I detest how Democrats campaign. They muddle their message with a blizzard of policy statements, pander to interest groups rather than address the public as a whole, and waffle when anybody claims offense. The question more often than not is how do these people ever get elected?
The Republicans, by contrast, are ruthless campaigners — and now a team of their shrewdest strategists are showing the Democrats how it’s done. They’ve formed a Political Action Committee called the Lincoln Project, and they’re churning out minute-long ads that zero in on Trump’s weaknesses, hoping to provoke self-destructive tweets and abrade a point or two from his base. Here are a few of their ads. I’m already against Trump; what they persuade me is that the Democrats need to replace their inept media consultants with people capable of work like this:
I especially enjoy that last one. Paying attention, Chuck Schumer? (Feh. Didn’t think so.)
Another outsider the Democrats need to heed, Rachel Bitecofer, has launched a podcast. In her most recent episode, she talks with Rick Wilson, the brains behind the Lincoln Project’s ads. The full interview, in which Wilson fondly refers to the Project as “a pirate ship,” can be found here:
Wilson declares at 2:25 that “The Democrats are holistically bad at politics.” Yes! Sometimes they choose good candidates. Sometimes they raise oodles of cash. Sometimes they run a decent field operation. But they’re rarely capable of doing all three at once. So the Republicans find the weak point and attack, putting the Democrats on the defensive. Later on, Wilson explains how Republicans were encouraging votes by mail long before Trump falsely claimed they are prone to fraud, banking thousands of ballots in the weeks before election day, while the Democrats focused on transporting voters to the polls, a last-minute turnout strategy much less likely to succeed.
And, again, there’s that clueless messaging. “Someone sent me a Democratic mailer a couple years ago,” Wilson recalls at 13:20. “It had, like, 15 bullet points on it! Read our plan for clean water. Read this, read that. It’s a mail piece, okay. It’s got long complicated URLs for each plan printed on a mailer! Are you fucking kidding me with this?” Later, he laments that the Democrats are still convinced they won in 2018 by emphasizing health care. Bitecofer dismisses that conceit too: “Turnout didn’t bump up 15 points because of health care.”
As The Atlantic’s McKay Coppins writes in required reading for Democratic insiders, the 2020 election is “a referendum on reality itself.” Do we return to facts, science, and decency, or do we remain prisoners of an atavistic, maladaptive worldview? Despite their ardent conservatism, the Lincoln Project Republicans choose the former. They’ve done what good Republican operatives do: define the Democrat as they wish voters to see him. Except in this case they’ve defined Joe Biden favorably, as “a good man who can help us heal.” Why couldn’t the Democrats come up with that nifty characterization? How they present themselves over the next four months will go a long way toward determining which reality America chooses.
To tip the scales the tiniest bit, I’ve made my first political contribution of the year — not to Biden or the Democratic Party apparatus, but to the Lincoln Project. Happy Independence Day!