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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

February 12: Democratic Weaknesses Enable Superficial Republican Gestures

Sometimes Democrats underestimate the effectiveness of cleverly contrived if superficial gestures by Republicans to neutralize their weaknesses. I wrote about that this week at Washington Monthly:

Buried in a typically interesting if occasionally uneven take on the Republican effort to make the GOP credible on issues like income/wealth inequality and wage stagnation, Tom Edsall has a terrifying insight:

Democrats counter this emerging Republican populism with the argument that Republicans have failed to follow up with legislation that would actually do something about the problem of inequality.
The 2014 midterm elections demonstrated, however, that relatively modest shifts in tone — carefully combined with cost-free proposals like making over-the-counter contraceptives available — could help Republican candidates defuse the accusation that their party is out of touch on issues of importance to women and to show that they are willing to take a more pragmatic path.

The allusion is to the success of Thom Tillis of North Carolina, and even more strikingly (since reproductive rights were central to the messaging of his Democratic opponent Mark Udall) Cory Gardner of Colorado, who used the Bobby-Jindal-suggested gimmick of supporting OTC contraceptives as an anti-government gesture that also superficially rebutted Democratic claims they wanted to restrict access to contraceptives. It was clever, if not especially deep or credible. But what Edsall is suggesting is that if swing voters want to vote Republican, such gestures on economic issues could be effective even if they are shallow and insincere.

Now with understandable frustration, some Democrats attribute the success of such gestures to voter ignorance. That’s a mistake. Yes, media narratives that treat such gestures as substantive repositioning are a problem, and sometimes Democrats don’t do the best job of exposing Republican trickery. But in the end, it takes Democratic weaknesses to produce such artificial Republican strengths. They need to be addressed.

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