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Republicans Are Fighting The Wrong Political War (Washington Examiner) August 25, 2020

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Harvard professor who served under presidents of both political parties, observed in the early 1980s that “Republicans are the party of ideas.” That’s now ancient history. Conducting a national party convention with no platform while nominating a sitting president with no announced agenda for a second term, the Republican Party is going to wing this one on the back of President Trump. Whatever he thinks or tweets on a given day is now what they stand for.

For his part, Trump has apparently decided that his best chance to win is to enlist the nation in a war. Unfortunately, it is not a war against what people perceive to be their biggest enemies: a pandemic, racial injustice, or an economic recession.

No, Trump has decided to fight a new version of an old war: He is trying to enlist people to join him in fighting the old culture wars. Although a faithful minority will follow him, most people are weary of the culture war, or in an era of Black Lives Matter, they are mostly, by varying degrees, on the same side — notably not the side Trump is on.

Trump’s speeches and tweets make his culture-war message quite clear. The code word this time is “suburbs,” and Trump says he is protecting them from the low-income housing that Democrats want to build there. “Crime” is another signal Trump uses, noting he will also protect the suburbs from crime — that is, demonstrations, protests, violence. He has warned “suburban housewives of America” that Joe Biden “will destroy your neighborhood and your American dream.” It’s identity politics at its finest — or its worst.

Now that Biden and Kamala Harris are his opponents, Trump has opened culture-war attacks on them specifically. Biden, an active Catholic, comes under Trump’s attack as “against God.” He wants to take away your guns, Trump told Ohioans, adding that Biden wanted to “hurt the Bible, hurt God.” In Willie Horton style, Trump fanned the flames of immigration against one of Harris’s decisions as a prosecutor. These are not policies or ideas. They are not even values or ideals. They are code-word bullets fired in the culture war.

The problem is that this culture war is so last decade. Polls suggest that, if anything, people generally support recent racial protests and the Black Lives Matter movement, which is a large part of what Trump is attacking. According to a Gallup poll, most people say the protest movement has changed their views about racism, and they support efforts toward greater equality.

Republicans are letting Trump be Trump, and he seems determined to try to win by mobilizing his base with a culture-war campaign. What few seem to remember, however, is that Trump also won independent voters in 2016 by a slight majority, but he trails with them this time. With Biden leading by 9 percentage points overall, Biden has shown leads in the 20-percentage-point range among independents, who now are actually a larger voting group than Democrats or Republicans.

Republicans may need to cut their losses and focus on holding the Senate so that Democrats do not control everything in Washington. Oh, and one more thing: They need to return to being the party of ideas. Once the personality cult of Trump has left the building, it will be a long, hard road back, but the future must be one of policies and ideas, not one of personalities and culture wars.

But do not lose heart, culture warriors. Your time will return. After Biden and Harris institute a Green New Deal, topple the remaining statues, rewrite the history textbooks, and advance low-income housing in your suburbs, it will again be your time. Not, however, in 2020. No, we have more immediate wars to fight now.


To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


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