Midterms Will Be Hijacked By A Shadow Power. And it ain’t Putin.

I ran into this bit from the Washington Post’s Daily 202 piece on the Koch Brothers recent confab.

Emily Seidel, who directs political strategy for Freedom Partners… about how tough the midterms might be for Republicans.  Seidel stressed the need for the [Koch Brothers] network to spend early. “Early engagement with paid media is how we set the narrative,”  

She is wrong.

Hillary’s team said the same thing in 2016.  Didn’t work out so well, did it?  Millions in paid ads buried by billions of re-Tweets.

More generally, it got me to thinking how the Republicans traditional advantage – a wall of money – will struggle vs social media in 2018.

Social media will hijack this election (see prior post).  A shadowy power beyond party control (otherwise knows as “Democracy”).   I expect a “nationalized” election centering around Trump, healthcare, immigration, and the general disaster that is Washington.  That nationalization will happen via social media.  Consider the hows and whys…

Social media works best with an engaged population.  Democrats are pissed off and Republicans are demoralized-to-just-plain-embarrassed.

  • Vote! Impeach Trump!  Stop the Madness!  Revenge!” are nice, simple, and (in context) reasonable messages.
  • Corporate Tax reform!  Higher barriers to healthcare!”  Not really barn burners.
  • The other obvious Republican social media tack (and policy plank no matter how hard socially liberal suburban whites pretend otherwise) – “Keep those brown people in their place!” But too-explicit racial attacks risk backfiring.  If just one tweet’s dog-whistle racism crosses over a little too audibly, its re-tweeting will just drive up Democratic turn out.  Remember that rash of ill-advised Republican “rape” comments a few years ago?   On the other hand,  too-quiet dog-whistling won’t get out the vote.

Social media also works well with a simple message that appeals across the broadest possible population.  That takes away the usual defensive playbook for mid-terms – to localize/personalize the election.  “Washington may be a mess, but you can trust our guy.”  That’s not going to work in 2018.  Especially with full Republican control of what’s been chaos so far.

  • Angry, energized voters will turn this into a national referendum centered around “Turn over enough seats to impeach Trump.”  The parties will have to deal with this.  They certainly won’t be driving it.
  • The GOP’s counter-message?  Not so catchy.  “To the barricades to defend our ineffective chaos!  We promise we’ll get to abortion, protectionism, and all that other stuff in 2018-2020.  Really!  Right after we wrap up these last few give-aways to billionaires!
  • The one powerful GOP counter-message could be on immigration – expect headline-grabbing legislative moves going into 2018.   The risk is this does more to wake the sleeping Hispanic voter giant than turn out the GOP’s racist nativist wing…  And a “real” immigration bill risks more incoherent Congressional chaos.  A huge wing of the GOP desperately wants to keep illegals right where they are.  Frightened workers with uncertain legal rights are great for profits.  (As are legal workers without access to a functioning individual healthcare market.  But I digress…)
  • More nuanced, local messaging?  Buried in ads people don’t watch and the howl of a (national) social media struggle.

Social media reaches younger people best.  Also low-information voters (love that euphemism) whose media diet is otherwise TMZ and cat videos.  Everyone currently living a life lesson in not-showing-up-to-vote-sort’ve-sucks-dude.

Social media doesn’t do much for the GOP’s elderly voter stalwarts.  And it blunts the usual GOP strategy of suppressing turnout.

Social media rewards the fresh and new.  Old warhorses? Not so much.  Incumbent Republicans aren’t generally social media geniuses.  There are a lot of JEB! look-a-likes out there.

The one wild card is a major terror attack.  Impossible to handicap, but worryingly likely.  More certain is that Republicans best “national” issue will be national security and fear of terror.  Watch for a ramping up on those issues (plus immigration) as we get into 2018.  On the other hand, Trump’s overseas bumbling might just as easily serve up a military disaster in the next 12-18 months.  Just a (very) wild card.

My final thought reading this quote?  She’s just trying to get paid.  Consultants take a percentage.  No wonder she wants “early engagement with paid media.”  A percentage of free media is… zero.

The Clinton team followed the same, self-dealing advice from the campaign industrial complex down the drain in 2016.  Expect a lot of less-imaginative GOP’ers to do the same in 2018.

Politics is still in early stages of technology disruption and the incumbents still don’t get it.  Go ask JEB!

From Daily 202

Seidel stressed the need for the [Koch Brothers] network to spend early. “Early engagement with paid media is how we set the narrative,”

Emily Seidel, who directs political strategy for Freedom Partners, which is part of the network, delivered a presentation Sunday afternoon about how tough the midterms might be for Republicans. “We’re facing a reinvigorated progressive left,” she warned.

While there are 10 Democratic senators up for reelection next year in states Trump carried, Seidel said: “None of these will be an easy lift.” She noted that Democrats need to flip 24 House seats, and Republicans must defend 23 seats in districts Hillary Clinton won. The GOP also needs to defend 27 of the 38 governorships that are up in this cycle. “In midterms since 1982, the president’s party has lost an average of four seats in the Senate and 20 in the House,” she said. “If that happened next year, Chuck Schumer would be the majority leader and Nancy Pelosi would be four votes away from being Speaker. … These governors’ races could very well determine control of the U.S. House for the decade following the Census in 2020.”

Seidel stressed the need for the network to spend early. “Early engagement with paid media is how we set the narrative,” she explained. She cited the successful effort in Ohio last year to negatively define Republican Sen. Rob Portman’s challenger, Ted Strickland, before he could raise enough money to go up with his own television commercials. Once the airwaves become saturated, she explained, the network’s grassroots programs will then drive voter engagement.

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