Winning GOP Slogan: Progress, But Slower!
The Republican Party’s McConnell-Trump brain trust — a dusty, echo-filled cavern — believes it has hit upon a brilliant new strategy for the 2020 election: “Do what we always do!”
Specifically, according to the New York Times, the aim is to portray their Democratic opponents in Washington’s intramural game of electoral tiddlywinks as “extreme” and as “socialists.” In other words, the Republicans are once more going to define themselves, implicitly, as The Less Extreme Party, promising, in effect, to accomplish all the basic goals of progressivism, but slowly and without so much radical, disruptive change.
What the GOP leadership “fails to understand” — I place the phrase in scare quotes because of course the people who design these strategies actually understand perfectly well — is that the word “socialism” is only frightening to engaged Republican voters. To the vast majority of the disengaged and indoctrinated, where the Democrats seek votes, it sounds like, at worst, silly talk from the nineteen-thirties (making the Republicans sound like old fogies in their fear-mongering), or, at best, a “bright new idea” (since it is typically invoked by the youngest or most “anti-establishment” candidates). That is, accusing the Democrats of being socialists, in today’s climate, all but insures that they will win the favor and votes of the politically young and newly-agitated, while middle-of-the-road navel-gazing voters will shrug it off as just the usual election-year banter.
As for the “extremist” label, this is the oldest tune in the Rockefeller Republican songbook: Rather than present a coherent and attractive set of principles that might spark genuine enthusiasm and ignite the kind of intellectual and moral revolution America needs to revive itself from its progressive slumbers, merely accuse the other side of “going too fast,” or being “unrealistic,” thereby conceding the nation-defining ground of ultimate goals to the socialists.
One final point. As has been true for sixty years, with the rarest exceptions, the GOP leadership does not rally its sheep around this “Why so fast?” mantra because they have a subtle plan to turn things around in a fundamental way, but are too skittish to speak it openly. They fall back on this mantra because it is the only way they can substantially distinguish themselves from the leftists, given that as a matter of fact they share the left’s basic goals: progressive paternalism, supra-constitutional regulatory powers, federal micromanagement of the economy, standardized universal schooling, and what they call “social stability” (i.e., hierarchical control). Their only quibble is with the means to these shared goals, and with the precise identity of some members of the overseer class. Hence, the GOP leadership, in 2016, as in every previous election cycle barring 1980, successfully nominated the most progressive-friendly candidate available, in this case a New York liberal with a decades-long history as an actual Democrat.
Their strategy — Mitch McConnell’s strategy — never changes. And their voting sheep will leap into the abattoir yet again, loving the tribal thrill of chanting “Socialist!” at Bernie Sanders, as though their own party is offering any coherent alternative. And that’s the main point: The Republicans, by defining themselves as “not Democrats,” continue to have no positive identity. The best they can offer as an account of what they stand for is “capitalism” (fiscal conservatives) and “family” (social conservatives) — which only sounds engaging to people already invested in the tribal chant.