Saturday, October 08, 2016

Ratfucking Your Way to a Democratic Congress

"Ratfucking" is political slang for a dirty trick. Sometimes they're outright illegal (think, oh I don't know, hacking into an opponent's emails). But sometimes they're merely underhanded. One popular form of ratfucking, for example, is when a party runs ads in the opposing party's primary denouncing the (more moderate and electable) candidate as "not a true conservative/progressive". The hope is that this enflames the base to nominate a more extreme or polarizing candidate, who would in turn be an easier general election foe.

The latest burst of Donald Trump misogyny has finally caused a non-insubstantial number of prominent Republicans to withdraw their endorsement of their own candidate, or even pledge not to vote for him. Some of these Republicans include New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who just a few days ago called Trump a good role model (and is being hammered for it by her Democratic opponent) and Nevada Senate candidate Joe Heck, locked in a tight race with Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto. These disavowals, in turn, have generated a furious response from the GOP base which remains avidly pro-Trump. Heck was booed by his own supporters when he announced he was abandoning Trump. Paul Ryan received similar treatment from his hometown crowd after he bailed on a planned rally with Trump.

There has always been a gap between the Republican Party leadership -- which was always worried about Trump and thought he'd be a burden on the ticket -- and the base, which continues to adore him. The entire GOP side of the presidential race, after all, has been the sustained story of the party elites being unable to stop Trump (who -- to be perfectly clear -- I consider to be a beast of their creation. The GOP elite thought it could indefinitely whip up ever-more conspiratorial anti-Obama, anti-Clinton, anti-liberal, anti-government hysteria and yet still keep their base firmly under its own thumb. This entire election has been the story of that hubris blowing up in their face). But right now, it's perhaps more stark than ever: Party leaders actually abandoning their own nominee a month out from the election, while the Party cadre continuing to back him in earnest.

So what would happen if "someone" (probably some hitherto unknown group with a name like "People for a Greater America") started putting up some targeted ads urging Republican voters to not support the "traitors" who have turned on Trump? Label them RINOs, label them appeasers, label them tools of the wretched Hillary Clinton. Haven't we had enough of Republicans who knuckle under to the liberal media and PC culture? If they don't back Trump, why should Trump and his people back them? Throw a couple ads like that in select Nevada markets aimed at the folks who booed Heck, and watch the chaos blossom.

Of course, such a move would stand in tension with another Democratic objective: convincing anti-Trump swing voters that a vote for folks like Heck and Ayotte is akin to a vote for Trump. But with a sufficiently deft touch, it could be managed. There is a core of angry Trump supporters who are primed to hear this message, and they don't necessarily live in the same place or watch the same media as the suburban swing voters for whom Democrats very much want to harp on the "Trump = GOP" message. Hell, if one does it right one could probably get The Donald to tweet something out in favor. Every fiber of Trump's being probably wants to savage those turncoat Republicans who are urging him out of the race. Give him the opportunity, and I bet he'd lash out at them almost as a matter of reflex.

The GOP is fracturing wide open, and the Party's new strategy seems to be to throw Trump overboard in the hopes that it might save their downballot nominees. That might work ... if Trump's base continues to stay loyal to Republican politicians who just sold their candidate down the river. It seems to me that there are ample opportunities for a creative political operative to make that task much more difficult.

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