House GOP Strategy for 2020: Emulate Trump’s Ruthless Attacks

Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen of Axios suggest that Donald Trump’s latest outburst of racism is not only pre-meditated, it encapsulates his 2020 strategy.

It might seem like improvisational madness when President Trump tells American citizens in Congress to “go back” where they came from, but those close to Trump say there’s a lot of calculation behind his race-baiting.

Why it matters: It’s central to his 2020 strategy, they say. Trump’s associates predict more, not less, of the race-baiting madness.

Ezra Klein doesn’t see it as a strategy.

Regardless of whether you think the president’s outbursts are pre-meditated or simply reactionary impulses, it is clear that House Republicans are planning to emulate his approach.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, with the blessing of House Republican leaders, has adopted a no-holds-barred strategy to win back the House majority next year, borrowing heavily from President Trump’s playbook in deploying such taunts and name-calling. After losing 40 seats and the House majority in November, Representative Tom Emmer of Minnesota, the committee’s new chairman, and Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader, decided that their messaging needed to be “ruthless.”

The offensive hinges largely on the relatively facile notion that by tagging all House Democrats as socialists, anti-Semites or far-left extremists, they will be able to alienate swing-state voters.

Since one of the synonyms for the word “ruthless” is “cruel,” House Republicans plan to follow the president’s lead in making cruelty the point.

Some of the examples cited by Catie Edmondson in that piece include portraying House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff as a clown, calling Representative Lauren Underwood a “fake nurse,” and basically labelling every Democrat a socialist who hates America. Then there is the sexist dog whistle of suggesting that Democrats are being too emotional.

The emotional socialist Democrats have become so blinded by their hatred of President Trump that they have lost all ability to effectively govern.” -NRCC National Press Secretary Michael McAdams

Part of the strategy being employed by House Republicans has to do with something Paul Glastris warned us about a year ago: the decline of local news outlets.

Local news outlets tend to be highly trusted. When they disappear, partisan national media like Fox News and social networks like Facebook fill the void. Without trusted local news to provide a check, voters are more likely to accept the lies and propaganda coming out of these other sources.

Here is how that is being exploited.

Republican campaign operatives backing the strategy argued that aggressive tactics were necessary to rouse the interests of sleepy and shrunken local press corps. Adopting the mantra that “all news is good news,” the committee appears to believe that even if reporters choose instead to write about its bare-knuckled tactics, they are at least reiterating the nicknames and points that House Republicans hope will reach voters.

As Edmonson makes clear, the person leading this charge is the chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Representative Tom Emmer. I happen to know a thing or two about the guy because he is from my home state of Minnesota.

Back in 2010, when the Tea Party revolt helped Republicans win back the House and take over state legislatures and governorships all over the country, then-State Representative Tom Emmer was one of its champions. He ran for governor and was endorsed as the Republican nominee by a radicalized right-wing caucus. Emmer’s candidacy posed such a threat to moderate Republicans in the state that Tom Horner, who had been chief of staff for Republican Senator Dave Durenberger, became a member of the Independence Party and won their endorsement, making it a three-way race for governor, with Mark Dayton running as the Democrat.

When the results were tallied, Republicans took control of both the Minnesota state house and senate, but Dayton beat Emmer by 0.42 percent. Horner garnered almost 12 percent of the vote, primarily from Republicans. In other words, Emmer is the reason Minnesota had a Democratic governor for eight years, which made all the difference compared to what happened in states like Wisconsin. Tom Emmer went on to win the House seat vacated when Michelle Bachman retired.

That is the guy that Minority Leader McCarthy put in charge of the NRCC—which should tell you all you need to know. While he doesn’t garner as much attention as McConnell these days, McCarthy has been Trump’s guy on Capitol Hill for the last three years. None of those men have an actual platform to run on. Instead, their goal is to gain as much power as possible and, in order to do that, they’ll be as ruthless (i.e., cruel) as they need to be.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.