Republicans can win in 2020 if they dial back the spin

Republicans can win in 2020 if they dial back the spin
© Getty Images

As the Democratic Party continues its left-wing metamorphosis, the prevailing narrative popular among Republicans is: This is a good thing. The increasingly radical positions taken by presidential candidates in a seemingly endless sprint for the party’s base, so the narrative goes, sets the stage for Republican victories as the Democrats concede the political center to the GOP. 

This is a soothing tale. It is also without evidence.


In politics, it’s important not to confuse spin with strategy or analysis. Spin, or what we tell journalists and ourselves about political developments, is designed to put the best possible face on every situation. Democrats have more money? No problem, they can’t buy this election. Down in the polls? The only poll that matters is the one on Election Day. Weak support in one’s own party? Not an issue, the base will come home.

For every problem, there is an equal and opposite positive sound bite.

The Republican narrative countering the Democrats’ shift leftward — that it’s really a good thing that opens up opportunities for the GOP — doesn’t qualify as analysis because there is no evidence to support it.

Leftists in the Democratic Party have been on the rise for years, demonstrated perhaps most remarkably by socialist Bernie SandersBernie SandersGillibrand seizes on abortion debate to jump-start campaign DNC boss says candidates to be involved in debate lottery CEO pay rising twice as fast as worker pay: AP MORE’s impressive performance in the 2016 Democratic primaries and caucuses. In other words, this leftward shift predates the much-publicized statements of newly elected Rep. Ilan Omar (D-Minn.) and Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOcasio-Cortez defends Dem lawmaker who said child migrant deaths were 'intentional' On The Money: Senate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump | Trump to offer B aid package for farmers | House votes to boost retirement savings | Study says new tariffs to double costs for consumers Murkowski celebrates birthday with electric scooter ride MORE (D-N.Y.). And yet, this leftist Democratic Party in 2018 snatched 41 House seats from the GOP along with numerous governorships in presidential battleground states like Wisconsin and Michigan.

If Democratic candidates’ increasingly radical positions on issues ranging from taxes to drugs to Israel makes them so vulnerable, where is the evidence voters will punish them at the polls? Where are the losses?

If President TrumpDonald John TrumpA better VA, with mental health services, is essential for America's veterans Pelosi, Nadler tangle on impeachment, contempt vote Trump arrives in Japan to kick off 4-day state visit MORE’s 2016 victory over Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton slams Trump for spreading 'sexist trash' about Pelosi Gillibrand seizes on abortion debate to jump-start campaign DNC boss says candidates to be involved in debate lottery MORE is the “evidence” of how hobbled a left-wing Democratic Party is, then there really is no evidence. Hillary Clinton was an unlikeable, aloof, entitled candidate who lacked her husband’s political skills and flubbed the handling of her private email server and the Clinton Foundation’s acceptance for foreign donations during her term as secretary of State. She lost because she was a bad candidate, not because she was too liberal.

Predicting victory or doom based on a candidate’s philosophy alone barely withstands PoliSci-101 levels of scrutiny. Candidates don’t exist only on a one-dimensional plane called philosophy. They concurrently exist in two other dimensions: their narrative, or their personal story — and their skill. In other words, a candidate who is philosophically further from their constituents’ political center can still prevail when they have a strong narrative, skills and perhaps favorable externalities such as national mood. 

If political philosophy alone determined election outcomes, the heavily Democratic states of Massachusetts and Maryland would have Democratic governors today. Republican governors in these states serve as proof that political ideology alone does not decide elections.

Believing too much of one’s own spin can have unintended consequences including overconfidence that clouds our ability to see genuine threats.

Every instance of Republicans doing little more than mocking the increasing acceptability of socialism within Democratic Party ranks is an example of this undeserved hubris. 

First, Republicans are failing to take into account that the younger voters who are more open to socialism are using a different definition than we are. They didn’t live through the Cold War and see the utter failure of socialism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union on the nightly news. Mocking a concept to someone using a totally different definition isn’t going to move any numbers. 

More importantly, the simplistic mockery passes up critical opportunities to clearly and unambiguously define socialism as the destroyer of the middle class. The world today is filled with examples of socialism’s total failure: Venezuela and Cuba immediately come to mind. Failing to underscore how socialism destroyed Venezuela’s middle class, and prevented the development of one in Cuba, is an ongoing unforced error.


While Republicans are right to be concerned about political prospects, we must put the good of the country first. Since World War II, no party has held the White House for more than three terms. With history as a guide, at some point the Democrats will retake the White House, and when this happens, it will likely mean the most left-wing president in the country’s history. A Democratic president unrecognizable to Harry Truman or John F. Kennedy on issues ranging from foreign policy to taxes is not good for the country, and therefore, the leftward shift that makes this eventuality more probable is, likewise, not good for the country.

None of this means the Democrats have set themselves up for victory in 2020. While Trump’s approval rating is under water in a dozen states he won in 2016, the current field of Democratic candidates has yet to show any signs they will run the kind of campaign capable of winning back states like Missouri, Wisconsin and Ohio.

Republicans can compete and win in 2020 but that requires less reliance on spin as analysis, and a much more sophisticated approach to America’s volatile political environment.

Ron Nehring served as presidential campaign spokesman for Texas Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOn The Money: Conservative blocks disaster relief bill | Trade high on agenda as Trump heads to Japan | Boeing reportedly faces SEC probe over 737 Max | Study finds CEO pay rising twice as fast as worker pay Conservative blocks House passage of disaster relief bill The Hill's Morning Report — After contentious week, Trump heads for Japan MORE in 2016. He is a former chairman of the California Republican Party and nominee for lieutenant governor of California.