Bait and switch: It’s the TrumpDeSantis Way

Frank Luntz was an infamous Republican operative, arguably the most skilled focus group designer for the right in our political history. He’s the one who helped coin-winning words and phrases that shifted public opinion toward serving the interests of “conservatives” (that is, politicians determined to conserve the unfair practices of the wealthy elite).

Although I didn’t feel his work was helpful–e.g., popularizing the term “death tax” to make it easier for rich legislators and their wealthy donors to roll back the inheritance tax that helped stem the problem of massive build-up of untaxed intergenerational extreme wealth–I admired his amazing cleverness.

Then in 2020 he had a stroke that nearly killed him, and he used his near-death experience to change, to criticize many of the most aggressive rightwing politicians, starting with Trump. He was the first I heard to point out that the most extreme chaotic, offensive, and threatening politicking was quite likely to prevail in Republican primaries these days, but would increasingly lead to their defeat in general elections. That insight has borne out, most remarkably in Trump’s loss in 2020 and the loss of many of his proteges in 2022 midterms.

How do Republicans overcome this increasingly glaring weakness? They are using two basic strategies that Americans should monitor.

One, the bait and switch: be off the chain in the primary and pivot to the middle for the general election. This is pure cynical politics and tells us that the hypocrisy factor is escalating even as independent voters are straying from the road rage right.

Two, voter suppression of those most likely to vote against them. It might be by outlawing the historic African American Sunday practice of bussing congregants to vote in “Souls to the polls” excursions. It might be by reducing the voting options such as ballot boxes or even closing polling sites in areas that tend to vote Democrat. Perhaps it’s by outlawing providing water, lawn chairs, or snacks to voters in poor areas as they stand in line for hours. It may be by new rules that remove voters from the rolls–voters who tend to vote for Democrats. Most extreme are new laws that might simply overturn elections.

Where are these suppression efforts undertaken?

Pretty much exclusively in states under Republican control–governors, state legislators–with a sharp focus on states that are trending away from bright red to a more purple, swing state demographic, states like Georgia and Texas. In the battleground states, Republicans have even bragged about their “successes” in suppressing voter turnout in Democratic stronghold areas.

Could anything be more anti-democracy?

The most secure, fair, and inclusive voting is done by states like Oregon, where voter guides (with the text provided by candidates) are mailed out ahead of time, ballots are mailed to all registered voters, dropboxes are fairly handy, but even the return postage is paid by the state.

It seems to me we either save our democracy or the US will decide in some fashion to follow Marjorie Taylor Greene’s call for a “national divorce,” and we will begin to dissolve into smaller ideologically separate nation-states. I hope we will not stand for a descent and degeneration into dictatorship.

All those paths are tough. Only one is worthy of free people.

Tom H. Hastings is core faculty in the Conflict Resolution Department at Portland State University and founding director of PeaceVoice