The Democratic Convention Seamlessly Co-Opted The Republican Party's Core Themes
Democrats did something remarkable at their convention this week: They stole the Republican Party’s toolbox, without any shame or reluctance. No, they didn’t adopt GOP policies — to the contrary, this was one of the most liberal party platforms in Democratic history. No, what they did was co-opt the GOP’s emotional pitch to voters. Democrats appropriated Republican themes and attitudes and presented them as arguments for liberalism. It's smart as hell, and Republicans aren't happy.
About halfway through the Democratic convention, it started looking and sounding a lot like a Republican convention. You had four-star general John Allen, flanked by U.S. Marines, screaming into the mic about the the U.S. military’s strength (“To our enemies, we will pursue you as only America can. You will fear us!”). You had regular appearances by religious groups and leaders. You had many speakers making the case that “America is already great,” and you had Michael Bloomberg (!) defending free trade.
There was Tim Kaine, making an explicit overture to disaffected Republicans (“If any of you are looking for that party of Lincoln, we have got a home for you right here in the Democratic Party!”). We saw Vice President Biden quoting Marco Rubio almost verbatim and a former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan singing the praises of Hillary Clinton. We saw John McCain’s war record receive a standing ovation, and we heard constant chants of “U-S-A!” throughout the convention.
It’s clear what’s going on here. Democrats have recognized that Donald Trump, in addition to abandoning many conservative principles, has also abandoned the conservative pitch to American voters. That pitch, pioneered by Ronald Reagan and used by Republicans ever since, is essentially this: America is the greatest place on Earth, a God-fearing country of patriots and freedom-lovers, and only the mighty U.S. military can ensure freedom around the world.
That’s propaganda, of course. But for decades, it’s been the Republican Party’s propaganda. Trump, however, has adopted a much different worldview. His pitch is more along the lines of: Everything is going to hell, America is in shambles and you need me, Donald Trump, to protect you.
Democrats, recognizing an opportunity, have snatched the old Republican pitch away from the GOP and made it their own. Not surprisingly, many Republicans who haven’t signed on to Trump are horrified at what they just saw.
Democrats had two different options for tackling Trump at their convention. One would be to paint the entire Republican Party as “the party of Trump”; this approach, if successful, would tarnish the entire Republican brand, not just Trump, and potentially help Democrats in down ballot races as well as Hillary Clinton.
But Democrats didn’t do this. Instead, they sought to slice off and isolate Trump from the GOP, depicting him as an aberrant demagogue attempting a hostile takeover of the Republican Party. Simultaneously, they depicted the Democratic Party as a home for refugees from the GOP.
“What we heard in Cleveland last week wasn’t particularly Republican — and it sure wasn’t conservative,” President Obama said in his speech. “What we heard was a deeply pessimistic vision of a country where we turn against each other, and turn away from the rest of the world. There were no serious solutions to pressing problems — just the fanning of resentment, and blame, and anger, and hate. And that is not the America I know.”
Democrats’ goal is to convince Republicans who remain wary of Trump (and remember, Trump only won a plurality of votes in the GOP primary) that maybe, voting Democratic isn’t as scary as it might have seemed in the past.
It’s far too soon to say if this strategy will work, but the mere fact Democrats are attempting it is incredible. It’s nothing short of a seismic shift in the two parties’ worldviews. Democrats are now the bright-eyed, optimistic, freedom-loving patriots, and the GOP is the party of gloom and doom. And it’s all thanks to Trump.