2018: Do Republicans Hate the Media More Than Democrats Fear Trump?

Based on how things have been going, Republicans running in 2018 aren’t going to have much of a record of accomplishments to run on, despite controlling both houses of Congress and the presidency. There has been a lot of talk about how GOP turnout might be depressed as a result. But according to Alex Roarty and Lindsay Wise, the GOP has come up with a strategy.

Conservative radio hosts mock a physical assault on a reporter. A GOP governor blasts a reporter on Twitter as “a sick man.” The president accuses the media of being an “enemy of the people.”

This is not run-of-the-mill Republican criticism of the press anymore. It is now a deliberate strategy to help GOP candidates win elections fueled by public hatred of reporters…

…interviews with Republican strategists and party leaders across the country reveal that what started as genuine anger at allegedly unfair coverage — or an effort to deflect criticism — is now an integral part of next year’s congressional campaigns.

The hope, say these officials, is to convince Trump die-hards that these mid-term races are as much a referendum on the media as they are on President Trump. That means embracing conflict with local and national journalists, taking them on to show Republicans voters that they, just like the president, are battling a biased press corps out to destroy them…

“Hillary Clinton is not on the ballot so you have to have something else to run against,” said Charlie Sykes, a former conservative talk radio host from Wisconsin who has been openly critical of Trump. “And the media is perfect.”

That Sykes quote sums things up pretty well…Republicans need someone to run against. That has been their play ever since Obama was elected in 2008, initially with a Democratic Congress. The calculation was that they didn’t have to actually be for anything. Simply obstructing anything the opposition attempted to do was enough. Over the years, that has become their expertise. Donald Trump capitalized on all of that by exploiting the “politics of resentment” to gain the presidency.

As we’ve seen, all of that worked quite well to fuel an insurgency fighting against the opposition. But once that same insurgency becomes the establishment, it can backfire. What is needed to keep the insurgency activated is a villain, and with both Obama and Clinton off the ballot, the media has been chosen as the target.

It is worth noting that if there was any actual populist appeal to be harnessed by Republicans in the era of Trump, the villain might have been the monied interests in Washington that the Republican candidate railed against during the campaign. That was a nice trick he pulled off for a while, but it was never real. The “swamp” that needs draining is being redefined at the moment. It is in the process of becoming anything that holds Republicans accountable. That automatically makes the media the perfect foil and puts the whole notion of facts and truth on the ballot.

On the other side of the isle, we’ve been watching some Democrats wring their hands and suggest that making Trump out as the villain for liberals to fight back against is not enough. They insist that the left must have an agenda they are fighting for, not simply a target to vote against.

That raises several questions for me. While I continue to hope for a day when our politics becomes more of a discussion about policy differences, that is not the way Republicans are choosing to play right now. A contest that pits an energized base out to take down their villain vs a base that is rallied around a platform of ideas has not been a winning strategy for the Democrats lately. Even Obama’s victory in 2008 was as much about being an alternative to the mess Dubya had made of things as it was an affirmation of his proposed agenda.

Ten years later we’ll have a president who is a unique threat to the very foundations of our democracy and is supported by almost all of the Republican members of Congress. Is holding him accountable enough of an agenda for Democrats to run on in 2018? If the Republicans are going to run against the media (i.e., truth), what is the most effective alternative strategy: policies or a promise to stop Trump? I am reminded of what Adam Gopnick wrote recently.

What’s needed against Trump now is what has been found in France—not an ideologically narrow, politically focussed opposition but the widest possible coalition of people who genuinely value the tenets of democracy, meaning no more than the passionate desire to settle differences by debate and argument, rather than by power and cruelty and clan.

As long as Donald Trump is in the White House and Republicans chose to run against an identified villain, perhaps the Democrats should position themselves as the Party to restore democracy and go for the biggest coalition possible.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.