On the latest episode of Professor Rachel Bitecofer’s most excellent “Election Whisperer” show (see video, below), Rick Wilson – “long-time evil henchman for the GOP” and “genius brain behind the Lincoln Project ads,” “now completely on the side of the army of the decent” to help defeat Trump – talked to Rachel Bitecofer about “how the Republican Party has consistently out-campaigned Democrats, notching win after win even states where they’re heavily outnumbered.” Here are a few highlights, as well as some thoughts by yours truly on the latest example of horrifically bad Democratic messaging – the recent U.S. Supreme Court 5-4 decision striking down a hardline Louisiana anti-abortion law.
- First off, with regard to the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision, note that almost universally, Democratic messaging was some variant of “YAY WE WON WE’RE SO HAPPY!!!” Which, of course, is 180 degrees off from what the messaging *should* have been. It’s also, by the way, not particularly accurate – as smart analysts like Ian Millhiser of Vox pointed out, “Roberts didn’t save abortion rights, he told future litigants how to bury them”; and “[t]he Supreme Court just delivered the narrowest, most temporary victory for abortion rights” and “just gave the constitutional right to an abortion a potentially very brief reprieve.” Nothing to get particularly excited about, in other words. And yet Democratic politicians almost universally wanted to let their voters know how VERY HAPPY they were and how voters should be as well! So, so stupid.
- What *should* Democratic messaging have been in response to the Supreme Court abortion decision? I talked to a bunch of smart progressive strategists and communicators, and basically got some variant of this: “We escaped that one by the skin of our teeth, but our rights remain in grave danger – we’re one vote away from abortion being banned under any circumstances. So…do NOT under ANY circumstances think that this ruling was ‘great news’ or that we are out of danger by any means. Instead, VOTE BLUE!! as if your life depended on it — because it does!” Why is that so hard for Democrats to do? That brings us back to the Bitecofer/Wilson discussion.
- Quote #1 from Rick Wilson: “There’s a couple of basic fundamentals that I always held after 30 years of experience doing this. One is the Democrats are holistically bad at politics…The Democrats rarely fire on all cylinders at one time.” It’s so true; overwhelmingly, Democrats are great at policy but *suck* at politics, including marketing their policy ideas and accomplishments, while Republicans are *great* at marketing but are absolutely abysmal at formulating/legislating constructive policy ideas.
- Quote #2 from Rick Wilson: “When it comes down to media and messaging…Republicans do not give a f*** what you think about them. They cannot be shamed, they cannot be lectured, they cannot be humiliated by anything. You know, when I was on the other side of this, I was called everything in the book, every insult in the book – that I was horrible, that I attacked people you know with cruel and terrible [ads]…Who f’ing cares? You go at the target, you don’t care what they say about you. You recognize that you’re not having a dialogue with other political consultants or the press, you’re talking to the voters. And so just the power of not giving a shit was important.” Note that this is NOT how Democrats think – at all.
- Quote #3 from Rick Wilson: “These are not sophisticated policy fights on these absentee [voter] chase programs. This is ‘they’re coming to take your guns’, ‘they’re coming to raise your taxes’. [Bitecofer interjects – “...that’s the shit that works…it’s sophistication that kills the Democrats…they go out with these messages that are for people with f’ing graduate degrees“] Someone sent me a Democratic mailer a couple years ago, and it had like 15 points bullet points on it…read our policy plan for clean water…But Rachel, here’s the great thing about it – it’s a mail piece, okay, and it’s got long complicated URLs for each plan printed on a mailer…Are you f’ing kidding me?” My god…so pathetic. And the sad thing is, this rings very true for Democratic communications that I’ve seen over the years…just waaayyy too convoluted, complicated, etc., and often not focused on the most effective things either.
- Bitecofer on the 2018 midterm elections: “There is one Democrat that I found that ran an ad about Donald Trump, and it was Jennifer Wexton in Virginia’s tenth she ran an ad that linked Barbara Comstock to Donald Trump” but many other Democrats “talked about how they were going to work WITH Donald Trump…if you think about that versus like 2014 and how Republicans ran against Obama and the Democrats like every ad…[Former RNC Chair Michael Steele] was on an interview with Tom Perez, and Tom Perez says we’re gonna make this election about local issues in each district and we’re not going to talk about Donald Trump…I’m yelling at the TV going, no…make it about Donald Trump!…Michael Steele…looks over at Tom Perez and his eyes are literally rolling out of his head, and he goes, well in 2010 I was the Republican National Committee Chairman and I made the election all about Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama and I picked up 63 seats.”
- Wilson: “This idea that you run on local issues…it doesn’t work anymore…Now [in this hyper-partisan era] you have to be in this national fight; social media has leveled the atmosphere so much that you can’t just pretend your votes and your values reflect you and your hometown.”
- Bitecofer: “I think that’s why...people love the Lincoln Project because it gives them comfort, because…they know no matter what happens with the Biden team or with…the Democratic infrastructure, someone is going to run a referendum run them campaign on Trump and…someone’s gonna do that in these Senate races…to make sure Susan Collins is connected to Trump…Cory Gardner gets connected to Trump…Tom Tillis in North Carolina gets connected to Trump. And you know, there’s a lot of people on that left side who have been looking at what the Republicans do to win elections versus what Democrats do, and they’re frustrated. And they’re like, why can’t we do some of this? It looks like it’s so much more effective.”