The Republican Party has a problem. A big problem.As the party of the wealthy and big business, how in the world can it convince the working class to vote for its candidates?
This article first appeared in Salon.
This is no small matter. It is not some little glitch. Rather, it is a fundamental core issue that lies at the heart of the Republican Party. It requires a grand strategy at the highest level.The problem is simple. The GOP exists to serve the interests of the wealthy and big business that comprise the richest 1%. No party, however, can ever win an election with only 1% of the vote. So to win elections, the GOP must necessarily reach beyond its own wealthy core and attempt to convince a large segment of working people in the 99% to vote for Republicans.
But this seems impossible.
The masters at the top require the GOP to maintain policies that favor the richest 1% and disfavor the working class. So Republican policies will necessarily be profoundly unpopular to the 99%. Therefore, the GOP could never receive much more than 1% of the vote and thus could never win elections.
This is quite a conundrum.
Normally, a political party wins elections by offering policies that benefit the voters. These policies attract the voters who then cast their votes for the political party.
But for the Republican Party, this is not an option. A candidate could not possibly campaign on the policies favored by the 1%. Just imagine the stump speech. “Vote for me and I will slash your health care! In fact, I’ll do even better — I'll fight like mad to completely eliminate your health care!”
“Vote for me and I will get rid of your pensions! This would save corporations a bundle and boost profits to the shareholders! Screw the workers!”
“Vote for me and I promise to ship your jobs overseas under globalization! The exact same labor can be hired in Asia for only pennies! Hurray!”
This, of course, is not going to work.
The Republican Party is left with only one option. It cannot possibly be honest about its true intentions and actual policies. The working class would never vote for them. Instead, the only option is to lie.
The Republican Party must lie. It has no choice. It must conceal its true inner core. This is a matter of life or death for the party. The survival of the Republican Party itself depends upon lying. It cannot exist without creating a false impression about its true purpose.
The remaining question then becomes: How best to craft, package and present the lies?
One of the best ways to sell a shoddy product is to hire a likable pitchman. It is the oldest trick in the book. The personality of the salesperson becomes the central focus. People like the salesperson, they develop a bond with the salesperson and come to trust the salesperson. Never mind that the salesperson is actually a wolf in sheep’s clothing who knows full well that they are saddling you with a hunk of junk.
So the ideal candidates under the Republican Party are not traditional politicians with a passion for public policy and a burning desire to improve society. No. They are not actually trying to solve problems for the people.
Instead, GOP candidates are more along the lines of duplicitous pitchmen, skilled at concealing the truth and foisting faulty products upon unsuspecting customers. The ideal candidate would almost be like an actor who could convincingly play the role of a politician.
Enter Ronald Reagan. In fact, Reagan had actually been an actor in Hollywood for many years before becoming a politician. Perfect! Reagan indeed was the ideal candidate for the Republican Party. He was a charismatic figure who focused attention on his likable personality and away from the devastating policies implemented by his Republican administration.
Reagan was straight out of central casting for a GOP pitchman. He was movie-star handsome, he was very amiable and he projected confidence and strength. You simply could not help but like him. Reagan also portrayed himself as a model of propriety. He purportedly valued integrity, virtue and honor.
Having the right pitchman as the GOP politician is half the battle. But of course the pitchman must stick to the script and always serve the interests of the wealthy and big business instead of the working class. Reagan followed this perfectly.
One central tenet is to always conceal the many Republican policies that favor the rich over the working class. These policies must be kept hidden out of view. Instead, concentrate the focus on other subjects in order to divert attention away from the real economic issues that matter most to the wealthy 1%.
Reagan was fantastic at this. He was always gushing with patriotism. Red, white and blue. Making America great. Waving the American flag. Exalting freedom. Commending the military. Apple pie. Hot dogs. Baseball. Family values.
All of these are good things, of course. Indeed, this is the reason they are employed to beguile the working class into voting for Republicans. But all these matters are completely non-controversial. Everyone believes in them, including Democrats. Focusing on superficial matters like these is a classic technique of diversion. It serves the interests of the rich by delighting the working class while keeping the more important issues out of sight and out of mind.
Of course, the Republican Party does focus on certain controversial issues as well. But clearly, all such issues are carefully curated because none of them threaten the interests of the wealthy 1%. Economic issues always remain out of sight.
The issues pushed by the GOP are the familiar hot-button issues of the culture wars that divide our society. Religion. Gun rights. Abortion. LGBT issues. Law and order.
The wealthy do not care one whit about any of these issues. They would be perfectly fine with resolutions either way. The significance of these issues is that they pose no threat to the economic dominance of the wealthy, so they are safe for public discussion. Thus, these are the issues Republicans deploy to attempt to trick the working class into voting for the GOP.
None of these issues will improve the economic situation of the working class. Not one. Nonetheless, the GOP has been highly successful at using these hot-button issues to induce large segments of the working class to switch over and vote for Republican candidates.
The GOP also uses its pitchmen to slyly push the two issues most important to the wealthy and big business: tax cuts and deregulation. The trick here is that the GOP creates the false impression that tax cuts and deregulation are all intended to help the middle class. This, of course, is nonsense.
The middle class hardly ever receives a substantial tax cut. Can anyone name a regulation that is overly burdensome to ordinary citizens? Of course, there are none. The entire purpose is to obtain tax cuts for the wealthy 1% and deregulation for big business, while scrapping regulations that benefit middle-class consumers.
Naturally, these positions would never receive votes from the 99%. So the GOP pitchmen constantly claim, falsely, that tax cuts and deregulation are intended for the working class in the 99%. Surprisingly, this works. Many in the middle class fall for this deception and vote for Republicans.
Reagan performed fabulously in his role as the pitchman. Reagan always protected the interests of the rich, he concealed the truth about the devastation of his own Republican policies, and he simultaneously managed to convince a significant portion of the working class to vote for Republicans.
Reagan himself was not very smart. In fact, accounts have demonstrated that Reagan’s intellect was shockingly rudimentary. But intelligence is not required for the role of GOP pitchman. After all, this person is a politician only in name, not in function. This person is not actually developing policy solutions or solving problems. The most important aspect of a GOP pitchman is personality.
This is the essence of the Republican playbook — wheel out a charismatic pitchman with a colorful personality who will dupe the working class in the 99% into voting against their own interests and in favor of the wealthy 1%. Reagan executed it superbly.
In our modern day, along came Donald Trump.
Now, some might say that Trump is nothing like Reagan. Indeed, many conservatives in the “Never Trump” camp would fume at the mere comparison. They do have a point.
Trump is different from Reagan in various aspects. Reagan held himself out as a man of integrity and dignity, whereas Trump takes pride in being a liar and a swindler. Reagan respected family values, whereas Trump has cheated on his multiple wives with the likes of porn stars. Reagan spoke in soaring terms of our national honor, whereas Trump rants in coarse profanity.
But with respect to the goals of the Republican Party, Trump and Reagan are very much the same.
Curiously, like Reagan, Trump was an actor for many years before becoming a politician. Trump’s acting was as a reality television performer, which is slightly different, but acting nonetheless.
Trump performs fabulously in the role of the GOP pitchman. He never strays from serving the interests of the wealthy 1% and big business. Like Reagan, Trump places great emphasis on frivolous issues to create grand diversions, like patriotism and national pride. Trump loves to hug the American flag while on stage during campaign rallies, despite the fact that Trump’s disdain for the Constitution likely renders him the most un-American president this nation has ever endured. Trump’s campaign slogan of “Make America Great Again” is nearly identical to phrases used by Reagan.
Trump employs the same divisive issues as Reagan to trick hard-working people in the middle class into going against their own economic interests and voting for the GOP, including the divisive issues of religion, gun rights and abortion. Perhaps Trump’s greatest exploitation is on the issue of immigration.
Trump does have a different style in serving as the GOP pitchman. Reagan attempted to appear stately and noble, whereas Trump seeks to appear tough, threatening and outlandish. Trump also plays the role of an entertainer, often appearing childish or clownish, such as by resorting to juvenile name-calling. But both Trump and Reagan emphasized their personalities in order to distract attention from substantive issues.
Reagan was not rich himself, so he acted more as a useful idiot of the wealthy 1%. Trump is among the wealthy 1% himself, so he acts directly in his own self-interest. But they shared the same goal of serving the interests of the wealthy 1%.
The lying is not limited to the leaders at the top but pervades the entire Republican Party. This is necessary to sustain the party. The lying is constantly on display from members of Congress to state officials to spokespeople in the media. They are always deceiving, misleading, changing the subject, clouding the issues, presenting a diametrically opposite view from the truth, blaming the Democrats for being the true liars, and forever waging malicious personal attacks against their opponents instead of debating issues on the merits.
To be sure, politicians as a group tend to bend the truth, and Democrats are no exception. But nothing compares to the sheer magnitude and volume of lies that emanate from the Republican Party. The lies are carefully designed to destroy truth by manipulating or confusing the public, and are deployed in massive coordinated campaigns that constitute “systemic lies” with blatantly false labels: “Junk science” to describe actual climate science, “right to work” to describe eliminating workers' right to organize, “religious liberty” to describe privileging Christians over all others, “death panels,” “death tax” and “fake news.”
The enormity of the lying is simply stunning, and it is carried forth by an army of loyal Republican soldiers at every level. But the Republican Party seems to do the best when it has a highly charismatic personality at the top. A perfect puppet of perfidy.
Both Reagan and Trump have been wildly successful in their roles as pitchmen for the GOP. They both enacted enormous tax cuts for the wealthy. And they both slashed and undermined the interests of the working class, all while remaining popular and convincing many people in the working class to vote for Republicans.
Under Trump, the playbook of the 1% is alive and well and, astonishingly, working better than ever.