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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

It’s so sad it’s almost funny: Jennifer Rubin inadvertently provides the clearest possible illustration of the fact that the difference between GOP “Moderates” and “Conservatives” on basic electoral strategy is still 90 percent cynical PR.

More masochistic progressive readers of the Washington Post will have noticed that Jennifer Rubin has become a little less predictable lately. Her columns, instead of sounding like verbatim transcripts of press releases from the RNC, have more recently taken the side of the “moderates” in the GOP on issues like immigration and have presented various polemics against the self-destructive nature of the “extremist” current within the Republican world.
Ironically, however, Rubin’s attacks on GOP extremism actually provide a uniquely dramatic illustration of the fact that – in regard to basic electoral strategy — the difference between the moderates and conservatives in the GOP remains 90 percent cynical PR.
Back last December Ed Kilgore, J.P. Green and I wrote a TDS Strategy Memo where we emphatically argued the following:

The current split within the GOP isn’t between Tea Party extremists and “Establishment” moderates. It’s between one group of GOP extremists that wants to restore the Bush strategy of running parallel covert and overt agendas versus another group of GOP extremists that wants to openly assert a radical right-wing agenda.

Here’s what we said:

In the period leading up to and including the administration of George W. Bush, sophisticated conservative strategists (preeminently Karl Rove) perfected a “dual track” strategy of running two parallel political agendas. One track was an overt, “moderate” agenda designed for the press and general electorate It included slogans like “compassionate conservatism” aimed at softening media and public perceptions of “movement conservatism…
…At the same time, however, there was also a parallel covert agenda aimed at the religious and social conservatives who comprised a large section of the Republican base. This second agenda was executed by providing special high-level access for conservative base leaders, “below the radar” administrative and executive actions supporting conservative issues and policies and continual “dog whistles”–the use of coded words and phrases to assure the conservative base that deep down Bush and other Republican leaders were really “one of us.”
This strategy was successfully deployed first in 2000, when Bush managed to secure the universal support of the conservative movement during the presidential primaries, yet still competed aggressively with Al Gore for swing voters during the general election, without changing his policy positions at all.

Now here’s Jennifer Rubin in today’s Post criticizing Ted Cruz’s proud and defiant brand of extremism and explaining the alternative “moderate” approach.

In numerous Senate races over the last two cycles, conservatives like Cruz have backed the most extreme conservatives in primaries, only to see them crash and burn and/or exhibit views entirely out of step with their voters. Unfortunately, being forthright about extreme views is not a path to victory in most states.
In fact the Republicans who win are those who take the edge off the GOP stereotype, showing themselves to be reasonable, congenial and concerned about average Americans. They talk about conservative ideas but don’t necessarily label them conservative. They are forward-looking and optimistic, engendering support from young people. And they appeal to non-ideological voters who turn out only in presidential elections. And yes, they exude concern and camaraderie with non-rich voters by connecting their biography in some way with voters (e.g. a broken home, a self-made man, a personal struggle).
Those are the sorts of Republicans who win presidential races – in other words, pols unlike Ted Cruz.

Now Rubin’s great value as a conservative columnist is that, because of her uniquely superficial and self-absorbed perspective, she frequently offers an extraordinarily clear and direct view of the darker recesses of the conservative id.
The quote above is a perfect example. It offers such a proud and unapologetically manipulative strategy for essentially “conning” voters into voting Republican – a strategy completely untainted by any concern about actually adjusting conservative policies to help the young, the non-ideological and non-affluent with their real-world problems — that it cannot properly even be called cynical. It essentially asserts “Well of course winning elections is all about hiding “extreme” views, “taking the edge off” them, being “congenial”, “exuding concern and camaraderie”, with seeking sympathy with a hard-luck story or two. My goodness, what else could winning elections possibly be about?”
In a certain perverse way it is almost refreshing to see the “moderate” Republican strategy for winning elections expressed so clearly. Usually one has to hide a videocamera in a coatroom or wait for a confidential memo to be accidently made public to observe this kind of naked honesty.
But, while one can appreciate Rubin’s utter lack of discretion or guile, as we said in our December strategy memo, “It is simply a perversion of the English language to describe this strategy as “moderate” in any meaningful sense of the word.”

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