The Republican Game Plan For 2020: Demonization And Demagoguery

Following Donald Trump's lead, the GOP is making clear that its game plan for 2020 is paint all Democrats as 'socialists, baby killers, and anti-Semites.'

The Republicans have already latched on to their 2020 campaign strategy, and it basically involves demonizing Democrats:

WASHINGTON — In the 116th Congress, if you’re a Democrat, you’re either a socialist, a baby killer or an anti-Semite.

That, at least, is what Republicans want voters to think, as they seek to demonize Democrats well in advance of the 2020 elections by painting them as left-wing crazies who will destroy the American economy, murder newborn babies and turn a blind eye to bigotry against Jews.

The unusually aggressive assault, which Republican officials and strategists outlined in interviews last week, is meant to strangle the new Democratic majority in its infancy. It was set in motion this month by President Trump, who used his State of the Union address to rail against “new calls to adopt socialism in our country” and mischaracterize legislation backed by Democrats in New York and Virginia as allowing “a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth.”

Then last week, Republicans amped it up, seizing on a Twitter post by a freshman representative, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, which even some Democrats condemned as anti-Semitic, and ridiculing the “Green New Deal,” an ambitious economic stimulus plan unveiled by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a self-described democratic socialist. Suddenly even Jewish Democrats were abetting anti-Semitism and moderate Democrats in Republican districts were Trotskyites and Stalinists.

“Socialism is the greatest vulnerability by far that the House Democrats have,” Representative Tom Emmer of Minnesota, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in an interview, adding that he had also instructed his team to spotlight “all the extreme wild ideas” that Democrats espouse, “on a daily basis, on an hourly basis if it’s available.”

House Republicans have identified 55 Democrats they regard as vulnerable, including many freshmen. Some flipped Republican seats last year, some represent districts carried by Mr. Trump in 2016, and some are in districts held by Republicans until recently. Bruised by their losses last year, Republicans are determined to start earlier and be more aggressive on the offense in 2020, and are hoping to exploit the Democratic presidential candidates’ courtship of the left.

An advertising offensive is already underway. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a political action committee affiliated with House Republican leaders, began running digital ads last week that link two freshmen who flipped Republican districts, Representatives Colin Allred of Texas and Antonio Delgado of New York, to Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and her “radical Green New Deal assault on the American economy.”

The spots are the first in what will be a national campaign, according to Zach Hunter, a spokesman for the fund. The stark ads, featuring stern-looking images of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, offer a preview of how Republicans intend to vilify her in much the same way they have vilified Speaker Nancy Pelosi, caricaturing her as a radical from San Francisco.


The hardball tactics have been especially evident in the Republican response to Ms. Omar’s tweet last week, and to the legislation adopted in New York, and proposed in Virginia, to loosen restrictions on abortions in the third trimester of pregnancy under certain conditions.

Before he became embroiled in a controversy over blackface, Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia, a Democrat, gave Republicans an opening last month when he said during a radio interview about the bill that “a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother” in the case of an infant born with severe deformities.

Mr. Northam’s office later said he was discussing medical treatment, not abortion, but Republicans, including Mr. Trump, accused him of promoting infanticide. House Republican leaders began gathering signatures to force a vote on legislation requiring doctors to provide care “when a child is born alive following an abortion or attempted abortion.”

The National Republican Congressional Committee, meanwhile, began filling reporters’ inboxes with attacks targeted at centrist freshmen, with subject lines like ”So we’re murdering newborns now?“ and ”Abortion extremists come to New Mexico,” referring to Representative Xochitl Torres Small.

To be fair, of course, this is hardly a new development. Defining your opponents using harsh language is, for better or worse, a tried and true electoral practice that both sides have engaged in not just for decades, but virtually from the beginning of the Republic. George Washington largely avoided the courage of “negative campaigning,” of course, but he’s largely the only President for whom that’s been true. From the Election of 1796 going forward, one can point to examples of negative and vindictive campaigning from all sides in both General Elections and, as they became part of the political process, primary campaigns. One of the most negative campaigns in history occurred 219 years ago, for example, and we have seen equally nasty campaigns at other points in American history. Therefore, the fact that Republicans appear to be prepared to base the negative side of their campaign on trying to demonize Democrats as “socialists and baby killers,” while distasteful and far from being accurate, is hardly unprecedented in American history.

There is, of course, one big difference between these campaigns of the past and what we’re seeing today from Republicans and what they are likely to try to do in the 2020 campaign. Unlike past campaigns, it seems quite apparent that Republicans heading into 2020 have next to nothing in terms of a positive agenda, and there seems to be any likelihood that they’re going to come up with one. At least in 2016, Republicans ran on at least some ideas, such as the appointment of conservative Judges and Justices, “repealing and replacing” the Affordable Care Act, and tax reform. Heading into 2020, it’s hard to see what kind of positive agenda the GOP can or will run on. Yes, they can point to the judicial appointments as something they have delivered on, and the same can be said about tax reform, or at least what they consider reform. As for health care reform, those efforts failed spectacularly in 2017 and it’s unlikely that the issue will be revisited even if the President wins re-election, especially if Democrats end up holding control of the House regardless of what happens in the race for the White House. So what do Republicans have to run on besides that? Non-existant infrastructure upgrades? A foreign policy that has left the world in chaos? Looking around it’s hard to see anything positive Republicans can run on them, and listening to them talk it quickly becomes apparent that they have no idea what they’d do if they continued in power after 2025, especially since it probably would mean a continuation of the chaos and instability that has ruled the Trump Administration since the time it took office.

There is one respect in which this demonization works, of course, and that is with respect to keeping the Republican base motivated, angry and riled up. One of the main reasons for Donald Trump’s success in the run for the Republican nomination and the General Election is that, to a greater extent than any of his rivals, he was particularly skilled at using the resentments of this base to his advantage. This explains his rhetoric against Muslims, immigrants, and a whole host of other groups, and it explains to a large degree things such a policy position on international trade that makes no sense whatsoever and a foreign policy the simultaneously spits in the face of allies, glorifies the leaders of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, and pulls back from engagement in places such as Syria and Afghanistan while at the same time seemingly seeking confrontation with Venezuela and Iran. To a large degree, Trump is merely echoing the prejudices of his supporters and a worldview preached by Fox News hosts and pundits whose view of the world is, to say the least, very strange and certainly not related to anything that can be called “reality.”It is because this demagoguery plays well with the base that Trump and his fellow Republicans will engage in it going forward. Whether the American people will buy it is, of course, another question.


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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Kylopod says:

    It may be forgotten by now, but Bill Clinton was attacked as a socialist too. His health care plan (which like the ACA a generation later relied mostly on the private insurance market) was called “socialized medicine.” Newt Gingrich described Clinton in 1993 as “a pleasant socialist, who believes government knows best.”

    He also was called a baby-killer after he vetoed a partial-birth abortion bill. Here’s how an anti-abortion group described him at the time: “This act has isolated him from mainstream America and proves just how far left his policies are.”

    As for anti-Semitism, Hillary was alleged to have called someone a “f*ing Jew bastard.”

    This stuff is not new.

  2. Teve says:

    So what you’re saying is this is going to be just like every election since FDR.

  3. reid says:

    This is just the GOP continuing its march to the right. Fear of mandated abortions, communism, and gun-grabs (which you didn’t mention and isn’t quite as popular anymore due to all of the mass shootings) will be the rule of the day. I’m sure it will motivate the nutty wing of the party, which is substantial, but the more it happens, the smaller the GOP will get. Add in the complete crap-show that is Republican governance, Trump in particular, and I have to think this will surely fail. Americans have a way of proving me wrong when I assume they’re mostly decent and intelligent, though. In any case, it’s going to be an ugly election season.

  4. Teve says:

    I’m 42 years old. 14 years before I was born Ronald Reagan was going on the radio and warning people that this evil thing called Medicare was going to lead to a tyrannical socialist dictatorship.

    Stupid then, stupid now.

  5. al Ameda says:

    To paraphrase Michelle Obama, ‘We shouldn’t do that high road bullsh** again’

  6. Gustopher says:

    The unusually aggressive assault, which Republican officials and strategists outlined in interviews last week, is meant to strangle the new Democratic majority in its infancy.

    Kudos to The NY Times for that metaphor in an article where they say the Republicans are calling Democrats baby killers.

  7. Stormy Dragon says:

    Between the boy-who-cried-wolf effect of the GOP calling anyone to the left of Paul Ryan a socialist and the effect of the GOP tying capitalism to predatory corporatism, I’m not sure the accusation of “socialist!” has the fear factor it once did.

  8. charon says:

    A separate problem is trolls trying to stir up animosity between the supporters of the various Democratic candidates. For example, the troll pretends to support a candidate while behaving badly to inflame the supporters of other candidates against that candidate. Excellent discussion of this sort of ratfvkking over at BooMan’s place.

    . .

  9. charon says:


    The basic concept:

    If you create an army of faux-supporters of one candidate who are abusive to real supporters of another candidate, then there’s a good chance that the two camps will have grave difficulty in reconciling for the general election. We saw this in 2016, where fake BernieBros deliberately launched misogynistic attacks and inflamed hard feelings about how the Democratic National Committee handled the primaries. Later on, they called into question whether the Russians had really been responsible for the hacks and promoted alternative explanations like the Seth Rich murder conspiracy story.

  10. SenyorDave says:

    The Democrat’s answer can be to investigate every corrupt part of the Trump administration. As soon as Mueller’s report comes out (and I’m assuming it will be somewhat neutered now that Trump has his boy Barr in, especially since Barr’s son-in-law is joining the WH counsel office how is that not a conflict?), the investigations should begin. Subpoena every one of Trump’s cronies and sleazy business partners. Michelle Obama was right – go as low as you need to. Make sure that every person in the country knows just how corrupt Trump, and how morally bankrupt the Republican leadership is. And get his taxes out there!

  11. Stormy Dragon says:


    every corrupt part of the Trump administration

    Are you implying there are non-corrupt parts? ;P

  12. Kylopod says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Between the boy-who-cried-wolf effect of the GOP calling anyone to the left of Paul Ryan a socialist and the effect of the GOP tying capitalism to predatory corporatism, I’m not sure the accusation of “socialist!” has the fear factor it once did.

    Additionally, there’s a generational element to the effectiveness of this attack. Already there are millions of Americans who are too young to remember the Cold War when it was going on. Even people like Teve and me who are in our early 40s, while we’re old enough to remember the collapse of the Soviet Union, we didn’t directly live through the era when fear of worldwide Communism was at its peak. I think you have to be at least 50, maybe 55, to have experienced it. And it’s going to be rising with every passing year.

    Now I’m not saying the “socialist” attack is totally ineffective. Large segments of the populace are in fact still receptive to it. It helps whip up the right-wing base, and there are middle-of-the-road Democrats and independents who are uncomfortable if not outright turned off by the left-wing dreams of Bernie or AOC, and the influence it’s having on the Democratic Party as a whole. But I think Republicans (and the mainstream media) are going to find that the attacks don’t have quite the same impact they did just a couple of decades ago.

  13. Kathy says:

    The notion that government is too big, too intrusive, and to a large extent the cause of most problems, is an attractive one for someone, like me, who has a deep, well-founded, distrust of authority.

    When you get into such a mindset, any government programs that give money or goods to other people smacks of “evil” socialism. You see your taxes as being too effing high, and the reason why you can’t save money or have nice things.

    So you see any tax cuts as benign, even if your taxes stay the same (or rise). You see private business as benevolent, even when they raise prices, devalue their services, or saddle you with additional fees.

    You oppose tax increases, especially on the wealthy. If Amazon’s taxes go up, you know, Amazon’s prices will increase. Oddly, you don’t expect anyone’s prices to go down if their taxes are cut.

    You think government is big, bloated and inefficient. You’re sure it would work better if it were run as a business, or perhaps if it were run by a businessman.

    Some of these things are right, some are wrong, some depend on context and circumstance.

  14. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Demonization And Demagoguery

    They know their base, and their base (with the fervish right wing media) has pulled the middle right down.

    It is what passes for conservative thought leadership now.


    (and yes, “fervish” is a perfectly cromulent word to describe them!)

  15. Teve says:


    A separate problem is trolls trying to stir up animosity between the supporters of the various Democratic candidates.

    I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it here or not, but in all of 2019 I’m having no arguments on social media. If I see something stupid on Twitter or Facebook I either scroll past it or just block the person and move on. it’s in the best interests of Russia, and the GOP, but I repeat myself, to get all the Bernie people mad at Hillary people and all of them mad at Kamala people and so on and so forth. I’m not participating and I’m not even reading that shit.

  16. Teve says:
  17. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kathy: In my little corner of the nation, we have people who believe that tax cuts for corporations lead to lower prices for consumers. We call them stoopies. I’ll let you guess why.

  18. gVOR08 says:

    This is off topic, but James’ post on the Alabama editor who wants the KKK to clean out Democrats in DC has gone too far down on the page. AP is reporting the arrest of a Coast Guard lieutenant stationed in DC who had put together an impressive pile of weapons and compiled a target list of Democrats and journalists.

  19. An Interested Party says:

    I doubt that the person who wins the Democratic primaries next year will be like Michael Dukakis or John Kerry, so I don’t think that this ridiculous game plan will work as well as variations of it did in the past…

  20. Teve says:


    I just found out that on Twitter, you can mute not just accounts, but tweets that contain any particular word.


  21. Teve says:

    Speaking of smearing, the right-wing blogs are all lit up right now saying that Cory Booker is going to ration meat.

    I have no idea where they’re getting that from, but I would lay good money that it’s completely retarded.

  22. Teve says:

    @Teve: that ability would really come in handy here.

  23. Guarneri says:

    News Item: Democrats announce 2020 campaign plan.

    Democrats plan to paint Republicans as racist, xenophobic, homophobic, non-taxpaying cads forcing people into death for lack of health care, stealing their social security, making the elderly eat dog food and enslaving children.

    Astute observers noted that this has been the same campaign stance for 50 years. The less astute write lightweight blog posts…….

  24. gVOR08 says:

    @Guarneri: So far, Republican attempts to steal SS have failed. Otherwise….

  25. Stormy Dragon says:


    It came from him explicitly saying he opposed restrictions on meat consumption during a discussion on animal cruelty at factory farms.

    In other words, it’s a complete lie. I’m sure Justice Thomas is deeply concerned that such blatant slander will go unpunished.

  26. The abyss that is the soul of cracker says:


    Make sure that every person in the country knows just how corrupt Trump, and how morally bankrupt the Republican leadership is. And get his taxes out there!

    Okay. Just remember that 40% of the population DGAF about this, too.

  27. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Teve: Booker is a vegan. Does that help connect the dots?

    ETA: Granted, it’s still stupid, but ya gotta go with what you have. Any old smear in a storm.

  28. Greg Hubbard says:

    I think underestimating how much farther left the Democratic Party has gone is a mistake.

    I don’t see the right as moving any farther to the right because in America the base of the party seems to be largely influenced by judeo-christian ethics, which until the mid 2000s, were still desirable

    Bill Clinton signed DOMA and was in favor of the death penalty, or at least gave the impression he was. Even Barack Obama claimed he was against gay marriage in 2008–transgenderism being unthinkable.

    The fears of the religious right seem to be fully justified.