In Part One I introduced my premise: GOP uses tactics against Democrats that mirror the behaviors of domestic abusers, creating a warped environment. I gave examples of these tactics in Part Two and in Part Three I described the ineffective response by Democrats. In Part Four I talked about how the media amplifies rather than evaluates GOP abuses, and how Democrats need to recognize this dynamic. In Part Five I covered how Democrats can move from a defensive to an offensive position by reintroducing to the public what decent standards of political behavior should be. In Part Six I proposed additional tactics Democrats can use to counter GOP abuse and today will offer more.
Democrats Should Coordinate and Train
There will always be internal disagreements about Democratic policy specifics but there can be solid agreement about broad objectives: equal opportunity (gender, race, religion, sexual orientation), financial security (living wages, jobs, affordable healthcare, education), environmental protection, freedom of and from religion, equal application of the law, etc. Issues can be subsumed under a handful of umbrella categories. Get everyone on board re: the primary objectives and communicate them widely and consistently.
Democratic candidates shouldn't have to reinvent the wheel with respect to overall messaging — it wastes effort and money. They should pool resources where possible and spend money on educating office-holders and candidates about meta-messages and umbrella issues.
Democrats need to learn how to spot GOP abuse tactics in action, describe them succinctly and offer a Democratic alternative. Here are sample statements:
On the topic of Voter Suppression: “Donald Trump's Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity is a disguised attempt to suppress votes. Genuine cases of voter fraud amount to a handful, while Republican efforts to suppress Democratic votes has been a relentless, ongoing campaign. Voter suppression is a form of abusive politics: Republicans use voter suppression to forcibly retain power in the face of voter dissatisfaction. Democrats believe in the right to vote, and want real protections for our systems and citizens, not underhanded efforts to suppress votes.”
When a Republican moots the idea of reopening investigations against Hillary Clinton: “Congressional Republican's are threatening a new investigation of Hillary Clinton. Harassment-by-investigation is an abuse tactic Republicans use to deflect attention from their own failures. They conduct sham investigations not to learn anything but to smear their targets. They want to harass Hillary Clinton, who is out of office, while they block investigations of Republicans who are in office and behaving badly. Democrats believe in using official powers responsibly and fairly, not as weapons to tarnish opponents.”
When a Republican lies about the ACA: “Claiming the ACA was developed quickly and secretively is simply untrue. The ACA took several months, there were numerous public hearings, multiple committees were involved, over 130 amendments were considered, there were 79 roll-call votes and 25 days of Senate debate.* Republicans making this claim are lying. Lying is an abuse tactic Republicans use to keep Americans from learning how devastating their replacement bills would be. Democrats understood the importance of healthcare in people's lives and sincerely worked to write legislation that would actually help all Americans and do the job it was intended to do.”
When Republicans claim Democrats are persecuting Christians: “Accusing us of persecuting Christians is a form of gaslighting, an abuse tactic Republicans use to completely misrepresent our actions and intent. Democrats firmly support the separation of church and state, a bedrock of our system of government. Just as we, more than 150 years after the Civil War, are still dealing with consequences of that war, our Founding Fathers were influenced by Europe's then-recent history of Christian-on-Christian religious persecution — the real kind where people were tortured and executed for being the wrong flavor of Christian. Democrats believe all Americans must be free to practice the religion of their choice, or no religion at all. There must be freedom of religion and freedom from religion and we adamantly oppose infringements on that principle.”
Understand the GOP will fight back
Democrats often seem to think if they just find the right message, all will be well. The problem is the GOP/media-machine will vandalize any message Democrats offer.
Again: the GOP/media-machine will vandalize any message Democrats offer.
That's what Republicans do. No Democratic messaging strategy will be effective without linked measures to address inevitable GOP distortions. There is no magic message that will, however meritorious, be immune to GOP vandalism. Instead of fruitlessly chasing that holy grail, Democrats need to accept this reality and plan accordingly. That does NOT mean avoiding messages or policy proposals that seem especially likely to inspire Republican vandalism because Republicans can, and will, distort anything. Instead Democrats should offer messages and proposals and positions fearlessly and defend them vigorously.
Enabling has failed — our only choice is to go on the offensive and, when appropriate, confront and expose abuse tactics. Then expect more abuse and confront them again. Democrats need to do some conditioning of their own — they need to teach Republicans abuse tactics will no longer go unchallenged and they need to be aggressive in their pushback.
Some Republicans will co-opt the “abuse” framework; it's a typical rightwing trolling technique. But such trolls never last more than two rounds before they move the goalpost or start name-calling or try to end the debate or flee. They don't have real counter-arguments, but Democrats do. Democrats need to embrace repetition and refuse to be sidetracked.
When a Republican accuses Democrats of abuse s/he should say: “It's sad he's so poor at defending his position he's reduced to mimicking mine. Now, to the actual point being discussed, as I said...”
Republicans fight dirty. They will mischaracterize Democratic statements and claims. They will deflect, redirect and gaslight. Abuse tactics work when they go unnoticed and unnamed, so Democrats should notice, name and briefly explain them, then return to the real argument.
Up Next: Final thoughts and conclusion.