November 11, 2023 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
The crazier the Republicans, the better for the Democrats in 2024
The GOP's bet on chaos, dysfunction and disorder is still a bet.
Something that most of us have not considered fully, because we are generally so overwhelmed by it, is the fact that the chaos, dysfunction and disorder coming out of today’s insurrectionist Republican Party is a big gamble.
The Republicans are betting their futures on the idea that most people in this country don’t mind chaos, dysfunction and disorder, indeed, they want more of it, and the reality is, the Republicans might be right.
For many Americans – many white Americans, let’s be clear about that – multiracial democracy is so threatening that anything is justified in fighting back, even the chaos, dysfunction and disorder that are an inevitable consequence of going to war with multiracial democracy.
“You will never win an argument talking about what your opponent wants to talk about, much less agreeing that your own party sucks.”
But don’t lose sight of the obvious. Chaos, dysfunction and disorder are a big gamble. They motivate the Democrats to stand for opposite principles, and they ask us to choose: Do we want the party of chaos, dysfunction and disorder or the party of peace, order and the law?
We’re a year from the election. A GOP insurgent is the House speaker. A government shutdown is looming. Wars in Europe and the Middle East are raging. The focus right now is on chaos, dysfunction and disorder.
But as the months go by, the focus will probably shift. As it does, it will expose the GOP’s bet on chaos, dysfunction and disorder for what it is. And over time, the focus will probably shift to the reaction to chaos, dysfunction and disorder, a reaction favoring peace, order and the law.
For more on this and more, I got into touch with Rachel Bitecofer, a political scientist turned Democratic strategist who helped minimize Democratic losses in the last congressional election by devising campaigns of negative partisanship. She’s also the author of a forthcoming book, due out in February, titled Hit ‘Em Where It Hurts: How to Save Democracy by Beating Republicans at Their Own Game.
JS: The Democratic leadership seems to believe that the ascendance of an insurgent as speaker of the House is good for their chances of taking back the House in the next election. What do you think?
RB: I don’t think House Democrats would choose a situation where the opposition party installs a speaker so radical that the basic functioning of the House as an institution comes into question. That said, yes, it is very helpful for Democrats’ prospects of flipping the House in 2024.
The Maga speaker rebellion will continue to thrust the chaos of the House into the national spotlight, and the more America sees of extremism and dysfunction, the better, because if they “hire” Republicans again next fall, they may not ever be able to fire them.
Average Americans don’t follow political news, so it takes quite a bit of crazy for it to make it onto the average American’s radar. Former Speaker Kevin McCarthy was capable of hiding their crazy. Current Speaker Mike Johnson will shine a giant light on it. He won’t be able to not to, since the chaos caucus clearly runs the Republican Party now.
JS: Polling continues to show people are down on the economy even as the economy grew by almost 5 percent last quarter. Are polls wrong?
RB: No, but as I said, regular people do not watch or read regular news. They base their assessments of the economy on gas and grocery inflation and now, high mortgage rates needed to cool inflation.
You also need to understand how mass public opinion has been changed by hyper-partisanship and polarization. Republican voters loved the economy right up to the inauguration of Joe Biden when their approval abruptly took a nosedive. Now that an opposition party president was in charge, Republican assessments of the economy became Republican feelings about Democrat Joe Biden.
At the same time, most of the pandemic’s economic effects didn’t hit till 2021 when America fully reopened and Americans unleashed their pent-up demands on an economy that depends on supply chains in still-closed Asian countries. Democrats are less tribal than Republicans, and more willing to provide a substance-based evaluation of the economy than Republicans are in the reverse scenario.
To illustrate this, back in the peak of Trump’s mismanagement of covid, roughly 90 percent of Republicans claimed he was doing an incredible job. When you dive into polling data, you see that some of Biden’s soft numbers are powered by Democrats and left-leaning independents responding to reality. Next year, as the Biden-Harris campaign begins to reach out to their voters, they will likely return to robust support.
JS: Ruy Teixeira recently wrote a piece arguing that it’s “time to throw the intersectional left under the bus!” In other words, punching left is good for Democrats. This used to be good politics. Is it still?
RB: You will never win an argument talking about what your opponent wants to talk about, much less agreeing that your own party sucks.
JS: NPR’s Domenico Montanaro has said Trump’s many legal problems are having a “pile-on effect.” In other words, they are eroding his support, even among Republicans. Is there anything to that?
RB: Yes, there is, because hypothetical trials and convictions will never carry the same power as actual trials and convictions. By the time we get to summer of 2024, Trump will likely be disposed of the Trump Organization, and he’ll be in the midst of trials accusing him of stealing classified intel and trying to overthrow the government. That means a summer of shitty headlines and massive attention on Trump. The more regular people see Trump’s crimes, the better for Democrats in 2024.
JS: In Hit ‘Em Where It Hurts, you say the Democrats should learn to beat the Republicans at their own game. Do you see signs of learning?
RB: In the book, I highlight the work that I and others did in the 2022 midterms to define Republicans as extremists in order to blunt the midterm effect. Places that used this strategy, rather than the Democrats’ conventional strategy, won (Michigan, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Georgia). Those that didn’t lost (Ohio, North Carolina and Florida). The goal is to make sure every competitive race at every level, from Senate down to state legislatures, run effective strategy.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.