Trying to Win MAGAs Over Is Not Appeasement
You defeat semi-fascism with votes.
Welcome to Morning Shots. It’s Tim in for Charlie today—he’ll be back later this week.
One programming note: The Why We Did It book tour resumes next week with stops in St. Paul, Atlanta, Tallahassee, Columbia (S.C.), and Austin. Details here, some of the events require RSVP. Tell your friends!
Today, I’ve got a little light fare for you. A meditation on the kind of “war” we are in and what can be done about it politically.
Should Joe Biden be gracious and welcoming to MAGA Republican voters?
Last week, JVL made the case that it’s Biden’s responsibility as president to act that way. My endorsement of that approach was met with much mockery and mordancy in the ol’ Twitter menchies. (This was not a surprise. There is something inherent in the nature of the Twitter reply guy that unites them no matter their age, political persuasion, or gender identity: belligerence.)
“Do not try to make peace with Nazis,” they wrote.
We must “divorce and sever ties with them!”
These sentiments are understandable.
It sucks to always have to be the responsible one and to get finger-wagged when you “take the fight to the enemy.” Plus many MAGAs are legitimately deplorable (you don’t have to tell me, I’m the one suffering through Steve Bannon’s podcast so you don’t have to). And I get the impulse to knock the oh-so-sensitive “Fuck Your Feelings” crowd down a peg.
But once the emoting about domestic political enemies is finished, the question becomes: What to do about it? What is the end game?
Because we still need to live in some semblance of a society together. We don’t actually want a national divorce. The reply guys who are demanding we eschew appeasement certainly aren’t calling for a literal storming of the beaches, right? I’m not about to join the Oakland Panthers in a battle against the Fresno Minutemen and I presume you aren’t either. Nor do I think any of us believe that winning a dunking contest on the internets is making a material difference in the fight against budding fascism.
So if we aren’t talking about war, either civil or meme, then we are discussing the best way to achieve the same goal: defeating the MAGA Republicans at the ballot box.
Figuring out the best way to achieve that is where things get tricky.
Those opposed to the tent-expanding, olive-branch approach argue that MAGA Americans are totally unreachable and thus there is no sense trying to talk sense into them. In that view we need to otherize tens of millions of them in the hope that the rest of the country has enough electoral muscle to beat this movement into submission.
That sounds nice. And in a perfect world the people sympathetic to the Trump cult would be a small enough minority that the country could unite and give them the John Birch Society treatment. But we ain’t in a perfect world.
In our world, MAGA Republicans make up a significant portion of the electorate and an overwhelming majority in a bunch of states. How, exactly, is trying to otherize them all going to lead to Democratic political dominance?
Some might argue that there is value in Joe Biden raising the salience of the “democracy” issue writ large. And I agree with that. There was some evidence before Biden’s speech last week that that approach might have worked. But then what?
Is there a person out there who had planned to vote for Kari Lake this November but has now changed her mind after hearing the president inveigh against Lake’s aspirations for semi-fascism? Or are there non-voters who weren’t willing go to the polls to vote D who will get off their asses only if Biden turns the dial to 11?
Color me skeptical.
To me this seems more like a strategy that makes anti-MAGA partisans feel good. Like they are together in a fight. In other words, it’s fan service.
There is nothing wrong with a little fan service from a politician from time to time. It’s an essential part of politics to ensure your fans feel heard. Not to mention, I like Joe Biden’s fans. I want them to be happy and motivated to fight the semi-fascist menace.
But when it comes to the end goal of saving democracy, maximizing highly engaged partisans with Dark Brandon isn’t the end-all, be-all . . . those folks are already voting against the MAGAs and posting Politics Girl videos on Instagram.
Winning requires keeping fans happy, turning out marginal voters, and expanding your coalition.
As such, I have another idea. One that still puts a politician “on offense” as they say, while acknowledging that all the wicked MAGA media grifters will still insult and mock us and that a large majority of their voters will never really hear the message anyway.
This idea could be executed by a Republican who would like to win the party back from Trump in a primary. Or the current president, who genuinely desires to protect the soul of the nation.
Are you ready to hear what it is?
Try to persuade the parts of the Trump coalition who are persuadable in the hopes that they will join your side and divide the opposition.
Not all of the MAGA Republicans are unreachable fascists. A significant proportion of them voted for Barack Obama—the NYT interviewed them in diners! If you listen to the Focus Group you know that others are practical and can be persuaded to move on from Donald Trump if they don’t think he can win. And then there’s the principled few who’ve spent years studying and analyzing every angle of this political moment and determined that when it comes to Trump they are a Maybe.
Alright. So you're saying there’s a chance!
If you are Joe Biden, isn’t the right approach to try to talk to these MAGA Americans like humans? Make the case that not only do you not think they are a threat to be feared, but that you want to help make their lives better! Nudge a small number of them into the light!
It’s not like there isn’t a good story to tell.
Biden could go back to Red America and talk about the money and resources that are flowing into their communities as a result of the infrastructure bill. He can go to Trump-supporting seniors who will finally be able to get their head above water because their prescription drug costs are getting curtailed. Bring out 60 days of Scranton Joe and Corn Pop.
Biden could contrast his own genuine desire to see MAGA Americans live a better life with the track record of Donald Trump, a man who spent his entire life screwing over contractors who did work for him. When he wasn’t running a scam university. Or selling junk vitamin pills to people who lost their life savings over it.
Biden could run ads featuring the billionaires who benefited from Trump’s tax cuts in 2017. Make fun of Trump for failing to build the Wall.
Biden could learn a lesson from Kansas and talk about how he is a president who actually cares about their personal freedom. He could blame Trump for the fact that women in red states might not have access to an abortion, even if their life is at risk.
Biden could plead with these pro-life, Trump-loving voters to support someone who isn’t going to deny their teen daughter and her nonviable fetus a medical procedure that could protect her ability to have another child.
When it comes to Trump’s contempt for his own fans what more evidence do you need than his behavior on January 6th. He doesn’t even care about his most loyal foot soldiers. He’s letting them rot in jail, their lives ruined, because they acted on his bid to combat. Ashli Babbitt and others are dead because they believed a lie he told to protect his own vanity.
Tens of thousands of other Trump voters died because they refused a life-saving vaccine thanks to MAGA leaders who fed them lies about Bill Gates wanting to track them as part of an experiment into the effects of Cracker Barrel on the human body.
Because here’s the truth: Nobody cares less about MAGA Americans than Donald Trump and his coterie of MAGA elites.
They literally let their own voters die in a bid to keep power.
Meanwhile Joe Biden just wants to help make these folks’ lives a little bit better—even though they didn’t vote for him the last time around.
Are we 100 percent sure that a concerted effort to communicate this message wouldn’t make a difference?
I’m sure not.
Keep in mind, this isn’t the rhetoric of appeasement. I’m not suggesting that Biden hold Josh Hawley’s manicured hands and sing kumbaya to a crowd of insurrectionists.
What I’m doing is recognizing that the “war” we are in is one of ideas and electioneering, not weapons. We are in a period where the threat from one part of our political spectrum is grave and it’s the president’s obligation to do everything in his power to try to pull anyone he can away from the brink.
On Friday afternoon Biden said to Peter Doocy: “I don’t consider Trump supporters a threat to the country. I do think anyone who calls for the use of violence, refuses to acknowledge an election . . . changing the way you count votes, that is a threat to democracy.”
That’s a great place to start. And its consistent with where Biden has been 98 percent of the time, since he launched his presidential campaign.
Now he and his supporters need to use their various tools to carry that message to its logical conclusion.
It may not work. But at least it keeps us in the game. And if such an effort results in winning over just 2 percent of the MAGA Republicans, it would be worth it.
The other option being presented is demanding political perfection for the con-owning Democrats while not trying to stop the spiral of radicalization that many MAGA Americans are in.
That seems like a risky approach. Because no matter where that spiral ends, it takes us to a very dark place. One that I don’t think Twitter’s resistance warriors genuinely want to go to.