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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Levy: Democratic Messaging During the Pandemic

From Pema Levy’s article, “The 2020 Election Is Now About the Coronavirus. Here’s How Progressive Groups Plan to Win It: Democrats are taking early steps to spread word about Trump’s bungled response.” at Mother Jones:

“On March 12, a group dedicated to preserving and expanding the Affordable Care Act, called Protect Our Care, released the first political television ad that mentioned the coronavirus. It targeted Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) for his opposition to Obamacare. Montanans already worried about health care were now also worried about coronavirus, the ad’s narrator intoned.

But Protect Our Care quickly realized that as a group focused on health care, they had a larger role to play, and broadened its messaging to include the country’s biggest contest by setting up what it calls its “Coronavirus War Room,” a messaging hub meant to hold Trump accountable for the ways he has made the crisis worse. Last week, it began blasting off memos targeting Trump to the press while also acting as a messaging clearinghouse for other groups. Protect Our Care also started hosting calls three times a week with progressive groups to get everyone on the same talking points…

“Our focus at Protect Our Care and the Coronavirus War Room is largely on the accountability piece and with that it’s almost exclusively focused on Trump,” says Woodhouse, a longtime Democratic operative. “You can’t wait until October to tell the American people about how roundly he screwed this up.”

…[Executive Director Brad] Woodhouse sums up the core messages pushed from the war room: “He screwed it up from the beginning, he hasn’t learned from his mistakes, he’s downplayed the crisis, he doesn’t listen to experts, and that continues to make the crisis worse.” You can see the strategy deployed in the emails his team blasts out, often three a day, which attack Trump on a range of issues, including the administration’s failure to prepare by ramping up testing and the manufacture of medical equipment and protective gear; its elimination of key offices and positions charged with pandemic preparedness; and by elevating Trump’s comments, like downplaying the need for ventilators, that contradict medical experts.”

Levy explains, “To fight pro-Trump narratives, Democratic message warriors are looking for fresh data on how his words and actions are hitting home amid the crisis.” She adds, “Navigator Research, which is operated by two progressive polling firms, Global Strategy Group and GBAO Research and Strategy in consultation with the Hub Project, has put out monthly polls to help guide progressive messaging on a variety of issues. Two weeks ago, the project decided to scrap the monthly poll and set up a daily tracker to understand people’s attitudes toward the coronavirus and Trump’s handling of the crisis.”

She quotes Ian Sams, a Democratic strategist who consults with the Hub Project and Navigator Research: “We can’t handle this appropriately in real time as a progressive movement, as Democratic leaders, if we don’t understand how the public is processing it—because it is uncharted territory…We’ve never had 3 million people file for unemployment in a week.” Recent numbers show the situation is even more unprecedented: 10 million jobless benefit claims in two weeks.”

The Hub project “has captured data uncovering areas where Trump remains out of step with American opinion. When Trump floated the idea of prioritizing the economy over public health, the tracking poll released last Friday showed that people were more worried about their health and the health of those they know than the economy. Over the course of its first week, the poll showed Americans’ view of Trump’s overall handling of the crisis was trending downward. Small majorities last week believed  Trump’s response has been “unprepared” and “chaotic.” Further,

Multiple Democratic super PACs have begun to run advertisements on Facebook and on television to hammer this message, though campaign finance law prohibits them from coordinating with progressive groups that are subject to fundraising restrictions. Pacronym, a Democratic super PAC affiliated with the digital firm Acronym, announced on March 17 that it would spend $2.5 million through April on Facebook ads to educate voters about “how the Trump administration’s chaos and incompetence have weakened the nation’s ability to respond to the coronavirus crisis.” The effort is focused on battleground states.

Priorities USA Action, another Democratic super PAC, began running television ads last Tuesday in the swing states of Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The ad splices clips of Trump downplaying the crisis with a growing chart showing the rising number of infections in the United States. The Trump campaign issued a cease and desist letter to TV stations asking them to remove the ad; the group responded by putting it on the air in Arizona as well. A version with updated numbers went up this week. On Wednesday, the group spent another $1 million on a television ad that contrasts Trump’s response with remarks Biden has made about how he would handle the crisis. It also began running a Facebook ad juxtaposing Trump and Biden.

“This is the most important issue in the country today,” says Katie Drapcho, Priorities USA Action’s director of research and polling. “I think it’s a defining moment for Trump’s presidency and the country. And our view is that it’s absolutely crucial that voters hear the facts about Trump’s inaction and misleading statements.”

In addition, “Unite the Country PAC, a super PAC started in 2019 to support Biden’s campaign, spent $1 million to broadcast an ad accusing Trump of failing in this time of crisis, and added another TV spot on the same…Protect Our Care, the group behind the Coronavirus War Room, launched new ads across Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania…”

Regarding the difficulty of Democratic messaging during the pandemic, Levy concludes that “It’s one thing to figure out how to attack Donald Trump, it’s another to do so without rallies or door knocking. It’s a problem for the Democratic nominee, but also for organizers behind voter registration and get-out-the-vote programs…Just as social gatherings have transitioned to FaceTime and Zoom, it seems certain that new forms of political organizing will be digitized.”

One comment on “Levy: Democratic Messaging During the Pandemic

  1. michael on

    Of Daisies and Body Bags; GO for it Joe! M A Aisenberg
    Though a liberal from Massachusetts (a REPUBLICAN liberal—go look up Ripon Society in your history books, or Tory Radical in Lipsett’s Political Man) I came during my early years as a corporate tech industry lobbyist in Washington to appreciate Barry Goldwater. Not the red baiting theatrical Goldwater of the 1950’s and ‘60s and the John Birch Society ideologue of his 1964 Presidential race, but the practical, post-Watergate pro-defense because-it-made-sense Goldwater; who made it a point to have unequalled mastery of the facts of every defense authorization act he shepherded for decades as Chair or Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Indeed, there is a school of Senate mythology abroad that there could never have been a heroic John McCain if not for the legacy of state, subject and approach to legislating that John McCain inherited from Goldwater.

    One thing McCain did NOT inherit from Goldwater was the ignominy of a visible slander in his Presidential run. In 2008, he managed to make it through the entire race without any serious echoes of the polarization of views on Communism and the Russo/Sino threat to democracy; he is remembered, indeed for his correction of a supporter’s attack on Obama’s ethnicity. But 44 years earlier, those issues of Geopolitics and Communism vs. Democracy were front-and-center. Red scare, Joe McCarthy, HUAC, witch hunts were still freshly part of the lexicon in the dawn-of-Viet Nam, post-Kennedy, post-Cuba Missile atmospherics which typified the dialogue in the ’64 presidential race.

    And a singular moment of that successful, ultimately victorious polarization was what has become a TV ad in support of incumbent President Lyndon Johnson that only aired ONCE. The “Daisy ad” as it is known was intended to galvanize in the mind of Johnson supporters and then-rare undecided voters a view of Goldwater as not only extreme in his anti-Communist, anti-Soviet views, but extreme to the point that a Goldwater presidency would pose an existential threat to the United States by recklessly maneuvering the U.S. into a nuclear war that could destroy civilization. Remember of course this was the pre-Watergate Goldwater, who coined the phrase “extremism in the name of liberty is no vice…” The ad depicts a toddler in a field picking daisies and goes into a freeze frame of her with a nuclear detonation and mushroom cloud in the background

    During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly attempted to appeal to the thin wedge of undecided African-American voters by using the phrase “what have you got to loose?”

    Well, since February, as the first COVID19 deaths in the U.S. began to accumulate, the answer to that question became abundantly clear, not only to African-American voters, but to anyone who has not been engaged in a Rip van Winkle slumber since 2019. What we ALL have had to loose is –OUR LIVES.

    And so it is with some trepidation about being accused of a lack of originalism, that I suggest that the Biden campaign and those independent expenditure groups supporting him have been missing the boat for the last week or two. As we have been treated to a fairly recurring stream of “Donald’s greatest hits “ on MSNBC and CNN coverage, part of their patter has included news segments either directly airing as evidence or running clips patterned after the pro-Biden ad placed by Priorities USA (consisting of nothing but clips of Trump erroneous predictions and mis-statements of fact about the pandemic).

    Biden support groups like Priorities USA could not have missed the likelihood that the ad might become news, and the issue of how long it ran would matter little; the thin skin of their client produced idiotic cease-and-desist letters from Trump campaign lawyers (who have obviously never bothered to read the statutes which prohibit station censorship of Federal paid campaign advertising that constitute a “use” by the candidate or his campaign or affiliates (usually marked by a candidate voice over or legend stating that the ad is paid for or “approved by Joe Biden, candidate for President”).

    But since any go-for-the-jugular ad need only run once to catch the attention of the cable news producer club, and enter into perpetual coverage, the conformance with the Communications Act’s niceties or the obscure cases on pharmaceutical quackery advertising cited in Trump’s lawyer bizarre cease-and-desist letters is really beside the point. Which brings me to MY point.

    “Moments” in a political campaign cycle seem to come and go with lightning speed. Trump’s moment to use the Impeachment Trial as public distraction from the Intelligence Community came and went in January—and he USED it. We in the public, thru the media and aided by the Democratic leaders’ single-minded dragon-slaying mission were all distracted with orchestrating a save-the-face best outcome for the Senate acquittal—can we get Moeller to testify?, can we get Sessions to testify? Can we get anyone to testify” Sure, the AG will always testify….

    But we are, in my humble opinion, as the toll of tragic unnecessary U.S. deaths from COVID 19 accumulates, in A MOMENT for Joe Biden’s – and ultimately our benefit. It involves the campaign ad they must run. To wit:

    Opening shot: DAY. CAMPAIGN VENUE of UNSPECIFIED LOCATION. Clip from Trump
    2016 Campaign appearance: “You black voters in the American-African black community…what have you got to loose? Vote for me.” {CLIP: variant of the same, #2} {CLIP: VARIANTOF THE SAME #3}

    The incumbent POTUS specifically posed the issue of “show me the down-side.” We have seen it. Thousands of our fellow citizens lying in their graves, or common graves, or refrigerated trailers are the evidence of the down-side. It will not take long for that reality to sink in with Bernie supporters, undecided independents and perhaps even a few 2016 Trump MAGA deplorables who thought anyone was better than more of the same—which has come to include blacks, women, black women?.

    Those among them who voted for Trump have now either been proven wrong, or worse, anticipated the outcome of what some on right-wing millennial blogs are calling “The Jew Baby Boomer Harvest” . These people have had THEIR clinical trial, and they have failed all of us, our children, our economy.

    We rely on “more of the same”. Educated, at least experienced managers, perhaps with some familiarity with public service, public policy, maybe even the law. The ship of state that is the United States cannot turn on a dime. It will move over time in marginal increments. The price of a Sorcerer’s Apprentice in charge of the laboratory of this experiment is now clear: DEATH.

    I hope someone from the Biden campaign’s ad agency is reading this. I have not copyrighted the treatment. It’s your for the taking. Please use it. Soon.


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