Less than two weeks before Election Day, the Republican Party is broadcasting a variety of closing messages. But all boil down to this: We know that we cannot win elections unless voters are wildly misinformed about our intentions for future policy, and America’s present challenges.
That might sound like Democratic invective. But it is a plain description of the premise that unifies the GOP’s 2018 rhetoric.
Republican candidates throughout the country are campaigning on their support for preserving the Affordable Care Act’s protections for people with preexisting conditions. And yet, most of those candidates have used the power of their public offices to eliminate those protections, through either legislation or litigation (in fact, some are using their power to that end right now, at the very same moment that they’re assuring voters of their deep commitment to guaranteeing affordable insulin to diabetics). The dissonance here isn’t a product of an “evolution” or a “flip-flop.” The GOP has not changed its actual position on the issue in question. In recent weeks, Senate Republicans have sought to burnish their candidates’ claims to moderation on health care by publicizing a bill that would require insurers to offer coverage to everyone — but that would also abolish restrictions on how much companies can charge people with preexisting conditions for their coverage. Which is to say, the bill guarantees affordable coverage for rich people with serious medical problems, while abandoning the rest to their fates.
If Republicans believed that they could win elections by giving voters an accurate picture of their position on health care, they wouldn’t be eliding this point in every campaign advertisement they’ve aired on the subject. But they don’t, so they are.
Over the past week, the Republican president has begun campaigning on “a pure 10 percent” tax cut targeted exclusively at “middle-income” Americans — one that the White House has “been working on for a few months” and is set to pass before the midterm elections.
Which is to say: The president is campaigning on a tax plan that does not exist.
If Republicans believed that they could win elections by giving voters an accurate picture of their position on tax policy, then they would be campaigning on the tax cuts that they actually passed — which is to say, on their success at providing wealthy shareholders with a large, permanent tax cut, and middle-class people with a modest, temporary one. But they know that they can’t, so they aren’t.
Finally, in recent days, the president and his party have sought to direct the nation’s attention to a caravan of Honduran asylum seekers, who are thousands of miles from the U.S. southern border. Trump warned his supporters that many “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in” to that caravan; and thus, that this group of desperate, impoverished people (who may never actually reach the U.S. border) poses a clear and immediate danger to America’s national security.
This has had its intended effect on the Republican base.
If Republicans believed that they could win elections by giving voters an accurate sense of the threat that Central American migrants pose to their personal safety — and a clear understanding of the fact that violent crime in the United States is near historic lows — then they would not be terrorizing Carol Shields with the thought of MS-13 occupying her lakehouse. But they don’t, so they are.
But don’t take my word for it — take that of a senior Trump administration official:
Donald Trump and his political allies have embarked on an aggressive, end-of-the-campaign effort to drum up fear among voters about a caravan of poor migrants several thousand miles from the U.S.-Mexico border. Much of it is mistruths and embellishments, but Trumpland could care less.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s 100 percent accurate,” a senior Trump administration official told The Daily Beast. “This is the play.”
… For Republicans, the sharp turn toward immigration fears, and those related to the caravan in particular, has been viewed a clear political winner, even as some acknowledge that the rhetoric from the president and others—including the accusation that philanthropist and Democratic financier George Soros was funding the caravan—has been overblown.
“Soros is probably not masterminding these people coming to the border,” conceded one GOP operative in an interview on Tuesday. “When it comes to allowing segments of the base to believe what they want to believe, it happens on both sides. Republicans are no more guilty of it than Democrats.”
That last claim is manifestly untrue. Republicans are not “allowing segments of the base believe what they want to believe” — they are doing everything in their power to deny their voters the opportunity to make a well-informed decision about how they will be governed. Democrats have not kept every campaign promise that they’ve made to the public over the past decade. In ways large and small, the party has betrayed many of its constituencies while in power. But Barack Obama did not campaign for the presidency in 2008 on a promise to cut federal health-care spending; congressional Democrats did not run a pledge to give tax breaks to the wealthy in 2012; and no senior administration official proudly told reporters in 2016 that lying to voters about a nonexistent terror threat was Hillary Clinton’s “play.” In other words: Democrats have been honest about the general direction that their top legislative priorities would move public policy in, and have sought to keep their more demagogic messaging in the general vicinity of empirical facts.
The Republican Party’s refusal to abide by this standard is an expression of contempt for its own voters, and for the ideal of democratically accountable government, more broadly. A Fourth Estate worthy of that title would work to ensure that its audience gets the message.