Tax reform is stalled; the only health-care bill to have passed either house of Congress is unpopular; Trump just pulled out of a climate-change accord that polls respectably well among the wider electorate; and the White House is forever getting sidetracked by outside distractions like the Russiagate probe or inside ones like Trump’s bizarre ranting on Twitter this morning. (Believe it or not, this was supposed to be “infrastructure week” at the White House.) We’re three days away from the former FBI director, whom Trump fired, likely testifying on national television that the president tried to discourage him from pursuing the Russia investigation, at least as it applies to Mike Flynn. The economy’s improving, which is a big point in Trump’s favor, but even core concerns from the campaign like the border wall haven’t seen much movement. All that being so, maybe your best shot to get Trumpers excited is to go all-in on the idea that CNN is a tool of evil and Jake Tapper would cry for days if the GOP held onto the House. When you can’t make the pro-Trump case effectively, make the anti-anti-Trump case aggressively. Conservative media does it every day.
And don’t think that message wouldn’t appeal to some “lukewarm” Trump voters too. When UVA asked recently, 88 percent of people who cast their ballot for Trump last year said they at least somewhat agreed with the statement that the media is the enemy of the American people. Contempt for the media is arguably the adhesive principle that binds the modern right-wing coalition together. And the media has rarely been as contemptuous of a president as they are of Trump.
I figure we’re five more lost job-approval points and/or a recession away from the GOP trying to run against Hillary again next year too. She’s been nice enough lately to remind everyone, and I do mean everyone, why they disliked her in the first place, as this Free Beacon supercut illustrates. “A Democratic House takeover is the first step to a Hillary comeback in 2020!” You might even pull some Dem votes with that message.