Can’t win midterms — on either side — with extreme messaging

Can’t win midterms — on either side — with extreme messaging
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With the midterms fast approaching, congressional Democrats and congressional Republicans are engaged in fierce internal debates over which issues they should emphasize during the final months of the race. In a cycle as competitive as this one, the battle for control of the House and Senate could well come down to which party succeeds at finding an effective messaging strategy.

Accomplishing this, however, is easier said than done. To be successful, messaging has to excite the base and drive turnout, but also successfully appeal to independents and moderate swing voters. It’s a difficult problem that at times seems like it’s without a solution; often, what excites the base alienates independents and vice versa.

Yet, there is a strategy that both parties could easily follow that would vastly improve their chances at the polls: Emphasize effective solutions on issues, rather than using them as a tool to divide voters.

Republicans have the inherent disadvantage going into the midterms, by being the party in control of the White House and Congress. Historically, the party in power loses seats during the midterms. However, it would go a long way if Republicans stopped governing in a manner that the overwhelming majority of Americans considers to be irresponsible.

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In particular, Republicans need to make sure they don’t acquiesce to President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Trump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment MORE’s calls for a government shutdown in response to Democrats’ refusal to fund a border wall. Recent history demonstrates that voters view shutdowns — and those who cause them, regardless of party — unfavorably. With all three branches of government under their control, Republicans will inevitably be the ones blamed if a shutdown does occur, a politically deadly prospect so close to the midterms.

Yet, despite Trump’s proven capacity to sway rank-and-file congressional Republicans to his side, party leadership does not seem to be taking his threats seriously. When asked what they thought of Trump’s threats, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP nervous that border wall fight could prompt year-end shutdown GOP nervous that border wall fight could prompt year-end shutdown Jon Stewart slams McConnell over 9/11 victim fund MORE and Senate President Pro Tem Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump to award Medal of Freedom to economist Arthur Laffer Trump gambles in push for drug import proposal Biden's role in Anita Hill hearings defended by witness not allowed to testify MORE gave dangerously naive answers: McConnell said he was “optimistic we can avoid a government shutdown,” while Hatch argued that President Trump “knows that [a shutdown] would be a disaster.” Hopeful words are not enough. Senior Republicans in the Senate must actively whip votes against a shutdown if they are to avoid a damaging political quagmire right before the midterms.

From here, the Republicans’ messaging-strategy options get harder. A government shutdown can be avoided by simply taking the path of least resistance: passing a spending bill that does not include funding for a wall and overriding a veto if needed. However, while keeping the government open has broad appeal across the political spectrum, other controversial issues — such as whether to support the Mueller investigation, or whether to emphasize immigration — expose major rifts between the party’s conservative base and the independents that Republicans will need to maintain control of Congress.

A recent Reuters poll on voters’ opinions of Trump’s handling of immigration illuminates this divide. While more than 80 percent of registered Republicans approve of that, the poll also shows that a majority of independents disapprove. The results on special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerKamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump MORE are much the same: A recent CNN poll showed that just 27 percent of independents approved of President Trump’s handling of the investigation, compared with 52 percent who disapprove.

For Republicans to succeed in November, they need to stop running on issues on which their conservative base and independent voters hold opposing viewpoints.

Former Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist had the right idea when he wrote in the Washington Post, “It isn’t easy to tell a president of your own party that he is wrong. But the assault on Mueller’s investigation does not help the president or his party.”

Instead of attacking Mueller, Republicans should focus on messaging that has broad appeal across the political spectrum, like the strength of the economy.

While Democrats don’t control the White House, and therefore don’t have the same risk of committing an unforced error like a government shutdown, they do face similar challenges avoiding issues on which their base and independents are split.

To win in November, Democrats need to stop pushing far-left policies to the forefront of their messaging, such as Medicare-for-all or a jobs guarantee, as these proposals alienate all but the most liberal voters. A socialized jobs or health care plan would either balloon the deficit or require massive tax increases which, either way, plays right into the Republicans’ hands of accusing Democrats of being the party of big taxes and even bigger spending.

While recent polls show that Medicare-for-all and a jobs guarantee both garner middling support from voters, it’s important to remember that this is before the issues encounter the pushback and debate that would inevitably come from Republicans, if Democrats double-down on them in coming months.

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The pushback by Republicans would largely focus on how expensive they are, and polls show this argument could seriously resonate with voters. In a recent poll conducted by the Global Strategy Group, 54 percent of respondents said they believed our country to be on the wrong track with regard to our handling of the national debt, compared to just 34 percent who said we were heading in the right direction. That poll, and others like it, show just how vulnerable Democrats would be to Republican attack lines if they started to advocate more loudly for these policies.

With radical elements in both major parties advocating policies that are unpopular with the majority of the electorate, who controls Congress after November’s midterms will largely come down to which side best keeps their messaging focused on bread-and-butter issues such as the economy, tax reform that is equitable for working- and middle-class Americans, and good governance.

Douglas E. Schoen (@DouglasESchoen) served as a pollster for President Clinton. A longtime political consultant, he is also a Fox News contributor and the author of 11 books, including “Putin’s Master Plan: To Destroy Europe, Divide NATO, and Restore Russian Power and Global Influence.”