Republicans are losing the national narrative. They’ve followed Trump and their own base down a dead end road that’s leaving them further and further from an emerging American majority that will guide this nation in the future. They keep falling back on tired tropes that worked for them a few decades ago but don’t resonate with much of the country today. They are missing the societal shifts moving the country to be a more tolerant and equitable nation.
The pandemic was the turning point. When the threat of the disease became obvious, governors stepped up to protect their citizens, locking down their economies and issuing stay at home orders. Republicans almost immediately pushed back, calling the measures overreactions and complaining that the disease is most lethal to people who are either old or sick. As the economy tanked, Trump started attacking the governors, demanding they reopen their states and, in North Carolina, demanding that the Republican National Convention be held in Charlotte with no limitations.
Polls showed the people sided with the cautious Democrats. They believed that the economy needed to stay closed as the death toll crossed 100,000 people. In response, conservatives on social media started flailing, accusing the governors of wrecking the economy by killing jobs and small businesses. For the time being, the people believe the governors protected them while the GOP is putting them at risk. That’s not a great place to be heading into an election.
While the pandemic left Americans uncertain about the future, the taped killing of George Floyd enraged the nation. The pent up anxiety caused by months of social distancing, unemployment, and disease exploded into national protests that led to rioting in cities across the country. But a strange thing happened. Public sentiment stuck with protesters. Voice after voice condemned the property destruction but defended the protesters’ right to be heard.
Again, the conservative social media warriors railed against the looters, blaming governors and mayors for surrendering their cities. Donald Trump tweeted “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” echoing a slogan used by racists during civil unrest in the 1960s. Unlike the 1960s, the outrage stayed focused on the killing of unarmed African Americans and in several cities, police marched or kneeled with protesters. A silent majority might quietly fuming, but they aren’t showing up in surveys yet.
If the looting continues much longer and as the economic consequences of the lockdown become more obvious, sentiment might shift back to the Republicans. However, there’s a feeling in the country that our national priorities are changing. The pandemic has exposed the weakness of our social safety net. The quickly recovering stock market combined with the steadily rising unemployment rate shows the disparities in our economic security. The brutal death of George Floyd at the hands of people who are supposed to protect us laid bare the injustice of police brutality, especially against people of color. The Republicans who want to maintain that status quo find themselves on the opposite side of a generation of Americans who may have reached critical mass and are loudly saying, “Enough!”
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >