A lot has to change quickly for Republicans to have a chance in 2024
By Matt Towery
To be clear, I am writing this as a pollster, not as a politician or partisan.
Here’s the bottom line. As it gets closer to the summer of 2023, I would rate the Democrats as more likely to again take/keep the White House. They might even hold on to the Senate and re-take the House.
This is a tough message to deliver to the Republican faithful at a time when inflation is way up, millions have crossed the border illegally, China and Russia both pose true threats to international stability, and crime has spiraled in many areas of the nation.
Sure, events and issues would seemingly favor the 2024 Republican nominee for president. But consider this. On Oct. 25, 2022, immediately following a Wall Street Journal poll showing Republicans up by two points in the “Generic ballot” midterm contest, my firm, InsiderAdvantage, also showed Republicans leading Democrats by four points, well within the WSJ poll’s margin of error.
Sixteen national polls followed ours in the RealClearPolitics average with only two of the polls showing Democrats leading and one showed a tie. The other 13 polls had Republicans ahead. CNN had the same four-point advantage our survey showed. ABC News/Washington Post along with CBS News had the GOP with a two-point lead. NPR had it at a three-point GOP lead.
For whatever reason, only a few national pollsters chose to survey the battleground Senate contests in the last few weeks of the 2022 midterms. Many of us who did, such as one of the most accurate over the past four cycles, Robert Cahaly of Trafalgar, showed Republican candidates in competitive states trending ahead, reflecting what the many national organizations were indicating in their generic ballot polls.
But the building “Red Wave” disappeared on Election Day. Sure, as pollsters we will be examining our data and weighting for the next cycle. But it may be that for Republicans, opinion surveys, whether suggesting a win or a loss, won’t matter. A loss is more likely regardless.
In part because there exists a not-so-subtle Democratic machine that goes far beyond politicians and now includes significant segments of corporations, media and “nonpartisan” governmental entities. Presidential and battleground Senate races are currently won at the slimmest of margins and Republicans face a system that now requires that their nominee blow past those margins on the crest of not just a possible “Red Wave” but riding a true “Red Tidal Wave.”
Only that massive “Red Tidal Wave” can carry a Republican back into the White House. Here’s a list of why such a GOP meltdown is possible again and the potential remedies for the party that, at present, seem unlikely to materialize in time to avert disaster for Republicans in 2024.
If a Tree Falls…
You know how this goes: If a tree falls in the woods and there is no one to hear it, does it make a sound?
In the political forest, the answer is no if the tree is Republican or conservative. This is by far and away the biggest obstacle Republicans face in having a fair chance of winning in 2024.
While Fox News remains the dominant cable news network, it cannot possibly serve to counterbalance the three broadcast news networks along with CNN and MSNBC. Even with Newsmax thrown into the mix, the “conservative” broadcast and online media, based on total viewership and readership, is overwhelmed day in and day out.
Other than Rupert Murdoch, conservative-leaning financiers have either lacked the will or have been stymied at forming consortiums to purchase or challenge the “legacy” media. And Republican operatives seem hellbent on spending all their money in short-burst primary and general election cycles. They just assume that everyone knows their view of the news: that President Joe Biden is “cognitively challenged”; the economy is in decline; the border is flooded daily by undocumented immigrants; that crime is destroying the nation’s once great and revered cities; that the U.S. appears weak and unprepared for future aggressions by major foes. You get the point.
But the average voter doesn’t. Polls asking voters about issues provide conservatives with the appearance that their issues are important to voters as well as the foibles of Democrats. But most issue-oriented polling questionnaires assume that their respondents are aware and have an opinion on the matter. And respondents rarely want to confess that they haven’t a clue. Put that same respondent in an unaided survey where they must articulate the issues of the day and one will find that those opinions on most issues dissolve into a mishmash of general concepts and less definitive answers.
It seems that Republican leaders just assume that everyone else lives in the bubble they live in. But they don’t.
Most voters whose vote the GOP might otherwise win don’t much know about critical race theory, the consequences of mounting federal debt, or much of anything conservatives talk about amongst themselves or to their audiences.
Were it not for Twitter CEO Elon Musk, what little information conservatives manage to get out beyond their bubble would be shut down by the social media establishment.
Consider the following. On the day after news reports of an IRS whistleblower’s allegations of potential wrongdoing concerning the Department of Justice’s handling of the Hunter Biden investigation and the revelation that Secretary of State Antony Blinken allegedly requested a letter from members of the intelligence community to label the younger Biden’s laptop “a Russian Hoax,” the daily White House briefing was devoid of questions on the two issues.
Weeks later, when the House Oversight Committee presented financial records of members of President Biden’s family and their business associates receiving over $10 million from foreign corporations linked to China and Romania using a labyrinth of corporations, a massive tree fell. But virtually no one heard it.
The three “legacy” TV networks did not cover it in their news broadcasts and mostly ignored it on their websites. But taking the old “tree falls” to a new level, The New York Times decided to ignore the tree falling and instead proclaim renewed sturdiness and growth for the tree. Their headline: “House Republican Report Finds No Evidence of Wrongdoing by President Biden.”
The selective and slanted nature of news now often starts at its initial gathering point and continues in its final presentation to a busy public, most of whom grab their news from social media and news aggregations on their smartphone. Republicans and conservatives have missed the boat in educating voters in a non-controversial and balanced manner, about the true facts and news of the day.
And consider that conservatives are routinely labeled by the mainstream press with the pejorative phrase “far-right wing” while even the most “out there” liberals are labeled the more upbeat moniker of “progressives.” Republicans haven’t even been able to address the simple matter of the lexicon used in political battle.
No Check on the Checkers…
The business of “fact checking” arose with the same foundational financial and logistical support that brings “legacy” news to us. Have you noticed how journalists, and I mean top ones, are willing to use definitive terms like “lies” and “debunked” in their description of certain people and issues rather than the more cautionary and traditional terms like “disputed” and “alleged”? That’s because the fact checkers make definitive statements that allow journalists to definitively dismiss certain matters and embrace others. While the NewsGuards and PolitiFacts of the journalistic world were being incubated and lovingly made into “institutions,” there was no formidable effort made by those who long for a more balanced media to create credible and less politicized alternatives. And that’s a fact!
Add to that “fact” the amazing coincidence that AI has burst on the consumers of news and social media just in time for what might be the most critical presidential election cycle in American history. Now facts, figures, biographies, and narratives can be gathered, edited and selectively presented to consumers who have no idea who or how their AI database or algorithms were programed or written in the first place. If those wanting a more balanced media don’t fund their own legitimate and well-funded fact-checking organizations, an entire generation will become reliant on one-sided and often extremely biased groups claiming to be the ultimate arbiters of truth.
This is the most overused word of the last three years. Everything, it seems, is deemed “an existential threat” to the world. The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard must be rolling over in his grave at the endless use of his central concept.
So let me keep Kierkegaard spinning. The failure of the GOP to flood nursing homes, bingo halls, and mortuaries (OK, that one is a joke, of a sort) in search of voters willing to cast early ballots remains, as of today, unaddressed, And it really is an “existential threat” to the Republican leaders. They must come to understand that in our post-COVID era, the rules for who votes when and where, and under the aegis of “voter outreach,” has changed forever. Democrats know how to spend buckets of money to advance what could best be termed “selective democracy.” They know just how to bump against the line of what is allowed and what is not, should anyone with any authority and objectivity care.
The GOP has only months remaining to create armies and methods to match those efforts.
If the Shoe Fits…
Republicans must wear it. In recent years Republicans have suffered from a tenuous relationship with white suburban women and younger voters. They are being made to feel guilty in the classrooms, carpool lines or suburban tennis matches that they were born white or were provided opportunities while growing up. It translates as “Republicans are the racist party” by default.
When Roe v. Wade was overturned, some Republican leaders in various states decided to up the ante on abortion laws. It’s logical for Republicans, given their position on the matter, to advance protecting unborn lives. But to do so without a massive ad and public relations outreach campaign to those essential demographic groups to explain their legislation, creates a political shoe so tight that an elephant’s foot has no prayer of fitting. Hence, a contributing factor to the massive turnout and marginal losses for Republicans in many marginal contests in 2022.
It’s the same for the issue of gun control versus gun rights. If Republicans want to continue to support a broad interpretation of the Second Amendment, they need to educate a public overwhelmed by a media that does not.
How about a massive paid ad campaign exposing voters to statistics supporting the claim that in areas where everyone is “packing heat,” so to speak, gun violence drops? If that is indeed the case, don’t just say it on conservative-leaning cable news shows, prove it to the public in well-reasoned ads with real live statistics. Ditto for the value of armed security in every school. If the evidence exists to support those concepts, why is it not front and center in ads on popular TV shows and the web? Shucking and jiving through endless mass shootings isn’t working — and is costing the GOP with younger and suburban swing voters.
The Tooth Fairy vs. the Dentist and Periodontist…
Lord knows both parties know how to pander, but Republicans let their “fiscal responsibility” stand in the way.
Democrats under Joe Biden have been described as “the Tooth Fairy,” promising outrageously massive handouts to various demographic targets with no apparent way to pay for them. Meanwhile, the Republican counter to this Democratic approach is to serve as national dentist and periodontist. Incrementally trying to fight cavities and oral decay but with nothing new to offer voters. Ask yourself “Tooth Fairy or Dentist?” Most would choose the Tooth Fairy every time!
For the sake of argument, try this idea on for size, Republicans: Propose that the government eliminate all these programs you view as needless handouts, unappreciated foreign aid and government waste.
Put it all into the Social Security “trust fund” as a sort of “matching contribution” and give seniors a real live retirement that they can live on. Instead of raising the age requirement for benefits, lower it over time! And jack those payments way up while cutting out the “left-wing woke funding” you claim to despise in order help pay for it.
No one would ever expect that from the GOP. Yet that would consolidate (and could increase) for Republicans a senior base they began to lose during the pandemic, and which continues to be problematic. Based on exit polls of battleground Senate races, increasing the GOP share of the vote among those age 55 and over is the most likely way for Republicans to expand their vote and create a true “Red Tidal Wave.”
The choice between forgiving college loans of over-educated millennials who offer little potential for significant vote gains, versus an enhancement and expansion of benefits to more senior Americans of all backgrounds, would seem to be a no-brainer. And it would put to rest the constant Democrat go-to of last-minute ads warning seniors that “Republicans want to cut your benefits.”
How about a national bonus or additional tax credit program for police and firefighters across the nation? How else are we ever going to motivate the next generation to consider taking on these increasingly dangerous and thankless jobs?
The GOP has become the party of the working person, including those who have worked hard all their lives. Why not seal the deal by promising to reward those voters and taking resources away from programs that encourage the opposite? That is exactly how Democrats under Biden are seemingly operating. They arguably penalize those who work to have good credit by rewarding those who don’t. The Green New Deal makes the future far more expensive and impracticable on the average worker while searching for ways to transfer resources to others in the name of “energy and climate equity.”
Take from one group and give to another. Republicans better learn to do it big — and soon — or they will wither as a party.
It's likely, for the GOP I know, that the shoe won’t fit their agenda either. They will deem such ideas “unworkable and fiscally irresponsible.” As if the Democrats’ “Inflation Reduction Act” was?
A Better Class of Prisoner…
In the 1960s, one governor, when asked about the sorry conditions of his state prisons, responded by saying that what the state needed was “a better class of prisoners.”
When it comes to Republican campaigns, a better class of prisoners might be called for. Or at least a truce among inmates. For decades Republican political operatives have approached one another as rival “political gangs,” more interested in capturing all the dollars from political donors and spending them through their associates and fellow “gang members,” than winning. “Diss me and my gang and we will cut funds off from your candidate.” We saw that same mentality prevail once again in 2022, and Republican candidates once again were the casualties of it.
Democrats take a different approach. They tend to work toward one common goal of winning. The spoils of victory are then rewarded after the votes are in and the political power has been gained. Of course, to be fair, Democrat “dark money” is more plentiful, and Republicans often must scrounge around for funds in order to compete.
A lot has to change in a short time period to give former President Trump or any other Republican nominee a sporting chance of winning in 2024. No GOP nominee, even Trump (who tends to pull more voters to the polls than other modern-day Republican nominees could have hoped for) cannot win if these substantial changes don’t start to take place, and rapidly.
If not, the elephant walk of 2024 could once again be one straight off the political cliff. But for this upcoming cycle, pollsters will likely be extra careful not to march off that cliff with them.