Ask your average American socialist what they think about the state of U.S. politics, and the response you get will likely lie somewhere between cautious optimism and soul-crushing misery. That isn’t stopping the GOP, however, from portraying socialism as the foremost opposition to their deeply unpopular program.
In a story published today, the AP took a look at the “socialism” attacks circulated by the GOP, in the context of next year’s battleground race for the Senate seat currently held by Cory Gardner. The story opens with a scene of Gardner at a campaign fundraiser in a National Guard armory—a thing that is totally normal, apparently—asking fellow Republicans to “stand up and fight” against the rising socialist tide. (Gardner said this at the Alamoosa County Lincoln Day dinner, so no one tell him that Abraham Lincoln once exchanged friendly letters with Karl Marx via the American ambassador in London.)
So the AP talked to a bunch of people in Colorado about socialism and tried to gauge their fears about it, and it came out about what you’d expect: Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said the fear was real, moderate Democrats either justified that fear or pivoted to pointing out Trump’s relationship with that classic socialist Vladimir Putin, and other Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters said they didn’t care. A sample of two “unaffiliated voters” who made it obvious which way they lean politically:
Avery Jones, of Westminster, is one potential target.
“Taxes kill,” said Jones, 27. While she’s eager to improve her family’s health coverage, she sees “some merit” to checking Democrats from pushing toward universal health care because “it would just drive up taxes.”
But for every Jones, there’s a Rhett Lucero. Lucero, 40, eating lunch at the Riverwalk park that winds through the city of Pueblo, says Democrats’ efforts to expand health coverage and curb global warming make sense.
“It’s helping each other out,” said the auto body mechanic, who, like Jones, is an unaffiliated voter. “It’s putting our taxes to a real good use.”
A local Democratic official. who spoke to the AP did say that the attacks could have some effect. “Our Democrats can vote Republican because they vote their pocketbooks,” Adams County commissioner Eva Henry, who also served on new Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ transition team, told the AP. (Bernie Sanders won the Democratic caucus in her state in 2016, for what it’s worth, so it appears that at least the most active Colorado Democrats like what he’s saying.)
The GOP strategy, to continue to dwell on socialism, isn’t just limited to Colorado. Mitch McConnell told reporters earlier this month that the party’s strategy to keep the Senate in 2020 is to present itself as a “firewall” against socialism, as if there isn’t only one self-identified democratic socialist in the United States Senate and two in the House, and as if the party hasn’t been labeling neoliberal Democrats as socialists for decades.
That the GOP is focusing its attacks on socialism doesn’t just help socialists, however; it’s also far from proven it’ll help beat back the Democrats. As Politico reported earlier this month, the GOP already gave this strategy a test run in Pennsylvania last year. Democratic lieutenant governor candidate John Fetterman had been a staunch supporter of Sanders in 2016, and several candidates for the state house described themselves as democratic socialists.
The GOP attacked candidates up and down the ballot as socialists, but it didn’t work—the Pennsylvania GOP suffered double-digit losses in both the gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races (Fetterman, as Gov. Tom Wolf’s running mate, won by 17 points), and lost seats in both houses of the legislature, as well as Congress.
Judging by all of this, as well as the fact that Sanders is hovering at the top of the pack in the Democratic primary, it appears that the GOP honing its attacks on socialism without offering anything to lower healthcare costs, tackle climate change, and so on just isn’t making the dent they hoped it was. It’d be great if they kept trying, though.