Will the politics of fear work for Republicans?

Martin Longman argues that Jeb Bush seems out of his depth when it comes to knowing what to do about Donald Trump. That seems to be a common for the Republican party as a whole but it is more dangerous for the presumed front-runner and establishment candidate to have such an unpredictable element in the contest.

But it is not just Trump who is a danger to him but Bush’s own belief that what the party base seeks is “a mature, substantive leader who rises above toxic discourse”, who thinks the “rhetoric of divisiveness is wrong”, and that a “Republican will never win by striking fear in people’s hearts.”

As Longman says, recent successful Republican presidential candidates (Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush) managed to blend fear-mongering with at least a semblance of a positive and unifying message. But he thinks that the current Republican political climate has made that balancing act untenable and that if Bush really believes that he can play a similar role now, he is living in a delusional world because the recent history of the party and its ally Fox News has been geared to just the opposite.

Jeb should take a look around and even listen to himself as one Republican after another tells the public that we’re all going to die because the president has reached an agreement with Iran on their nuclear program. We’re all going to die if even one prisoner at Gitmo is brought here to stand trial or serve time. We’re all going to die if we don’t invade Iraq and take away their WMD. We’re all going to die if we don’t reinvade Iraq and now Syria to deal with ISIS. We’re all going to die if we give one inch to the commies in Korea or Vietnam or Angola or Cuba or Nicaragua.

And if we’re not going to die, then our culture and our religion are going to die. Our freedom is going to die. Our guns will be confiscated. Our children will be indoctrinated.

Striking fear into the hearts of Americans is pretty much all Fox News does, all day long, every day. There are almost two dozen Republican candidates for the presidency, and every single one of them is out there saying that our whole way of life is going to be destroyed.

It could be that trying to stay above the fray and present an upbeat message may still turn out to be the way for Bush to successfully distinguish himself from the pack. But Trump has made that calculation more dicey simply because no one oozes greater confidence that things will be just fine when he becomes president than he does, thus cornering the optimist market. Besides that, no one knows what the hell Trump will say in the debates and whom he will go after. But you can be sure that whoever criticizes him is going to get his head bitten off. Whether that helps or hinders the candidate is hard to say and it will be interesting to see who sticks his neck out to find out.

The other candidates have two options. One is to attack Trump vigorously, knowing that he will respond colorfully and thus result in a great deal of free media publicity. The other is to avoid criticizing Trump and let him attack Jeb Bush and bring him down. It seems like the first strategy would be best for those candidates who are so low in the polls that they are in danger of not making the cut for the first debate and the second might be best for those secure about getting an invitation.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    Supposing the GOP candidates returned to their 2014 positions as a happy circle jerk rather than the current introverted circular firing squad, Jeb! would probably be among the first to start sniping at the rest.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *