Politics

How to beat Republicans at their own messaging game

Let's make the other side play on our field

I would like to propose a New Year’s resolution for all Democrats and progressives: let us work to define our presidential candidates on our own terms, and not allow Republicans and Trump to define them.

What do I mean? I mean that instead of starting every conversation about one of our candidates with an issue or two that is problematic with them, we should frame the conversation positively and start out with what is good about them– who they are, what their record is, what their policies are. It is absolutely legitimate to debate about potential pitfalls for any candidate– but that should not be our headline! Why are we doing the Republicans’ work for them? They supported a racist misogynist grifter– who is likely compromised by foreign actors and associated with convicted criminals– at every turn. Why are we letting them set the terms of public discussion about our candidates?

I’ll use Elizabeth Warren as a case in point.

The Republicans came up with a nickname and a racist slur against her. How she responded to that is a matter of legitimate debate. But if that is the first part of our conversation about her candidacy, then the Republicans have already beaten us. They will have set the terms and the playing field on which we are having a conversation about a extremely qualified, very progressive, extremely competent candidate! Why would we let them do that? Why have we bought into their framing?

We should be responding by looking at her record in academic scholarship, the Senate, and her hand in creating the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau; touting the policies that she has put forth– how well she articulates the issues facing the regular working folk of this country; her actual ideas about how to hold corporations accountable and make them better corporate citizens who share the wealth with wage earners and holding banks accountable for their malfeasance.

She’s a champion on these issues and has real thoughtful policy ideas about how to deal with them– and she can connect in plainspoken terms to regular people about these complicated topics. Why is this not what we are discussing and putting forward as our headline/framing, building her up in the media narrative and in our own discussions?

I am using her as an example because she is the first marquee candidate to have announced, not because I am sure she should be the nominee. I am looking forward to a robust, substantive debate across a wide field of candidates. But these general principles about framing positively and building up our candidates rather than tearing them down apply to every one of the Ds who throw their hat into this ring.

Again, this is not to say we can’t have a real debate about potential issues with her candidacy, or those of any other candidate – but we should not make that the headline of our conversation. Because then the Republicans have already won. Did we learn nothing from Hillary’s emails? From allowing that one transgression to frame her for an entire race, giving everyone a negative fixed point of focus against such a blizzard of scandal around her opponent that no one in the media could make anything stick?

Let’s show we learned from that. We should set the terms of discussion for our candidates, and we should make the *headlines* of these discussions POSITIVE – both about their policies and their persona. Make the other side play on our field, rather than letting their attacks frame us and our candidates.

That’s my resolution for 2019. Anyone else with me?