Back in 2014, Democratic strategists decided to make the Koch brothers the target of their campaign. The brothers put hundreds of millions of dollars into Republican campaigns and third-party organizations like Americans for Prosperity to attack Democrats and progressive ideas. Harry Reid and company decided to make the Koch brothers villains in an effort to rile their base. They tried to wrap the Koch brothers around Republican candidates while convincing voters that the Kochs were evil. It failed miserably, leading to a Republican wave that rivaled the one that hit in 2010.
According to McClatchy, the GOP is going to use a similar strategy heading into the 2018 midterms. Instead of targeting the Koch brothers, though, they’re going to attack the press. Like the Democrats in 2014, Republicans think it’s a way to appeal to an essential part of their base–Trump voters who might not vote without The Donald on the ticket. Good luck with that.
While the Koch brothers strategy was misguided, the Republican strategy is disturbing. A free press is an essential part of holding our government and political system accountable. Making the media a target in political campaigns will further divide the country, expanding the bubbles where too many people already live and making truth an even rarer commodity. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “You’re entitled to your opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.” The GOP wants to give people their own facts, which might really be fantasy.
That said, it’s probably a losing strategy borne of panic and desperation. Despite having complete control of government, Republicans have a deeply flawed man in the White House and Congress seems unable to pass the legislation they promised. If they can’t run on their accomplishments, they need to run against something. Republicans can’t easily run against the party out of power without making themselves look incompetent so they’ve settled on the press.
Voters, though, are self-interested. They understand that elections are between candidates battling over ideas that effect their day-to-day lives. They might not have a lot of faith in the media, but they don’t trust political parties any more. In fact, the strategy might just serve to depress the GOP base who are more skeptical of all our institutions. If they can’t trust the press and they can’t trust the parties, why go vote at all?
But the strategy is flawed in another way. Republicans are setting themselves up to fight a two-front campaign, the Democrats running against them and the media covering the campaign. For years in campaigns, we would try to get our opponents into fights with third parties. Like the Democrats did with the Kochs, the Republicans are wading into one of the own volition. While Democrats will be talking about health care, jobs and wages, the Republicans will be trying to convince people not to believe the press. That’s a tough battle to win. Two of them, in fact.