Democrats have to beat the Republican fear campaigns

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Fear works in most elections. Reason does not.

Therein lies the problem for Democrats. Most voters aren’t reasonable. We’re emotional. Republicans target specific areas of our brains that transmit emotion and fear. Democrats bathe our brains with a warm and soapy 22 point plan. Hence, two weeks before the midterms, President Trump and Republicans take to Fox News as if it’s the Emergency Preparedness System to blare about an alien invasion.

In 2018, it’s the migrant caravan. In 2014, the last midterm election, it was the Ebola virus. Remember that? Not really? No surprise. It was used to crescendo on Election Day then, the day after, it became yesterday’s news. The 2014 midterm environment was a dizzying message environment. It jumped from the October 2013 Republican government shutdown to the botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act. The economic recovery remained sluggish and President Obama’s job approval was in the 40s.

How did Republicans get us focused? Ebola. It became the single issue gripping the American amygdala, the area of voters’ brains that triggers the fear response. Republicans and their enablers whipped up a frenzy. I remember visiting local hospitals in my Long Island district that were ramping up to deal with an influx of Ebola patients.

Cable television became “Ebola Central.” An analysis by Media Matters found that “evening broadcast and cable news programs aired close to 1,000 segments on Ebola in the four weeks leading up to the elections.” Shepard Smith of Fox News railed against the coverage and said, “You should have no concerns about Ebola at all. None. I promise. Do not listen to the hysterical voices on the radio and the television or read the fear-provoking words online. The people who say and write hysterical things are being very irresponsible.”

Panic about Ebola crowded out any Democratic midterm message and it had an impact. Republicans won the Senate and expanded upon their majority in the House. Almost as soon as the election was over, so was the concern about Ebola. The almost 1,000 segments on Ebola in the weeks preceding the election gave way to “only 49 segments in the two weeks that followed.” According to the Huffington Post, “CNN showed the most significant decrease in Ebola coverage following the midterms, airing 335 segments in the weeks leading up to Election Day and just 10 in the period after. Fox News coverage fell from 281 segments to 10, and MSNBC recorded a disparity of 222 segments to 13.”

Fast forward to “Fear 2018.” With estimates of between 7,000 and 10,000 migrants walking to the United States border with Mexico from Central America, Monday began with President Trump announcing a false claim propagated by right-wing media that the caravan included “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners.” As the day continued, he called the caravan a national emergency.

We’re in a fear feedback loop. Fox News broadcasts ominous coverage of this alleged Middle Eastern alien invasion. The commander in chief watches and tweets a panicked response. Fox News then broadcasts the panic. Democrats shouldn’t fall into the trap of trying to beat fear with reason. It makes us look disconnected and aloof. Democrats can beat fear not by downplaying the anxieties of voters, but by overpowering them.

First, acknowledge that caravans of migrants just can’t show up at our borders and expect to be let in. We have a rule of law and it must be respected (hint, hint, Donald). Second, project strength and point to an administration whose failed foreign policies are literally being walked on by a caravan of migrants and the allies he’s alienated. Third, call again for the kind of bipartisan immigration reform supported by John McCain, which President Trump can’t or won’t pass. Another effective strategy is to divide and conquer.

The migrant caravan will be exploited to create midterm caravans of Trump voters to go to the polls. Just look at the Minnesota woman who told the New York Times that she feared migrants would take over people’s summer lake homes in the state. Seriously, if I’m a migrant who has just walked over a 1,000 miles to get to the United States, I’m not adding another 1,500 miles for a lakeside view in Minnesota. Florida, maybe.

So respond to this election message of fear with strength, Democrats. For the next two weeks, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

Steve Israel represented New York in Congress for 16 years. He served as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is a novelist whose latest book is “Big Guns.” You can follow him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael and on Facebook @RepSteveIsrael.

Tags Caravan Donald Trump Election Immigration John McCain Mexico Steve Israel

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