The 2018 midterm election season has just begun, and already it’s promising to be one of the ugliest races in American history. There are many reasons for this, but the most recent is certainly the publication of Michael Wolff’s book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.
Many parts of the book have been widely discredited, furthering confusion and eroding trust in journalism. Regardless, the end result is things will be harder for Republicans, who control both the House, Senate, and governor’s seats. I know this because running digital political campaigns are a core part of what we do at Push, and the book is essentially a fishbowl of one-liners perfectly written to knock Republican candidates down a peg or three.
When the president’s party is in control of the House and Senate, it automatically does two things.
First, it makes each candidate (whether it’s a senator, representative or governor) a proxy for the president. They have to align themselves with the president or risk losing much-needed support from the White House. How can a candidate hope to help their constituents if the president doesn’t agree with their politics?
Second, it puts the controlling party on the defensive. Any conservative legislation will become a rallying cry for democrats.
As a for instance, take the tax bill. Democrats will rail against the bill in their campaigns, how it robbed Main Street and lined Wall Street’s pockets. It will be a central theme, right up there with healthcare, infrastructure, immigration, national security.
So, republicans will be on the defensive. Add to that a scorcher like Fire and Fury, and the ante has been upped dramatically. The primary effect the book will have is to codify the narrative that the president isn’t fit for office. And by proxy, neither are any republican candidates who support him. It will remind Americans that there’s discord everywhere, from his team in the White House to the House, Senate and even the governor’s association.
Take the notion that President Trump’s inner circle doesn’t believe in him, or more worryingly, didn’t think he was going to win. The book alleges that even the president himself didn’t think a victory was possible. The social copy for dems writes itself; “The president didn’t think he would win, and now he’s the leader of the free world. Let’s not empower him by giving up more seats in the (house/senate/governor’s office).”
Or put another way; “Republicans don’t support the president, neither should you.”
Mental fitness is a central theme to the book, and questions of the president’s capacity to lead abound. For instance, the idea that he isn’t smart prompted what will certainly become one of the president’s most infamous tweets, in which he calls himself a “stable genius.”
That he used the phrase himself opens dems up to put the quote next to any issue their party members dislike. “The stable genius’ tax bill wasn’t so smart after all.” Or, “Only a ‘stable genius’ would think a wall between the US and Mexico is a good idea.”
The stockpile of ammunition grows taller by the page. He doesn’t process information well; he repeats himself word for word multiple times over a ten minute period; there is more backstabbing in the White House than your average reality TV show.
The list goes on. And while the book will certainly provide political campaigners of all stripes (from TV to digital and everything in between), digital is where it will be put to use most fervently. Why? As we learned in 2016, A/B testing wins elections. Volumes of content will pour through your Facebook feed, attempting to coax you into a like, comment, share and ultimately, a vote.
This content will spread far and wide via social, codifying party-line democrats. But that’s not the problem. The real issue is it will get in front of centrists, swing and non voters, bringing them ever-closer to voting democrat. This is what republican campaigns are going to have to deal with, and why 2018 will be one of the ugliest races in American history.