How Republicans swallowed Donald Trump’s political poison

Rick Wilson, a national Republican political strategist, in an open letter to fellow Republicans, writes: Imagine it’s the Fall of this year and you’re a U.S. House or Senate candidate in a swing district or state. Your Democratic opponent is running a low-risk campaign, having pivoted to the slightly-center-left with aplomb. Regardless of their actual beliefs, they’ve got their masks bolted on tight, staying relentlessly on message as technocratic middle-of-the-lane moderates. Barack Obama’s approval numbers keep creeping higher and higher as a kind of “at least he’s not crazy or obviously corrupt” vibe sets in with the public. It makes your “Obamacare, Benghazi, tranny bathrooms” message cluster feel less promising than it did last year when you were planning this run, doesn’t it?

Your pollsters and strategists are hunting for a message and a tone where you can capture the anger and unrest of the Trump voters without becoming Trump-like, because no matter who you are, you’re not Donald Trump. You don’t have the built-in pad of celebrity and reality-television brand image. You don’t have the weird media dynamic where the spectacle of Trump’s shitshow du jour seems to erase yesterday’s insanity with a new hot mess. To your credit, you’re also not utterly insane and suffering from political Tourtte’s syndrome. I hate to tell you this, but it’s not working.

When you endorsed him, you bought all the problems Trump has with the voters and none of the assets. That’s why you’re awake at night, staring at the ceiling wondering what the madman will tweet next. You’ve had a tough summer, with endless questions from the press in your not-too-conservative state. Every time he opens his mouth, you’re flooded with questions. You wake up every day trying to stay on your message, but each morning your guts get watery when the Google alert with “your name + Donald Trump” pops on your iPhone. It’s why you can’t go on your Twitter or Facebook or do town hall meetings; because the whole election is about Trump, not you.

The resources you need from the donor community are a bright spot, because they’re certainly not giving the money to Mr. Self Funder Billionaire, but you’re having to spend it basically as it comes in to defend yourself. Your opponent and their allied SuperPACs are pounding you with media linking you at the hip with Trump. The themes are easy to predict; “Donald Trump says Mexicans are rapists…and Candidate X still backs him…100%” is the core script. Some of the connections are tenuous, but it doesn’t matter. All because you said the fateful words, “I support Donald Trump.”

I get it. You were terrified of his online horde of low-information whackjobs, neo-Nazi trolls, red-hat jackasses and their endless, febrile demands that you worship at the foot of Agent Orange. Hell, you’re a politician. You want to be loved. He was beating all the people you liked and respected, one after another. The media kept making him the spotlight, the hot focus of attention and you wanted some of that mojo, didn’t you? Bad call.

You see it in your polling, every day. Trump’s poison brand has splashed over on you, like the reek of some political sewage you can’t wash off. [Continue reading…]

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