Why Republican messaging rules

Jim Chrisinger is a retired public servant living in Ankeny. He served in both Republican and Democratic administrations, in Iowa and elsewhere.

Republicans now enjoy an inherent advantage in messaging, another asymmetry in our politics. Republicans present a mostly negative agenda: they want to reverse social progress and tear down government, media, and truth. To do that, they scare people.  

In contrast, mainstream Democrats want to build; they want to use public policy and resources to advance a broad, progress-based agenda. Republican arguments are simple, blunt, and visceral. Democratic arguments are complex, nuanced, and moral.  

For example:  

Republicans: Defund the police!

Democrats: We need to reimagine public safety to reduce racial disparities, police brutality, mass incarceration, and recidivism, all while keeping people safe. To do that we need to assess what the various players (police, EMS, mental health providers, social services, educators, et al.) can offer, how much of each would be best, and how to integrate them into a new system. Then we need to fund the new system. And it may cost more than the old system.  

Republicans: Socialism!  

Democrats: We need to figure out how government—using laws, regulations, money, people, and incentives—can respond to society’s problems, promote innovation, and improve Americans’ lives by addressing poverty, racism, climate change, hunger, education, physical and mental health, housing, workforce, energy, crime, pollution, and more. To make progress in each of these policy areas, we have to navigate a minefield of constituencies, organizations, lobbyists, and history, in addition to hyper-partisan politics.  

Republicans: Brown, criminal immigrants are invading our country!  

Democrats: Immigration law and enforcement need to change to meet humanitarian goals and address workforce needs, while keeping Americans safe. Dreamers and long-time immigrant residents need a fair path to citizenship. We need to reconnect with our heritage of welcoming immigrants, who have continually revitalized America.  

Republicans: Raise your taxes!  

Democrats: Tax the rich! In this case, the Democrats actually have a simplistic, effective slogan. But behind the slogan, we need to redesign a regressive and overly complex tax code mostly written for the wealthy and corporations. We need a tax structure that fairly raises needed revenue and promotes policy goals, like reducing poverty and producing more green energy and less fossil fuels. We also need to go after tax cheats. 

Republicans: Slash regulation! Get government off the backs of business!  

Democrats: We have to weigh trade-offs between cleaner water and air, worker and public safety, consumer protection, and financial stability on one hand and economic costs on the other and then put effective and efficient regulatory frameworks and enforcement into place.   

Republicans: Freedom! Liberty! Don’t let government tread on you!

Democrats: Living together means balancing individual rights and societal responsibilities. They’re both important. No right is absolute. Democracy, which is how we make decisions collectively, is the process we use to find that balance. Government, which is how we act collectively, implements that balance.  

Republicans: Make America great again!   

Democrats: America has always been great, flawed but great. We want to continue our journey toward a more perfect union. Retreat is not an option. Let’s celebrate our strengths, acknowledge our failures, especially slavery and its legacy, and strive to be better. That’s what a truly great country does.  

Again, Democrats have to explain complex ideas, show people how trade-offs and long-term investments will benefit them, argue competing value propositions, and justify spending tax dollars. All this is challenging, extraordinarily so in today’s media and political environments.

Republicans don’t believe that they need to offer much in the way of solutions to our problems. They just have to scare people into voting for them. Not that long ago, the GOP promoted a full, conservative policy agenda. In 2020, their national platform was literally “whatever Donald Trump says.” The Republican base and their enablers reject governing. They just want to own the libs and stop history. 

Jim Chrisinger is a retired public servant living in Ankeny. He served in both Republican and Democratic administrations, in Iowa and elsewhere.

  • progressive values

    I read "Don't think of an Elephant" by George Lakoff. He has some simple value statements that can be communicated with practice. (Chapter 14, 1st Edition). However, the problem is that progressive values are not the hot button that mainstream Democrats respond, and even vilified by conservative republicans and independents.

    The notions of empathy, altruism, fairness, equality, concern for the planet, simply are not accepted as legitimate concerns. Conservatives too often view these values with contempt. Those who push these values are seen as ignorant fools at best and destroyer of individual liberty at worst. Unfortunately, Fear, hate, selfishness, greed, are the simple Randian values more easily articulated and accepted by too many.

    Republicans (closet Libertarians) have done a good job of making one sided arguments. And too many people don't like complex ideas. Cognitive outsourcing is easier, no thinking required. Self preservation is now become paramount. Narcissism is endemic at all levels. Ignorance is viewed as a strength. George Orwell would be smirking now.

    Sad to say it will get worse before it gets better.

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