Why Republicans Are Making This Election About Fear

Heading into 2016, Democrats should feel very confident about retaining the White House. Such a statement may seem unreasonably self-assured, seeing as the country appears to be more divided and partisan as ever. But consider the following opinions of Americans today:

These numbers demonstrate that there is a clear hunger in America for bold, progressive policies. This certainly helps explain the appeal of Donald Trump to the modern Republican voter – the man is a strong advocate for a “big” and active government. He’s hardly your Koch-tested “small government conservative.” Because America yearns for collective action, Democrats have so far been able to define the issues of the campaign cycle with relative ease. Comforted by polls like the ones above, the Democratic candidates are bringing issues like gun responsibility, gay marriage, and the minimum wage to the forefront of the presidential race.

Understandably, that has made Republican strategists quite anxious. Their candidates are being labelled as mere oppositionists, who have no fresh ideas and opposed measures which the majority of Americans agree with.

Then, the attacks on Paris and San Bernardino happened.

Out of these terrible events Republicans found their opportunity to start redefining the 2016 campaign. In unison, all the candidates started pumping out fear. Instead of having to focus on Trump or issues which Democrats largely defined, here they could all prey on American anxiety together. They found a cause which could unite them all and help them reclaim the trajectory of the national conversation.

The media was all too willing to help their cause. Blinded by our sensationalist media, we couldn’t stop talking about fear and terrorism. Forget about the economy or Kim Davis! Death! Islam! Mosques! In a matter of weeks, the Republicans had successfully regained control of the political conversation. Since those attacks, terrorism has leap-frogged the economy and became the number one concern of American voters.

Manufactured fear, however, can only take this Republican field so far. Eventually, they will have to sell the American people on their social and economic visions. And from what we’ve seen so far, no GOP candidate looks like they could beat either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders on these issues.

The GOP knows this, even though they may not admit it. Their goal over the next 10 months, therefore, is to continue playing towards nativist impulses of white America, while also scaring the living shit out of everyone (just check out Marco Rubio’s latest ad). In the end, it’s a shallow and desperate strategy which will only slightly deflect attention from issues which actually affect people’s day-to-day lives (health care, gun violence, wages etc…).

And consider this: research suggests that “because there are roughly 5% more Democrats than Republicans, the GOP needs a solid majority of independents to win a national election.” Republicans, more so than Democrats, have to worry themselves with solidifying independent support after primary season. In essence, they can’t just talk to their base and hope to win. They’re going to have to actively pursue the agnostic American voter.

Can their fear-pushing alone galvanize the undecided? It’s a highly dubious prospect. Eventually they will have to rationalize their opposition to a bevy of issues which a large majority of American voters support. That’s a tall task for Republican strategists and one I do not envy. For now, Democrats should take solace in the fact that they are defending and, campaigning on, the well-founded opinions of so many Americans.

Nick Cassella

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