This time around, Republicans are determined to get their 2016 presidential package right, even though it doesn’t look that way right now given the crazy, over-populated field.
You see, Republicans have great faith that the American public can’t tell the difference between a candidate who grew up middle class but stands for policies that will hurt the middle class and a candidate who has a lot of money but a platform that helps the working and middle classes.
Republicans put a lot of store in “story” or rhetoric, over policy. They have to, because they can’t afford to discuss their policies openly. Jeremy W. Peters of The New York Times reported on their push to become the party of empathy and workers:
We are in the midst of the Empathy Primary — the rhetorical battleground shaping the Republican presidential field of 2016.
Harmed by the perception that they favor the wealthy at the expense of middle-of-the-road Americans, the party’s contenders are each trying their hardest to get across what the elder George Bush once inelegantly told recession-battered voters in 1992: “Message: I care.”
Their ability to do so — less bluntly, more sincerely — could prove decisive in an election year when power, privilege and family connections will loom large for both parties.
Republicans are already working hard to sell Secretary Hillary Clinton as the “wealthy” candidate. This lie doesn’t work so well against former Florida Governor Jeb Bush of the Bush dynasty, but it works really well on the surface against Senator Marco Rubio (R-FLA), who has a person story that many Americans can actually relate to.
This is just like when they ran Sarah Palin as the “feminist” to appeal to women. Or Alan Keyes to appeal to minorities.
There are a lot of Democrats who are already buying into this frame, but this frame is faulty. It’s a fun house mirror. It doesn’t matter what kind of personal story a candidate has, if their platform is based on economic ideas that are proven failures for the middle and working classes.
Voters should be warned not to buy into this frame. Always go to the policy. The policy is the unvarnished truth. Argue about the policy, push Democrats to stand up for working Americans, but don’t argue that someone who is rich can’t possibly stand for the working class. There is a long standing tradition of noblesse oblige that would argue otherwise, and particularly in this environment post Citizens United, it is not politically practical to hate money for its own sake.
It is necessary to argue against bad policy, no matter how much money it comes from or does not come from. Smart people argue policy, tools of the corporations argue personalities– because nothing can hide bad policy better than focusing on personality and personal stories. Senator Marco Rubio has a great personal story. Unfortunately, given that the establishment is rooting for him and his party (the party platform doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room), it’s fair to presume that he stands for the exact same economic policies as Mitt Romney and George W. Bush.
Because Republicans can’t defend their policies, they are going to work harder on their rhetoric. The NYT explains:
Republicans’ emphasis on poorer and working-class Americans now represents a shift from the party’s longstanding focus on business owners and “job creators” as the drivers of economic opportunity.
This is intentional, Republican operatives said.
Republicans know they have a problem in the presidential race. It’s much harder to sell trickle down and tax cuts for the rich fairy dust on a national stage, with an alert media. They tried to package these failed ideas in 2008 through the charismatic Sarah Palin and then in 2012 they gave up and let the poster child for entitlement run around mocking the poors for wearing plastic rain jackets at NASCAR. As we all know, that one, Mitt Romney, ended up getting busted for hating half the country for being poor, even though his own parents were at one time on welfare. There’s another story gone wrong.
While we’re on that topic, the Bush and Clinton “dynasties” aren’t the same. One is not actually a dynasty, for starters.
Neither former President Bill Clinton nor former Secretary Hillary Clinton were born to a political dynasty. Neither of them has a father, let alone a father and a brother, who were president. They are the first generation of what may or may not turn out to be a dynasty. A dynasty is a line of hereditary rulers of a country, that descend through their blood. Hillary Clinton does not share blood with Bill Clinton, she was not born to him. She is his equal.
Hint: Just because Republicans don’t view women as potential equals doesn’t mean that a former President might not be married to a former Senator and Secretary of State who might want to run for President. There has only been one Clinton as President, not two.
This time around, Republicans will be running the same shell game, but they are hoping to have better packaging. Don’t be fooled by the package.
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.