Politics

Washington Monthly | Trump’s GOTV Strategy: Ramp Up the Fear of Violence

According to Trump and his enablers, Democrats running in the midterm election have nothing to offer but what they call “Trump derangement syndrome.” They want their supporters to believe that the opposition’s message is all about hating the president. I thought about that when I saw the latest ad from Andrew Gillum, Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Florida.

What a powerful message that never mentions the current occupant of the White House.

It is actually Trump and Republicans who have a lot invested in making the midterms all about hate and division. They learned early on that their one legislative achievement in the last two years—tax cuts focused on the wealthy that are exploding the deficit—isn’t a winning issue, even with their base of supporters. And now they have a problem.

An Aug. 22 Fox News poll, for example, showed that 51 percent of people who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 are enthusiastic about casting a ballot in November, vs. only 37 percent of Trump voters. Republican strategists are increasingly worried that their supporters will stay home.

What politicians and campaign strategists do with a problem like that might tell you all you need to know about them. Trump teed up his response recently during a dinner with court evangelicals.

President Trump, in an Aug. 28 White House meeting with evangelical leaders, warned of “left-wing violence” if Democrats win control of Congress in the midterm elections.

“They will overturn everything that we’ve done, and they will do it quickly and violently. And violently. There is violence. When you look at antifa—these are violent people,” Trump said, according to an audiotape of the meeting provided to the New York Times.

Steve Bannon, who still thinks he’s leading some kind of nationalist movement, has followed that up with a movie titled Trump @ War. Here’s the trailer:

The movie debuted this week. But if you haven’t heard about it, that’s because you’re not the target audience. It premiered on One America News Network and is being hailed all over Fox News. Bannon has even set up a “war room.”

To spread the message wider, Bannon has set up a “war room” led by Steven Cheung, who was White House director of rapid response before leaving in June, that’s organized under the auspices of Citizens of the American Republic, a new 501(c)4 group. The group, headquartered in the basement of the Capitol Hill townhouse that once housed Breitbart News, also employs pollster Patrick Cadell and a booker tasked with placing like-minded surrogates on radio and cable television…

In addition to running on OAN, Bannon’s film will be the centerpiece of a roadshow that begins this weekend in St. Louis. “We’ll be working with evangelical groups doing events and screenings in church halls,” as well as promoting the film on Facebook and YouTube, he says.

The president’s former chief strategist isn’t even trying to hide what this is all about. He told Joshua Green that “this is very simply a get-out-the-vote technique.” There is no message involved. The get-out-the-vote technique is all about fear, hatred, and division.

One of the things that everyone involved in politics should have learned by now is that things like fear and outrage are good for the sprint, but bad for the long distance race. That’s because those emotions are exhausting and hard to sustain. The only way to keep things going is to ramp up the threats, which is exactly what Trump and Bannon are attempting to do. What they don’t seem capable of understanding is that campaigns are sprints, while governing is a marathon. They’ll need more than ramped-up fear-mongering to stay in this race. To change metaphors, their toolbox doesn’t contain the equipment necessary to do that.


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