#1629 Hitting Where it Hurts in Our Era of Negative Partisanship: Messaging left-wing politics amid cultish politics (Transcript)

Air Date 5/15/2024

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JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [00:00:00] Welcome to this episode of the award winning Best of the Left Podcast in which we, in a cultish era of in-group out-group politics and media, seek to find messaging for progressive partisans to achieve electoral success. 

Sources on our front page today include The Gray Area, the PBS NewsHour, Amanpour and Company, Deep State Radio, and Future Hindsight. Then in the additional sections half of the show, we'll dive deeper into identity, political rhetoric, messaging, and those pesky independents.

Everything's a cult now - The Gray Area with Sean Illing - Air Date 4-27-24

DEREK THOMPSON: I'm not sure that I've ever been able to go deep on it. I'm very interested in, and I've always been very interested in, culture, which I suppose is worth defining. Culture is the way that we think about the world and the way that we influence each other's thoughts about the world. And that can be through entertainment, it can be through religion, it can be through fashion and [00:01:00] clothes. But it's the memes and ideas and ideologies that not only influence our own sense of reality, but other people's sense of reality.

And I've always been interested in how people's sense of reality comes to be. So you can start with the late 19th century when the concept of a national reality was first possible, at least in America. You had technologies like the telephone and the telegraph that allowed newspapers to share information and report on information that truly was national. It allowed information to travel much faster than it had ever traveled before. And so suddenly in the late 19th century, we had the possibility of a national, and even international, somewhat real time shared reality. 

And that shared reality might have come to its fullest expression maybe in the middle of the 20th century with the rise of television technology. You had just a handful of channels that were reaching tens of millions of people. And at the same time, you also had the [00:02:00] rise of national newspapers and maybe the apogee of national newspapers in terms of their ability to monopolize local advertising revenue and become just enormous machines for getting tens of millions of Americans to read about a shared reality.

And so you move from the 19th century with sort of the birth of this possibility of a shared reality into the 20th century where you really have the rise of a kind of monoculture, which was never really possible for the vast majority of human history. And what I'm interested in is the possibility that the Internet has forever shattered that reality; that we are, in a way, going back to the pre-20th century, where culture is actually just a bunch of cults stacked on top of each other, a bunch of mini local realities stacked on top of each other. And that we maybe will never have anything like monoculture ever again, because the Internet in a weird way thrusts us back into the 19th century. [00:03:00] And there's all sorts of fascinating things that can unspool from the fact that monoculture and shared reality, as we briefly came to understand it, is dead.

SEAN ILLING - HOST, THE GRAY AREA: Yeah, I think basically all of that is right. And I'm going to try to resist the temptation to start chewing on too much of it because I don't want to get ahead of ourselves here. I think it would be helpful first to also define another term that we're going to throw in a lot here. And it deserves to be defined clearly so that people know what we're talking about.

And that term is "cult." How do you define a cult? 

DEREK THOMPSON: I think of a cult as a nascent movement outside the mainstream that often criticizes the mainstream and organizes itself around the idea that the mainstream is bad or broken in some way. 

So I suppose when I think about a cult, I'm not just thinking about a [00:04:00] small movement with a lot of people who believe something fiercely. I'm also interested, especially in the modern idea of cults being oriented against the mainstream. That is, when they form, they form as a criticism of what the people in that cult understand to be the mainstream. And cults, especially when we talk about them in religion, tend to be extreme, tend to be radical, tend to have really high social cost to belonging to them.

You, today, especially in the media and entertainment space, have this really interesting popularity of new influencers or new media makers adapting as their core personality the idea that the mainstream is broken, that news is broken, that mass institutions are broken, that the elite are in [00:05:00] some way broken and elite institutions are broken.

The fragmentation of media that we're seeing, and the rise of this anti-institutional, somewhat paranoid style of understanding reality, I see these things as rising together in a way that I find very interesting. 

SEAN ILLING - HOST, THE GRAY AREA: That whole message, the "They don't want you to know the real truth," "They, the mainstream, aren't covering the real news or the real stories." What is the seductive power of that? What is the psychological reward of defining yourself against the normies in that way? 

DEREK THOMPSON: There's a lot of possible answers here, but I guess I'll start with a favorite philosophical touchstone of yours. Speaking of the 19th century, let's go to Nietzsche.


DEREK THOMPSON: I think it's about power. I think that cults, speaking of will to power, give people who feel like they don't have status or don't have power or don't have a clear understanding of or theory of the case of the world, [00:06:00] it gives them all of that. It gives them power. It gives them a kind of weapon of status, and it gives them a theory of how the world works.

If you're frustrated, for example, about COVID policies in 2020, 2021, it's not very empowering to say that nobody really understands what's going on and everyone's just doing their best in the fog of pandemic. That's not a very empowering message. It might be true. It actually is quite close to the truth, I believe, of our often failing elite institutions. But for many people, I think it is more empowering and more attractive to identify a clear nemesis. Maybe it's Fauci. Maybe it's Trump. Maybe it's someone else in the CDC or the FDA. It's much more empowering to say, I know this person is the enemy and everything that goes wrong with [00:07:00] COVID policy, I can blame it on them.

When we think about why is anti-institutional or anti-elite messaging so popular these days, I think it's hard to separate the fact that a lot of people are searching for status, searching for a sense of power and understanding and identity. And here you have the possibility of finding and settling on a message that says, I know who the good guys and the bad guys are. And once you have that clear division of who is good or who is bad, well, that goes so deeply, I think, to what makes cults so powerful. Here is your in group, and here is your in group defined by the out group. And that kind of out-group animosity not only goes aerodynamic on social media for a variety of reasons, I also think it sits very well with us when we're confused about the world and how it works. 

Examining how U.S. politics became intertwined with personal identity - PBS NewsHour - Air Date 3-8-23

CLAIRE JERRY: Every president has encountered division of some type, much of it partisan, protests, civil unrest, much of it rooted in those very things Washington was concerned about. 

JUDY WOODRUFF - REPORTER, PBS NEWSHOUR: [00:08:00] Inside the exhibit on the presidency at the National Museum of American History in Washington, curator Claire Jerry hears echoes of the divisions today in our country's past, starting with our very first president, George Washington.

CLAIRE JERRY: In his farewell address, he said he was really worried about three things for the country. He was worried about regionalism, partisanship and foreign entanglements, and especially the partisanship issue. He was not a believer in parties that would take the lead over ideas. And one of the things he says in the address is that the unity of government made us a people, and we should be justifiably proud and committed to that.

CARROLL DOHERTY: The country is more divided, certainly along partisan lines, than we've seen it. 

JUDY WOODRUFF - REPORTER, PBS NEWSHOUR: In our first story, we heard from the Pew Research Center's Carol Dougherty and Jocelyn Kiley about how divided the country has become, and how hostile members of both parties now are to the other side. 

JOCELYN KILEY: I think one way to think about this is, is that [00:09:00] people have internalized partisan identity maybe in a way that we didn't really see, say, three decades ago.

MICHELLE VITALI: I do think that things have broken down. I have neighbors that we wave to each other, and that's the extent of our relationship now. 

JUDY WOODRUFF - REPORTER, PBS NEWSHOUR: That's a feeling we've heard from our viewers too. The conversations about current events and politics have become far more divisive and personal. 

FABIAN GONZALEZ: Those items that are in the news today--COVID, immigration, politics, abortion, and the list goes on--I'm not free to speak about any of those things because I fear the consequence of a conversation I don't feel like I can have. 

KARA ELLIS: It's really hard because these are people I care about. These are people I'm close to that I've grown up with, I've lived in the same house with. The underlying current between all of us is very tense. 

SUDHANSHU MISRA: I would like to talk about politics, discuss [00:10:00] politics with my friends. I would like to share ideas, exchange notes with them. But unfortunately we are at a dead end, where there is a wall. 

LILLIANA MASON: Decades ago, we disagreed over things like the role of government or the size of government or what we wanted the government to be doing. And with those types of divisions, we can find a compromise. 

JUDY WOODRUFF - REPORTER, PBS NEWSHOUR: Lilliana Mason is a political scientist at Johns Hopkins University who draws on social psychology to try to better understand our political divisions. 

LILLIANA MASON: What we're seeing today is, is the divide is much more about our feelings about each other. We are angry at one another. Democrats and Republicans don't trust one another. We are more likely to dehumanize people in the other party. We think that they're a threat to the country. And these types of feelings are not the kind of thing we can compromise with. 

JUDY WOODRUFF - REPORTER, PBS NEWSHOUR: Mason opened her first book, Uncivil Agreement, with the story of Robber's Cave, a famous social science experiment from the [00:11:00] 1950s when researchers brought 5th grade boys to a summer camp outside Oklahoma City. The boys, all white, were separated into two teams: one calling itself the Rattlers, the other the Eagles. They were allowed to bond. And then, after a week, the groups were introduced to each other.

LILLIANA MASON: And they immediately wanted to start competing. So they wanted to have baseball games, all kinds of different kinds of competitions to prove that they were the best. So they started calling each other names. They accused each other of cheating. They tried to sabotage each other. The competition got so intense that ultimately they had to stop the experiment because they were throwing rocks and they were becoming violent.

And that experiment was used to talk about the sort of innate nature of humans to form groups, to become proud of the groups that we're in, to want our groups to be better than the people that are not in our group, and ultimately, to compete against another group if we [00:12:00] feel like they are threatening the status of our team.

JUDY WOODRUFF - REPORTER, PBS NEWSHOUR: Jumping ahead from George Washington's warning at our founding about the danger of political teams. 

FABIAN GONZALEZ: It is with pride that I face before this convention. For President of the United States, the name of Dwight David Eisenhower. 

JUDY WOODRUFF - REPORTER, PBS NEWSHOUR: To the 1950s, when our political parties were far more ideological mix than today, with conservative and liberal wings in both camps, and when someone like General Dwight Eisenhower was courted by both parties to run as their standard bearer. 

CLAIRE JERRY: Eventually, he chose a party, but yet was still elected with overwhelming support from the American people. And that would have been true, I think, regardless of which direction he had gone. 

LILLIANA MASON: In 1950, the American Political Science Association actually put out a report saying we need the parties to be more different, because people don't know which party to vote for because they can't tell the difference between them and so they can't make a responsible decision. [00:13:00] And ultimately, what they suggested was that the two parties should really stand for some very different policy ideas. 

LYNDON BAINES JOHNSON: We must not fail. Let us close the springs of racial poison.

JUDY WOODRUFF - REPORTER, PBS NEWSHOUR: In the 1960s, the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act by Democrats helped usher in a major realignment of the parties, with many Black Americans becoming Democrats, as many White Americans opposed to integration left that party. Layered on top of that broad reorganization along racial lines, the 1980s witnessed the mobilization of the socially conservative Christian Right, as well as business interests aligned with Republicans.

And eventually came the rise of partisan talk radio, cable TV news, the Internet and social media, exacerbating the divide along partisan lines. 

LILLIANA MASON: Ultimately, what ended up happening is that our [00:14:00] society changed in such a way that our parties started becoming different on their own. Not based on the policy preferences, or not only based on policy preferences, but based on what Democrats and Republicans looked like, what kind of religious services they attended, what kind of cultural television shows they watched, where they live. And so they started really becoming different from each other in a social way, not just in a sort of policy way. 

Trump’s Speech to Israel-Gaza w. Jason Stanley on the Politics of Language - Amanpour and Company - Air Date 11-16-23

HARI SREENIVASAN - REPORTER, AMANPOUR AND COMPANY: You have a new book out called The Politics of Language, and it is happening and dropping at a time when there is so much language to be discussed. My first example that I want to pull up is former president Donald Trump at a speech on Veterans Day. He said, "We pledge to you that we will root out the communists, Marxists, fascists, and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country, [00:15:00] that lie and steel and cheat on elections". But, tell me, when you see that, when you heard that, what went through your mind? 

JASON STANLEY: Okay, there's a bunch of stuff to unpack in that statement. Let's begin with "vermin" and move to the claim that Joe Biden is a Marxist and a communist, essentially. 

So, when you speak, you attune people to certain things. So you attune people to things in the world, in this case, rats, and you attune people to practices, in this case, things you do with rats. But this kind of hate speech, because that's what it is, it attunes its audience to a practice of dealing with vermin. 

The concept of genocide is complicated in this case because it's being applied to political opponents and not an ethnic group. But we have to remember that the Soviet Union [00:16:00] intervened in the definition of genocide to make sure it didn't apply to political opponents, or else Stalin would have been accused of genocide. So this is politicide, politicidal speech, and we can't forget that. 

So, now the second aspect of this is the overbroad use of Marxist and communist. That one is familiar from the well-known writings of say, Hitler , where Hitler said, essentially, any pro-democratic. person, the Social Democrats, any political opponent was a Marxist. So, this overbroad use of Marxist was used in the 1930s by the Nazi party to incarcerate anyone accused of this charge, which meant Social Democrats, the political opponents of the conservatives. And we have to remember that in the 1930s, until Kristallnacht in [00:17:00] November 1938, the people who occupied the concentration camps were Hitler's political opponents, the pro-democracy forces who he falsely labeled as Marxists. And you know, it's absurd to say that there's any kind of dramatic Marxist or communist movement in the United States today.

HARI SREENIVASAN - REPORTER, AMANPOUR AND COMPANY: What do you mean by "politicidal"? 

JASON STANLEY: "Politicidal" is targeting a class of political opponents for extermination. So, for example, in Indonesia in 1965-66, Between 500,000 and 1. 2 million communist party members were murdered by the government. That was a politicide. Stalin committed politicides against many of millions of his political, what he perceived as his political opponents. So, it's targeting political opponents rather than. ethnic or religious groups. 

HARI SREENIVASAN - REPORTER, AMANPOUR AND COMPANY: I do want to point out something else that he said later in the same speech. He said, [00:18:00] "The threat from outside forces is far less sinister, dangerous, and grave than the threat from within. Our threat is from within". What sort of actions do you think, you know, when you talk about attuning an audience, what does it do to an audience when they hear their leader say things like that? 

JASON STANLEY: So, it cleaves the audience into his supporters and the opponents. And the opponents are being said to be so destructive, such an existential threat, that nothing they say can be taken at face value. That you can't trust anything they say, because, you know, in war you can't trust your opponent, if your opponent is telling the truth in war, saying something in war, they're just doing it in order to deceive you. So, the idea here is to create a friend-enemy distinction. And, as we say in our book, the friend enemy distinction has a communicative consequence. [00:19:00] And that communicative consequence is you shut out the voices of your political opponents. So, he is trying to create a wall between Democrats and him and saying to his supporters, Look, this is not about discourse. This is about us versus them. They are an existential threat to the nation. Don't talk to them, incarcerate them. 

HARI SREENIVASAN - REPORTER, AMANPOUR AND COMPANY: So in this context, your book, your new book, The Politics of Language, you're really saying that so much of the conflicts that we are seeing around the world today have a pretty significant component, where the language used to describe them, the opponents, and the framing, either—what, is an accelerant? Or entrenches people onto one side? How would you describe it? 

JASON STANLEY: Well, as the philosopher Willard Van Orman Quine said, you know, "Everything is mixed between world and language". Separating out what language does and what [00:20:00] "world", what factuality is, is very difficult. And there's like a feedback loop, if you will, between the speech and the actions. And it's certainly the talking strengthens the background ideology, you know, you talk about vermin, you link it to say, in this case, a stolen election, and then you do a feedback loop. So, you repeat it, you link it to the background ideology. Germany in 1931, according to Claudia Kuntz, the scholar of Nazism, was the least antisemitic country in Europe. If you expected a genocide, you would have expected it, say, in France, in Western Europe that is. So, but by 1939, it's the most antisemitic country. And that's because of this kind of feedback loop, this kind of repetitive linkages between vermin and the targeted people. And then you have to link it back, as the Nazis did, they linked [00:21:00] this back to the Jews, German Jews, or the world Jewish conspiracy, supposedly betraying the Germans in World War I, which, as Timothy Snyder has pointed out, is like the current situation. They're saying that these hidden Marxist forces betrayed the country by stealing the election and we need revenge.

Hit 'Em Where It Hurts A Conversation About How Dems Can Win in November with Rachel Bitecofer - Deep State Radio - Air Date 2-8-24

DAVID ROTHKOPF - HOST, DEEP STATE RADIO: Well, you know, I say this as a compliment although it may not sound that way at first, but you've become kind of the anti-Michelle Obama because Michelle Obama is like, 'when they go low, we go high'. And you're, you know, I think your message, and I don't want to put words in your mouth, is kind of like, Well, sure, you know, own your accomplishments, but going low actually works in this environment. And by going low, I mean going negative, you know? And you explain that better than I can. So , maybe this is a time to explain. 

RACHEL BITECOFER: Yeah. [00:22:00] I mean, not to pick on Michelle Obama, because there's nothing, frankly, I mean there's a lot of things that are special about Michelle Obama, but her thought that, you know, no matter how nasty these people get, we should maintain our integrity and dignity, I would say is very reflective of the average Democrat, especially working in the industry, okay? But what I'm here to say is that when Republicans go low, we have to hit them where it hurts. Okay? And that front half of the book where I described the heuristic of partisanship, how much it matters and all the stuff that Republicans have done, and also that most voters don't pay attention. I mean, 40% of people who could have voted in 2020 didn't even bother to vote when the rest of us felt we were in this moment of existential crisis. 

So, getting people to understand, like, people don't know anything, right? So, we have to be the ones to tell them that if the Republicans are running campaigns that are... the way Republicans do persuasion is very distinct and I lay this out in the book. In 2004, they dabble in it. By 2010, they institutionalize it. They don't [00:23:00] do median voter theorem persuasion: Oh, David, you're here and here and here on policy. I am too. Vote for me. And I have a great qualification background. You can trust me. 

Republicans don't do that anymore at all. What they do in persuasion messaging is tell people the Democrats are crazy socialist and they're going to turn your boys into girls, right? Like, it's very much not selling them. It's pushing that swing bucket away from voting for us. And so that's the transition that we have to learn how to make. So, it's not just about negativity because Democrats have always run negative ads. They just never run any effective negative ads. They're always about corruption and shit that people... all voters think everybody's corrupt, number one. And also they don't see the personal effect of corruption on them. So, with the Republicans, it's not just that we're getting rid of this base message versus the persuasion message, and these two separate universes like the Republicans do, and putting in one message that both motivates the base, [00:24:00] your independents that lean with you, and pushes those swing voters away from voting Republicans. We're doing that in a way that is tying a threat to the voter, not to some other out group that they may or may not care about, because humans are wired for in-group tribalism. So, we got to hit people and tell them, you know, women, especially women in like states like California, the Republican party is going to pass a national abortion ban and leave you nowhere to run, right? Like it isn't, Hey woman in a safe blue state in a safe blue place, you should go and show up and vote because your sister in Alabama is threatened. Okay? Like, that's what the liberal, probably, the impulse would be to message on this because we care about others. And we think everyone cares about others. No one cares about others except for super duper liberals. Almost everybody is more introspective. And that's why it's not just about making the strategic pivot. It's about the type of messaging you're pushing out, making it personalized, hyperbolic, [00:25:00] not 'Republicans plan to slash social security' or 'cut social security': 'Republicans are coming to steal your retirement'. 

DAVID ROTHKOPF - HOST, DEEP STATE RADIO: Right. And that becomes strong. And also, you know, you talk about going negative as you can specifically on different candidates. You know, it strikes me though, in reading it and listening to you talk, that we've essentially entered a period, and it began with Ronald Reagan, I think, and what I consider the first 'big lie', which is government is your enemy, right? And, you know, they found that that kind of worked for reasons you've just alluded to. And we've gotten to the point, we've seen it this week as kind of the apotheosis of this, where they're actually against getting anything done. They're all about having something to run against. They're all about, you know, how are they going to be negative on the Democrats? [00:26:00] And these other issues, you know, Democrats are like, 'But we'll do your border deal. You know? 

RACHEL BITECOFER: We'll give it away, too, right? I mean, who would ever thought Democrats would ever say, we'll give you massive border security investment with no amnesty for anyone? 

DAVID ROTHKOPF - HOST, DEEP STATE RADIO: Yeah, right. And yet, because we now have a country full of people who are pro-government and anti-government and politicians who are, you know, political leaders in the traditional sense, and then a whole party of what I would call anti-politicians. You know, it's like matter and antimatter. They're out to destroy the institutions, destroy the value base underlying the institutions, attack anything. They're sort of an immune system that's gone mad, to go to a different kind of [00:27:00] metaphor, where it just will attack anything that works in the body politic.

And, so, the impulse... you know, I go to meetings with fancy Democrats in Washington and in the administration and stuff and they're like, Well, here's our agenda, and we have an agenda and they don't have an agenda. And back in the Hillary Clinton days, it was like, Well, here's a white paper and it's got 91 points in favor and they don't have that long white paper. And, to me, the sort of essential message of your book is you've got all the Democrats. The issue is how are you going to pick up any votes? And if you're going to pick up a vote, the way you've got to do it is bump them off of their candidate, move them away from it. 

RACHEL BITECOFER: Not the candidate, the party, right? But yes, the candidate is not... so like in the [00:28:00] Democratic campaigns, the candidate is alone, almost, centralized, the focal. In Republican campaigns the candidate is part of a team. That team is the Republican team. That team is good. And the opposition, no matter who they are, they could be Joe Biden, and they're going to say they, he wants to defund the police. He's a socialist and his guilt by association is that he's also a Democrat.

Employ Negative Partisanship w. Rachel Bitecofer - Future Hindsight - Air Date 3-21-24

MILA ATMOS - HOST, FUTURE HINDSIGHT: Well, I have to say, I found your book so refreshing. You don't mince words about having to go on offense to elect pro-democracy candidates. Like you just said, we just need to make sure that everybody understands what the overarching message should be for Democrats. So let's talk about the fighting words that lead to winning political power. And you just talked about how dangerous Republicans are. And we know that we need to make freedom the Democratic brand. What would be the overarching message you want all Democrats running for office to communicate this year? 

RACHEL BITECOFER: You know, with the Democratic Party, you're talking about very different party than the Republican Party. And we've [00:29:00] allowed those differences to kind of hamper our strategic changes, right? We're like, Oh, we can't do this because we're not all White people. We're not all conservatives. And I'm like, no, no, no, listen, it doesn't matter if your issue is climate change, gay rights, women's rights, whatever it might be in that Democratic coalition. It comes under the same threat from the Republican Party. So, that the threat to freedom, the threat to your 'health, wealth, freedom and security', is what I call it, it can tie into all these different constituencies within the Democratic Party and unite them under one broad theme. And so, getting people to do that is so important because when you think about Republicans, they pick something, it could be immigration, it could be crime in 2022, it was all crime. In 2021 in Virginia, Glenn Youngkin, who was the Republican candidate there, ended up kind of upsetting the Democratic front runner for the governorship. And what they did was they painted the entire election theme around some issue I [00:30:00] had never even heard of, called CRT. Okay? They take something that even me had never heard of in January of 2021 and made it the defining issue voters were telling pollsters about in the fall of 2021. And the way they did that is that they focused all of their messaging around this one thing, even though individually, the candidates probably have many different things that they're focused on. And certainly Glenn Youngkin is a business-type conservative. He would be focused on economics normally. But instead, he ran on wedging this idea that we're indoctrinating White children to feel guilty in schools. And they all amplified that message through their media, through all three of the statewide races, even though, you know, most of those things had nothing to do with CRT in school. So, getting Democrats to understand, if the electorate doesn't know anything, and our goal is to make sure they know at least one thing—your freedom's under threat—then it becomes about repetition and centralization. [00:31:00] And you need everybody pounding that same refrain over and over and over and really harping on the issue. 

MILA ATMOS - HOST, FUTURE HINDSIGHT: Well, you just mentioned about the coordinated messaging from the Republican Party up and down the entire infrastructure and how, if your a Democrat, it feels like nobody got the memo.

RACHEL BITECOFER: No doubt. And think about, like I said, you know, CRT in schools is not an issue that any of those candidates cared about, I bet you. You know, like maybe some of the deep red districts, like the true cult believers did. But most of the swing race Republicans in Virginia that cycle, if you were to ask them as candidates, what is your issue?, I am certain no one wrote CRT down. Okay? But they all understood the power of this thing that, you know, they understand ambiguity is actually an asset. With us it's like, Oh, you know, we can't call them fascist because no one knows what that is. And I'm like, no one knows what a socialist is either but after 10 [00:32:00] years of calling us that they know one thing about socialism: Democrats, it's connected to Democrats, right? So, you know, I think it's really important for us to get over this hump. It's certainly something I'm highly focused on for 2024, making sure that the Biden team's running a good message frame. They're going to be running under this banner of 'threat to democracy'. They're going to be making that threat personal and concrete, not, you know, abstract and top level, but about individual freedoms and rights that people stand to lose under this new MAGA regime that wants to come in. But the swing races for the House and the Senate also need to be pounding that they need to be really hitting the voters hard about freedom on abortion issue. That is the most salient issue. The voters are not shy about that. They're pretty clear about the power, I mean, thinking about disenfranchising half of the population, stealing a constitutional, right? I'm here to tell the male analyst and others, You don't get over it. It doesn't go away. It doesn't, you know, recede in the background. In [00:33:00] fact, as we've been subjected to headlines, coming from places like Texas ,of medical torture of women, it's going to get stronger. And that's why I push very hard for people to understand the electoral power of focusing on Dobbs and Republican big government intrusion into your private life. It's the way that you win power. If your issues, climate change or whatever else, you have the power to do the policy. But right now we like to kind of mix those two things up. You know, we're running on our favorite policy things, whether or not those are the most effective things to optimize winning. 

Everything's a cult now Part 2 - The Gray Area with Sean Illing - Air Date 4-27-24

SEAN ILLING - HOST, THE GRAY AREA: I don't want to overstate this, but is American politics just a bunch of cults now? 

DEREK THOMPSON: American politics is definitely more powered by negation than it used to be. I think for a lot of voters, the power of negative partisanship has made it easier for people to explain what it is they're against than to explain what it is that they're for.

It's fascinating to me [00:34:00] that among, say, Republicans and among Trump voters, it didn't seem to me like a lot of people that were Trump supporters had a clear theory of how, for example, he would reduce inflation. They were clearly upset about inflation, and they clearly thought that Biden was to blame for it, but when you scrutinize Trump's policies, when you look at the fact that he wants to extend tax cuts, which is somewhat inflationary, and he didn't want to cut spending in lots of places, which is inflationary, and he wanted to impose a 10 percent tariffs on imports, which is inflationary, you add it all up, and it actually seems like Trump's economic policy is more inflationary than Biden's, but this never seems to make contact with the discourse about Trump.

And part of that, I think, is the fact that politics today is more about what we oppose than what we stand for. Is there something culty about that? I think maybe. And I think it's possible that as more people get their news from sources that are [00:35:00] small pirate-like organizations that are trying to oppose the mainstream rather than define an alternative clearly, that I do think there's a cult-like mentality to that.

SEAN ILLING - HOST, THE GRAY AREA: I like this because I'm grasping for a better word than "polarized" to capture what's happened, because it's not like we're sorted into coherent ideological groups. It isn't really about ideas or arguments or policies very often. It is more that people inside these tribes or groups cannot even imagine what people outside their group are thinking or even how they're living, because we don't talk to each other, we live in different places, and a lot of our political and social lives are lived virtually. 

DEREK THOMPSON: I definitely think it's the case that identity seems more important to politics than it used to be. I remember in my [00:36:00] conversation with various sociologists and economists and anthropologists when I was doing my cult research, is that at one point I was asking them, what would it mean to you for everything to become a little bit more cultish? And one of them made the really interesting observation that we've gotten so damn good at making products with good physical attributes, at making good enough stuff, that the commercial war of the future won't be about value or quality, it'll be about identity. Are you the kind of person who buys this product, rather than, is this a product that does more for you?

When you transpose that to politics, it is at least a little illuminating, that idea that the commercial war of the future will be more about identity--who are you--than value. What can this do for you? Because that would seem to describe [00:37:00] or predict an election in the near future that is less about policy and more about, let's just say it, vibes.

And that is, in a way, the election that we're headed into. It's kind of astonishing to me how little we're hearing about policy, how little we're hearing about any kind of policy debate, how little even this election seems to be about policy at all. Like when I think about the last 20 years, I feel like there's a policy theme to almost every single election. This election clearly has an identity theme, but I'm not sure it has a policy value theme. 

SEAN ILLING - HOST, THE GRAY AREA: I don't think I'll ever be able to say politics is fully post materialist, but I have been on the vibes bandwagon for a while now. And, I co-wrote a book about the history of media and democracy a couple of years ago. And the main thing we track in that book is this pattern that recurs throughout [00:38:00] time, whenever there's a revolution in communication technology, it is hugely disruptive to society in lots of unpredictable ways. I mean, you were talking about the phone and the telegraph earlier, but the thing about newer technologies like radio and TV, for instance, is that they really helped create something like a mass culture. The public was more or less watching the same movie we call reality. And for all the downsides of that, and there were many, it did have the benefit of grounding society in a shared reality. Do you think of that loss as a genuine cultural and political crisis? Or is it possible that it's just another period of technological change, not that different from earlier periods, and we'll figure it out? 

DEREK THOMPSON: I do think that in so many ways, we're just going back to the middle of the 19th century. We're going back to the historical norm, rather than being flung into the exosphere, [00:39:00] into some unprecedented state of popular discombobulation. The idea that a shared reality, a shared national reality, in real time is even possible is so historically young.

Just one quick aside: I was doing some reporting for the book that I'm writing right now and saw in an Eric Hobsbawm book called The Age of Revolutions that when the Bastille fell in 1789, a canton 30 minutes away from Paris didn't realize the French Revolution had happened for a full month. That was the speed at which information used to travel. It was the speed at which a man could ride a horse or walk next to his horse. You need a whiz-bang technology that can somehow transmit at something like the speed of light, certainly one would hope the speed of sound, information across vast distances. You only had that with the invention of the telegram and the telephone and then later radio.

[00:40:00] So I think if you want to know where we're going, look where we came from. In the 19th century, of course, we had lots of chaos, but we also had an American democracy for decades and decades. So it's not obvious to me that the erosion of the monoculture or the erosion of the news mainstream is anathema to American democracy. But I do think that it probably shatters the very brief dream of everyone getting together and sitting down on a couch and watching the same Walter Cronkite Hour. I mean, that is never coming back. And whatever benefits and drawbacks of that world--and there are drawbacks of having the news be controlled by a handful of, in all likelihood, white men who probably lived on the coast and therefore had a very pinched view of what was important in the world--there are drawbacks of that world. But we're never getting it back. There's no putting the software [00:41:00] genie back in its box.

Hit 'Em Where It Hurts A Conversation About How Dems Can Win in November with Rachel Bitecofer Part 2 - Deep State Radio - Air Date 2-8-24

DAVID ROTHKOPF - HOST, DEEP STATE RADIO: You actually said it In two different ways here and slightly contradictory, although I don't think it is and that is, you talk about democracy, you talk about dictatorship, and those sound like kind of big highfalutin ideas. Now, the fact that Trump wants to be a dictator should never be normalized. And Biden and Harris and everybody else should be running against that. But what I've seen, and I'm a part of the group that actually thinks Kamala Harris is extremely effective, and what I've seen in her on the road. 

When she is effective is she's going in and saying, "you're a woman. They're taking away a fundamental right of yours." And when you go into another group and you say, "you want to marry who you choose, they're not going to let you marry who you choose". We can break it down, and should break it down, into the rights that are going to [00:42:00] go away. In the middle of this election year, quite apart from all the trials and everything else... And I'm very grateful for your existence on Twitter because you're one of those people who I find shares my breakdowns. You and I both simultaneously had a, "Clarence Thomas is kicking off this hearing today," moment, which is kind of like, what the fuck? 

But it seems to me the more specific you can make the fear with the audience, the more you can say, because that's what happened a lot of women. They were like, well, what could go wrong? And then all of a sudden, they no longer controlled their rights. And so a bunch of suburban women and a bunch of people who supported Trump in 2016 said no more. And every single one of the polling events that's taken place since then, the Democrats have outperformed by 5, 6, or 7% because those people said, "Oh, my God. Now I see." Isn't that poor? 

RACHEL BITECOFER: That's exactly it. I [00:43:00] don't know, maybe I'm not a very literal person now that I've raised an autistic child. I understand how some people are very literal about language, okay. So when the Biden campaign says they're going to run on a democracy theme, that doesn't mean they're going to talk about democracy in an abstract concept. It definitely means, as you're seeing with the stump stuff from Kamala Harris, it's about taking that to be concrete, and I acknowledge in the book, the strategic shift with the party starts in time for 2022 and help blunt that red wave. 

But I say in the book, we could have done these things though, without the issue of Dobbs repeal to make what it means to lose freedom, the threat of freedom from the Republican party, from an abstract concept or threat to an actual tangible concrete, like a DAC, it was the, literally the manna from heaven. If they wanted to seize power and put in an autocracy, the worst thing that could have happened to them was Dobbs, because it has allowed us to define what it [00:44:00] means to lose freedom.

And so we talk about Roe if you saw my Twitter, you probably know all through '22 since Roe repeal, I'd be like, you must wedge Roe, Roe, Roe, Roe, Roe, and not to find it about choice and reproductive freedom and women's healthcare, okay. Whoopty shit, no. Describe it as freedom. These big government Republicans, cause Republicans primed the pump for us for 50 years, turning people against the government. We might as well use that brand against them and make people afraid of a Republican in your bedroom, making decisions on whether you're going to live or die. And it has to be that kind of messaging, not stuff about women in red states, not stuff about poor women, because yes, they're going to suffer the most guys, but where we should represent,people who are most vulnerable and most marginalized in the society, like trans people, is not in our messaging to win [00:45:00] elections okay. That is that's cross purpose. We should be designing messaging that does the job of moving voters to the polls for us and making sure they don't vote for Republicans, and if that's best done, it's focused, very laser like on Dobbs repeal and and los of freedom, to describe threat to democracy and make that tangible, then that is how you do it.

To me, when you look in a layout in the midterms, the places that ran this new strategy, Michigan, Arizona, how great those candidates did, and then I lay out the old school strategy, it's nothing new about it was ran in 2010 by Democrats, 2014, 2018, 2016, whatever. It is the sell the candidate, "I'm not one of those Democrats. I'm bipartisan. I'm moderate. Look at my biography," And they all got hammered. And not only did they lose David, they all lost to MAGA extremist, to JD dance, who's like an out and out fascist. So [00:46:00] those voters obviously never got the message that they're facing an extremism threat from the Republican party. They are not going to know that when many people, all they know about Republicans right now, they know Trump, but they think Republican, they think good for the economy, good on national defense. That's all they know. They don't know who any political politicians are. 

DAVID ROTHKOPF - HOST, DEEP STATE RADIO: Quite apart from the fact that both of those things are not only demonstrably wrong...

RACHEL BITECOFER: Definitely demonstrably wrong. 


RACHEL BITECOFER: You can see this in polling data. Just last week, I was watching them report on like, look at this advantage Trump has on the economy. Well, that's issue ownership, okay. And so if we want people to know that the Republican party is an extremist cult, because we know it and we see it, we're going to have to bring in those people who are not looking at any of this and make sure they know it. And everywhere they ran on that, defining the Republican as an extremist, as a threat to people's freedom, we cleaned it up. And if we can [00:47:00] put that into the swing map, from the state legislative races on up to the House, to the Senate, to the governor, to the presidency in 2024, we might just be able to save ourselves.

Employ Negative Partisanship w. Rachel Bitecofer Part 2 - Future Hindsight - Air Date 3-21-24

MILA ATMOS - HOST, FUTURE HINDSIGHT: I always ask this question towards the end of our conversation, what are two things an everyday do to have better tools in their civic action toolkit? And in this case, I'm curious what an everyday person can do to turn the tide on the fundamental lack of interest in politics and democracy and to help establish a healthy civic culture. And I know it's a little bit out of left field because we just talked about messaging, but I kind of feel like if we had more people interested, we would have a different kind of politics. 

RACHEL BITECOFER: Oh, we certainly would. So I talk about it in terms of climate change and wildfire. Right now we have a wildfire. It is threatening to burn us all down in November. We have to put this wildfire out, and the only way to do so is to beat it electorally, and beat it big. But, at the end of the [00:48:00] day, we still have climate change. So, at that point, it comes into what you're asking me about, how do we fix this and what can individual people do?

So in terms of putting out the wildfire, every single person who hears my voice is an influencer. It doesn't matter if you have 165,000 followers on Twitter or 100, you're still influencing people. And you're also influencing your personal network. And you know people like this. I have friends that vote, but they don't really follow anything. We have to make them look. We have to make Americans eat their civic vegetables. They're not going to watch news, so then our job is then to inform our friends, the people on our timelines, using those communication tools intentionally to make sure people hear about the threat to democracy. 

It can be very hard to talk about. So I'm so proud that Biden's willing to talk about fascism that some of our country's most notable historians have been very, very vocal about the similarities between the modern Republican Party and a [00:49:00] fascist movement. And I think it's important that people get over their fear of looking silly and start to explain to people what's happening within the Republican Party and what their plans are for America starting in 2025. They aren't shy about it. They wrote a whole manual from the Heritage Foundation for a transition into autocracy. It's called Project 2025, The Manual for Leadership. They're hiring young conservatives into a data bank that they plan to On replacing all of our career merit based civil service employees with they want to purge out the civil service. And once they do that stuff, they'll be able to consolidate power. 

So it really is time to panic. If we panic now, we might be able to prevent democratic progress. catastrophe. If we wait until the democratic catastrophe is obvious to everyone, the lesson I learned from three years of studying the rise of the Nazis and other totalitarian regimes is that it's too late.

You have to panic in advance. Very hard for humans to do, so it really takes [00:50:00] everybody influencing their own sphere of influence. People are much more likely to trust people they know or are related to, so please use your own personal networks and make sure every voter that you can shows up to vote on election day and votes a full D for democracy ticket.

MILA ATMOS - HOST, FUTURE HINDSIGHT: Yeah. Here, here. Good advice. You're so passionate. I love it. 

So looking into the future, what makes you hopeful? 

RACHEL BITECOFER: Whoo. Election results keep making me hopeful. I say in the book, I'm just part of a bunch of people who are pushing the messaging strategic machine forward. But we could have done all that work and, without the Dobbs repeal, I don't know that it would have still had the same effect in thwarting the red wave. So what makes me hopeful is this, we didn't run perfect strategy in 2022 everywhere, and we still did okay. What gives me hope is that we're going to have good strategy across the board in 2024. We're going to repudiate [00:51:00] fascism at the ballot box. We're going to force the Republican party to finally splinter, fall apart. 

It needs to do something because it used to be like our party, 70 percent establishment, 30 percent progressive base type person. And in the Republican party that has flipped in 10 years. It is now majority base controlled, and that is why, even with Mike Johnson, he can go one day killing border security for them and giving Ukraine to Putin, but the next day, if he doesn't tow the line on a Mayorkas impeachment vote or whatever, MAGA is right after him, threatening to vacate him. 

You don't want to be in a position where you have radicals in charge of your party. And unfortunately, the Republican Party has put us all in that position. So what gives me hope is that we'll win in 2024. We have to win the presidency or I think the changes that are going to come are gonna be fast and furious to our how we operate in the U.S. 

Parchment only helps us if people are [00:52:00] willing to abide by it, and unfortunately, all it takes is the willingness to say I'm suspending the Constitution and a party willing to stand by and let him do it. And I think the Republican Party has demonstrated, especially with the reaction to Jan 6, that they are just the kind of party that would be willing to stand by and let somebody do that.

So it gives me hope that we're going to win in 2024 and that that will give us some momentum to start fixing our civic culture. Our civic culture has to be fixed. We cannot go on with a population that is too dumb for democracy. 

Summary 5-14-24

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips, starting with The Gray Area, discussing the nature and cultural impact of cults. The PBS NewsHour laid out the history of how we came to our polarized political era. Amanpour and Company featured Jason Stanley explaining Trump's politicidal rhetoric. Deep State Radio looked into the messaging differences between Republicans and [00:53:00] Democrats. Future Hindsight highlighted the pitch for the left unifying under a message of freedom. The Gray Area discussed our politics through the lens of cults. Deep State Radio looked at the messaging of freedom through the loss of abortion rights. And Future Hindsight finished off with a call to action to amplify the influence of this messaging. And that's just the front page. 

There's a lot more to dive into in the additional sections half of this audio newspaper, but first, a reminder that the show is supported by members who get access to bonus episodes, featuring the production crew here, discussing all manner of important and interesting topics, often trying to make each other laugh in the process. To support our work and have those bonus episodes delivered seamlessly to the new members-only podcast feed that you'll receive, sign up to support the show at bestoftheleft.com/support, there's a link in the show notes, through our Patreon page if you prefer, or from right inside the Apple Podcast app. And if a regular membership isn't in the cards for you, [00:54:00] shoot me an email requesting a financial hardship membership, because we don't let a lack of funds stand in the way of hearing more information. 

And now we'll hear from you.

Thoughts on future elections - Craig from Ohio

VOICEMAILER CRAIG FROM OHIO: Hey, Jay! and Best of the Left, this is Craig from Ohio, and I just listened to the episode about inequality and taxation. And at the end, the subject that has been on my mind a great deal lately, as it has Nick's and yours, of the election in November for President. I thought of three additional things to add that, like I said, have been on my mind.

One is that, if Biden is reelected, it will effectively end this generation of leaders. I mean, of course, they've been on the stage for way too long, but Biden will be done. Trump will be done, gone forever from our having to worry about him or think about him ever again. But also, The generation of liberals that Joe Biden has worked with [00:55:00] represents, they're just going to be moving along.

So that leaves us with room for a much better candidate, possibly in 2028, which is in danger if Trump and the Republicans are returned to power. We may not have an option for a robust primary that a Democrat can win in 2028, and one candidate that I am certainly intrigued at the possibility of having as president would be Shawn Fain. I think it would be fantastic to have a labor leader in the highest seat of power. So that would remain a possibility if Trump is defeated. 

And then lastly, the people that are, of course, I understand, furious about the genocide in Israel. If voting against Biden to punish him and the Democrats would at the same time be rewarding the far right wing in Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu and the rest of the right wingers would love to have an authoritarian [00:56:00] autocrat in the United States to back up all of their desires to completely remove Palestinians from that territory.

So that was it. Wanted to add those three things. Thanks for everything. Still love the show, as always. Bye bye.

Note from the Editor on the importance of finding common-but-adaptable messaging for the Left

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Now, before we continue onto the sections half of the show, I have just a few thoughts. Thanks to Craig who dialed (202) 999-3991 to leave that message. It's not often you get to hear someone taking the time to look far enough into the future to see hope on the political horizon regarding the inevitable turn of the generational wheel in party leadership. As for the rest of the conversation today, discussions around political messaging always remind me of something that I heard shockingly long ago now, but that has always stuck with me. 

If I'm still remembering correctly, which is highly questionable, a Clinton advisor turned media pundant Paul Begala was making a similar argument about the need for Democrats to get on the same page, [00:57:00] read from the same set of talking points, even he said, if they were ever going to get through to voters in a strong and consistent way. But then, the host of the show that he was commenting on, asked Begala if he himself would be willing to follow talking points provided to him by the party and he said, no. He felt that it would be too important for him to be able to say exactly what it was that he thinks rather than to follow the party line, which is not surprising. 

Democrats have always been that way, which is why they've never been particularly good at following talking points, and their messaging is never super consistent. It's something that I list as a positive attribute that makes me like the left more, but it's definitely a negative attribute in terms of presenting a clear argument to voters of what the more left of the two parties actually stands for. 

So considering the daily talking points probably won't ever work for the Democrats. I really like the idea of developing communication [00:58:00] strategies that individual politicians and pundits would actually want to voluntarily adopt and tweak to make their own. That's why having an umbrella theme like "Republicans take away freedom" is a good starting point. From which everyone can adapt their own messaging for the issue that they are focusing on. 

There's more on all of this coming up. In the show notes, you'll find timestamps for easy navigation to each topic section. In addition to the timestamped members also enjoy the use of full chapter marker support. For non-members, due to the nature of podcast ads, and this is completely outside my control. Timestamps are more approximate than they are exact. If it's ever possible to make it work better, I certainly will. And now we'll continue with the rest of the show. 

Next up, Section A - Identity in Media and Politics. Section B - Political Rhetoric and Action. Section C - The Power of Messaging. And Section D - Independents and Low-Information Voters.

SECTION A: IDENTITYEverything's a cult now Part 3 - The Gray Area with Sean Illing - Air Date 4-27-24

SEAN ILLING - HOST, THE GRAY AREA: The sort [00:59:00] of super abundance of these cults or micro cults or whatever you want to call them online really is fascinating to me. You know, I'm not on TikTok. I use YouTube, but you know, it's mostly for videos that show me how to remove the muffler from my motorcycle or change a diaper with one hand or something like that, you know, but it does seem genuinely new to have these super powerful affinity groups in YouTube and TikTok organized around people almost no one outside of those groups have ever even heard of.

I still don't know what the hell Mr. Beast is, but he appears to have like 10 trillion followers and probably half a billion dollars at this point. That is a new thing. 

DEREK THOMPSON: I do think it's a new thing. And I also agree that this kind of fragmentation of culture has no rewind button on it. It is only going to go forward.

I suppose it's like time itself. I would ask you a question, though, Sean. What do you think is the difference between a [01:00:00] cult and a fandom? Interesting question. Because as you think about it, I think some of these things that we're talking about. a person who loves Taylor Swift and buys Taylor Swift water mugs and Taylor Swift t shirts and Taylor Swift sweatpants.

These people are not members of a Taylor Swift cult. They're not going to sacrifice themselves for Taylor Swift, at least the vast majority of them, I suppose, are not. They really, really like her, the same way that people really, really like the Beatles. The same way that, actually, in the 19th century, Lisztomania, not just a great song by Phoenix, I believe it was also a crazy fandom about The piano player and composer Liszt.

People were just obsessed with how wonderful he was on the keys and so Lisztamania became a thing in Europe. Dramatic fandoms, I think, are actually Rather old, and they [01:01:00] are old and distinct from what I would think of as cults. When I think about a cult, I think what's very important about the definition of cult that I have in my head is that cults aren't just for something.

They are against something. They are small, anti mainstream groups that are for something. a raid around a set of rules that organize themselves to oppose the mainstream. So the reason I think that it makes more sense to think about Tucker Carlson's fandom as being inculted rather than Taylor Swift's is that Taylor Swift is not asking her music listeners to not listen to Olivia Rodrigo.

She's just like, here I am. I'm at a concert, pay a thousand dollars to see it. Whereas Tucker Carlson is very dramatically And very explicitly trying to make his followers distrust the mainstream media. And that I [01:02:00] find interesting and more cult like than I find a phenomenon like Taylor Swift. 

SEAN ILLING - HOST, THE GRAY AREA: Yeah, that's interesting.

So in some ways you make that shift from fandom to cult member when Your identity or membership in that group is defined by a negation when you're defined by what you are not by what you stand against. 

DEREK THOMPSON: That's right. And the last that I would add is that I think in terms of the classic definition of cult is that when you think about cults in terrorism or in the military or the mafia or crime gangs or in religion, there tends to be what I suppose an economist would call costly.

The signaling. That is, it costs something to be in that group. And I don't think it costs a whole lot to be a Taylor Swift fan, just as it didn't cost a whole lot to be a Beatles fan. But I do think it is costly, for example, to refuse to take a vaccine and harbor and espouse a conspiracy theory about it, [01:03:00] especially when people around you think that you're crazy.

Right? That seems to be more costly, in terms of costly signaling, than just being a fan of a popular artist.

Examining how U.S. politics became intertwined with personal identity Part 2 - PBS NewsHour - Air Date 3-8-23

JUDY WOODRUFF - REPORTER, PBS NEWSHOUR: Lilliana Mason argues that this stacking of identities on top of one another into what she calls a mega identity has reinforced our basic human instinct for inclusion and exclusion, and that that helps explain the tribal politics we see today.

MICHELLE VITALI: I was a practicing Catholic for most of the years that I lived here, and I just didn't Needed to bow out completely, um, because I don't understand where, um, this sort of militancy is coming from. And in fact, um, it seems to have been created out of whole cloth in order to get people to show up at the polls, show up at events, show up at March for Life in Washington or whatever the cause may be.

EDWARD JACACK: Everything from dating sites, right? I, uh, have been single through, uh, a lot of this Trump era and the first line in the dating sites, no Trump or no Trump or no Trump. I get it. But [01:04:00] probably you and I, and by the way, I'm not a Trumper, but you and I could probably agree upon 70 percent of how society works and the things we go ahead and want.

FABIAN GONZALEZ: Whereas before we are Americans, we're going to make us win. And now it's going like, no, it's about this little faction of. Political idealism, and my side is right and your side is wrong, and there ain't no Miller. 

LILLIANA MASON: Not that we've never had partisan animosity. The difference is that now, because of our sort of progress in terms of civil rights, not just for black Americans, but for all Americans who have previously been marginalized, including women, is that we have associated the two parties with different sides of that story.

Essentially the left is now taking the position of we want a fully egalitarian, pluralistic, multi ethnic democracy. We've never fully had it, but we want to make it happen. And what Trump has been saying, right, make America great again, is the definition of going back in [01:05:00] time. And so there is this conflict between do we want to move forward or do we want to move backward?

That means that every time we have an election, And an election is basically a status competition, right? There's a winner and a loser. Rather than it's just being our party that wins or loses, now it feels like our racial group and our religious group and our cultural group is also winning or losing. So that makes the stakes feel a lot higher to us on a psychological level.

We don't have a place to go together, right? That's much more of a tug of war rather than a negotiation. 

JUDY WOODRUFF - REPORTER, PBS NEWSHOUR: Back in a storage room inside the museum, among collections of presidential fine china, History that is not yet fully written or understood. 

CLAIRE JERRY: We're always looking for what sort of says the moment, um, and these two slogans certainly say the moment of January 6th.

JUDY WOODRUFF - REPORTER, PBS NEWSHOUR: Signs collected after the insurrection of January 6th. When supporters of President Trump attempted to stop the transfer of Power, Mason's [01:06:00] most recent book predicts that our divides today over our identities and competing visions for the country's future will likely lead to more political violence, but that it's all ultimately up to our leaders.

LILLIANA MASON: People listen to leaders. We've run some experiments where we've had people read messages from Joe Biden and Donald Trump, for example. A message that tells them violence is never okay. We should never engage in violence. When people read that message, they become less approving of violence. Our leaders are able to guide their followers toward violence or away from violence.

Whether or not they encourage their supporters to engage in violence is actually up to them. And our future is going to depend on that outcome. 


JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Now entering section B political rhetoric inaction.

'Hit 'Em Where It Hurts' urges Dems to go on the attack against Republicans - MSNBC - Air Date 2-7-24

JOHNATHAN LEMIRE - CONTRIBUTOR, MSNBC: We can take down the list here. Some of them we played the ads, whether it was Governor Shapiro in Pennsylvania, Senator Fetterman there, Governor Whitmer, Senator Kelly. These are examples of 2022 of Democrats who effectively used these sort of negative partisanship.

And part of that though, and this would be applicable to this [01:07:00] presidential campaign as well, because you write That is really hard to sell legislation to voters to convince them, Hey, we did good things were helping your lives. And that's something that this president has had a problem with. His legislative record is, is by any measure robust, yet he seems to be getting no credit for it.

And his approval ratings are low. 

RACHEL BITECOFER: Exactly. So, you know, I mean, there's a. It's a strong movement in the party to do more credit claiming and I get that and I think it's important. But at the end of the day, it's about the contrast, right? So it's not just that he gave seniors 35 insulin. It's that every single mega extremist Republican that branding phrase, even though it's a mouthful, I say it every time extremist Republican or mega extremist or whatever it is with the candidates name so that I can brand them.

That's why it's so important to do that. You have to make sure that you're, you know, reiterating it over and over and repeating it. 

WILLIE GEIST - HOST, MORNING JOE: Claire and Republicans certainly giving Democrats a lot to work with of negative partisanship with candidates like Herschel Walker and Dr. Oz and Carrie Lake and Blake Masters and Mark Fincham and the list goes on and on and on.[01:08:00] 

CLAIRE MCCASKILL: Yeah. So, um, speaking of those candidates, I think we are ignoring at our peril to important Senate races this year because everybody needs to understand something. We do not control the Senate unless we win either Florida or Texas. It doesn't happen. So let's talk about going after Rick Scott and Ted Cruz.

You talk about a field that is full of flowers to pick in terms of contrast. What about that, Rachel? What, how, how aggressively can we go after these two guys in order to hold on to the Senate, which is so important to this country? 

RACHEL BITECOFER: Oh, Claire. I'm so glad you're highlighting that because it's the truth.

Either Texas or Florida will have to place replace our West Virginia and potentially this three way race in Arizona. So it's a must win situation. And when you think about someone like Rick Scott, I mean, this is a man that has proposed eliminating social security and medicare, a 5000 tax 5, 000 yearly tax on middle class families.

And [01:09:00] he's got the charisma of like a piece of dead wood, right? So we should be able to go against him. My, my, my fear is that if I was running the Florida Senate strategy, instead of trying to focus, I mean, you have to do the bio ads and all of that, but most of the money is going to be spent defining Rick Scott as an extremist who's going to steal your freedom.

or your retirement. And, you know, if you run a campaign against Rick Scott, it's a far easier likelihood to pick that seat up than if we're trying to do the old strategy of biography and and bipartisanship messaging. 

'Our message resonated with voters' Democrat wins Alabama special election- Morning Joe - Air Date 3-28-24


MARILYN LANDS: My baby had, you know, um, an underdeveloped brain, a heart, lungs, kidneys, you know, just complete organ devastation. And the baby would not survive. When I heard the news, when, when we really understood the full impact of the news, um, I just, I mean, the rug had been pulled out. from underneath us and, um, I, I, I [01:10:00] just couldn't imagine how this could have happened.

Um, and I cried for days, you know, as we were trying to sort everything out. Um, it just,

it seemed so unfair.

The doctors all advised that I terminate the pregnancy. All three doctors said, this is absolutely what you need to do. Your health is at risk because these babies often don't even survive. and can die in, in utero. But this isn't just my story. This is our story. It's the story of thousands of women every year who must grapple with non viable pregnancies and potentially fatal complications.

It's the story of tens of thousands of families who cannot afford to travel hundreds of miles to get the care they need. And it's the story of millions of women who live in places [01:11:00] where MAGA extremists are devising new and cruel ways to further erode our most basic freedoms. These men do not understand or care about women's health, but I do.

MIKA BRZEZINSKI - CO-HOST, MORNING JOE: That was, uh, newly sworn in, now Alabama State Representative Marilyn Lanz, telling her heartbreaking abortion story. Lanz flipped Alabama's 10th district for Democrats this week, running on a platform of repealing her state's restrictive abortion law and protecting access to IVF. And she joins us now. Uh, I'll bring in for this interview also NBC News political analyst, former U.

S. Senator Claire McCaskill, also with us for this conversation. So, congratulations on, on your race, um, and, and Ms. Lanz, a lot of people are looking at the results, um, in your race as an indication To what to come, [01:12:00] uh, what's to come for Republicans, uh, given their very, uh, extreme views on women's health care and being the why in what drew people to the polls to vote for you.

Do you agree with that in terms of the outcome? 

MARILYN LANDS: Absolutely. And, um, one of the things that that we saw and observed at the precincts that day was more women were voting than normal. So, I think we really, our message resonated with voters, and they were very motivated to come out and vote in this special election, which has notoriously low turnout rates, but we did much better than we expected.

MIKA BRZEZINSKI - CO-HOST, MORNING JOE: Did you get feedback personally, anecdotally on a local level, um, for sharing your story? Um, such a deeply personal and, and a devastating story. 

MARILYN LANDS: And because of it, I heard so many other stories. I was really blown away [01:13:00] by the amount of women and families that shared their, their own stories of heartbreak and struggles.


Watch VP Harris slams Trump in Arizona over battle for abortion access - MSNBC - Air Date 4-12-24


This fight is about freedom. This fight is about freedom. And the freedom that is fundamental to the promise of America. The promise of America is a promise of freedom. In America, freedom is not to be given. It is not to be bestowed. It is ours by right. And that includes the freedom to make decisions about one's own body and not have the government telling people what to do.

However, as we know, almost two years ago, the highest court in our land, the court of Thurgood and RBG, took a constitutional right that had been recognized as [01:14:00] From the people of America, from the women of America, and now in states across our country, extremists have proposed and passed laws that criminalize doctors and punish women.

Laws that threaten doctors and nurses with prison time, even for life, simply for providing reproductive care. And then just this week, here in Arizona, They have turned back the clock to the 1800s to take away a woman's most fundamental right, the right to make decisions about her own body. This decision by the Arizona State Supreme Court now means women here, the women here, live under one of the most extreme abortion bans in our nation.

No exception for rape or [01:15:00] incest, prison time for doctors and nurses, and abortion made illegal before most women even know they're pregnant. The overturning of Roe was, without any question, a seismic event, and this ban here in Arizona is one of the biggest aftershocks yet.

This law was passed in the 1800s before Arizona was even a state, before women could even vote. What has happened here in Arizona is a new inflection point. It has demonstrated once and for all that overturning Roe was just the opening act, just the opening act of a larger strategy. To take women's rights and freedoms part [01:16:00] of a full on attack, state by state, on reproductive freedom.

And, and we all must understand who is to blame. Former President Donald Trump did this. During his campaign in 2016, Donald Trump said women should be punished for seeking an abortion. Don't forget that. He said women should be punished. As President Donald Trump hand picked Three members of the United States Supreme Court, because he intended, intended for them to overturn Roe, and as he intended, they did.

And now, because of Donald Trump, more than 20 states in our nation have bans. Now, because of Donald Trump, one in three women of reproductive age in our country live in a state [01:17:00] that has a Trump abortion ban. And let us understand the impact of these Trump abortion bans, the horrific reality that women face every single day now in our country.

Because since Roe was overturned, we all know the stories, and I'll tell you, I have met women who were refused care during a miscarriage. I met a woman who went to the emergency room and was turned away repeatedly because the doctors were afraid they might be thrown in jail. I For helping her and it was only when she developed sepsis that she received care I visited a clinic in Minnesota and met with courageous Dedicated medical professionals who see clinics like theirs forced to close denying women across our country access to essential and life saving [01:18:00] care breast cancer screenings Contra sap is contraceptive care paps Donald Trump is the architect of this healthcare crisis.

And that is not a fact, by the way, that he hides. In fact, he brags about it. Just this week, he said that he is, quote, proudly the person responsible for overturning Roe. Proudly responsible for the pain and suffering of millions of women and families. Proudly responsible that he took your freedoms and just minutes ago standing beside Speaker Johnson, Donald Trump just said the collection of state bans is quote working the way it is supposed to[01:19:00] 

and as much harm as he has already caused a second Trump term would be even worse. Donald Trump's friends in the United States Congress are trying to pass a national ban. And understand, a national ban would outlaw abortion in every state. Even states like New York and California. And now, Trump wants us to believe he will not.

Sign a national ban. Enough with the gaslighting. Enough with the gaslighting.

We all know if Donald Trump gets the chance, he will sign a national abortion ban. And how do we know? Just look at his record. Just look at the facts. Y'all know I'm a former prosecutor. Just look at the facts. Congress [01:20:00] tried to pass a national abortion ban in 2017, and the then president Trump endorsed it and promised to sign it if it got on his desk.

Well, the great Maya Angelou once said, when someone tells you who they are, believe them the first time. Donald Trump has told us who he is. And notice that Team Trump have an additional plan to attack reproductive freedom, a plan that they intend to implement on day one, even without Congress. They want to use another law from the 1800s, it's called the Comstock Act, to ban medication across all 50 states, no matter if it's currently legal or not.

So here's what a second Trump term looks like. [01:21:00] More bans, more suffering, and less freedom. Just like he did in Arizona, he basically wants to take America back to the 1800s. But we are not going to let that happen,

because here's the deal. This is 2024, not the 1800s, and we're not going back. We are not going back.

Joe Biden and I trust women to know what is in their own best interest. And women trust all of us to fight to protect their most fundamental freedoms. So Arizona, this [01:22:00] November, up and down the ballot, reproductive freedom is at stake. And you have the power to do it. to protect it with your vote. It is your power.


JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: You've reached section C the power of messaging.

Employ Negative Partisanship w. Rachel Bitecofer Part 3 - Future Hindsight - Air Date 3-21-24

MILA ATMOS - HOST, FUTURE HINDSIGHT: Let's go back to the immigration bit because we're in the wake of the second and now successful vote to impeach Secretary Mallorca's and before his hearing, he submitted this multi page letter, which I doubt anybody read, but I, I read it.

It was very reasonable, you know, but it's also sort of like this whole age old thing that Democrats do. They rebut with the facts, you know, snooze, boring, or try to persuade with the logic of a policy prescription. Also boring. Nobody cares. Like you said. So what could the secretary have said in these hearings?

Because I feel like it's really just political theater and still nobody's understanding that this is what this [01:23:00] is. In your mind, if you had been in his ear, what would you have whispered? 

RACHEL BITECOFER: I think it's very important that we define it as Trump wants the border open, right? He's the one that killed border security.

So every time they bring up the word immigration, the strategic objective of Biden or anybody else that's opening their mouth should be to get the sentence across Donald Trump killed bipartisan border security. If you read the front half of this book, you're polling data, understanding polling data is going to improve a lot because you're going to understand how is it that Donald Trump Issues and a public edict vote.

No, kill this bill. And yet when we poll people, why did border security fail? More people say it's Biden's fault than Donald Trump, right? The reason is, is that no one knows that. And so it's our job to make sure that the voter hears Donald Trump killed border security. And so we need the politicians to say that sentence in whatever else they're going to say on the [01:24:00] issue.

They need to make that point clear. Um, and I think it's important for us to be clear, Donald Trump just killed border security because we need the public to know. And the reason that the obstruction strategy has worked so good for them, and they started the strategy, by the way, in 2010, it was an articulated strategy when they were out in the wilderness.

I mean, in 2009, the conversation was after the Iraq war debacle and the Great Recession was the Republican Party going to be DOA in terms of Congress and the Senate for a decade. because of how bad the brand took a hit. And within a year, Michael Steele's picking up 63 house seats for the Republican Party, right?

I was like, okay, I got to understand how that happens. And you know, at the end of the day, how it happens is that Republicans understand how to obstruct and then use public civic illiteracy to make it look like the president's inept. Do you see what I'm saying? So like they're able to say Biden wants open [01:25:00] borders, and they know that most of the public's not going to know that they just had the best chance they've had in four decades, the most conservative border security bill.

This is the third time that they've killed comprehensive border security, by the way, since 2006. John McCain, voted against his own bill, just like Linkford did with his, right? In 2006, because he wanted to be the Republican nominee in 2008, and that was when the party first started to radicalize on abortion.

In 2013, same issue, the Senate passes a bipartisan bill over the filibuster, so hard to do, send it to the House where Republicans have complete and total control, because the majority party Rules the roost in the house. The minority party has literally no power, and they killed the bill then, and now they've just done the same thing.

And yet, when you ask people, why didn't border security happen with Obama, it's, even in the left, even amongst activists who are not normal people, they are much more likely to blame it on Obama. Then on John Boehner. Okay, [01:26:00] so we have to make sure that we're assigning blame, taking credit. If you're a senator and you're excited about 35 insulin, good.

Let's say, hey, Democrats got you insulin. All the Republicans voted against it. Our brand up, their brand down. We're credit claiming because people like to do that, but we're also getting that contrast in and, you know, pounding a refrain basically, which is Democrats give, Republicans take. 

MILA ATMOS - HOST, FUTURE HINDSIGHT: Yeah, that's a great example.

Well, you also dedicate a whole chapter to giving wedgies, as you call it, which is to say using wedge issues to accomplish what you call the two goals of negative partisanship. And I'm going to quote you now, quote, turn out voters from your team and to disqualify the opposition in the eyes of swing voters.

RACHEL BITECOFER: That's how Republicans do persuasion. We do persuasion. You do persuasion. To sell a candidate on their biography and on their policy promises, [01:27:00] like median voter policy appeals and, you know, appeals of bipartisanship. And what this book is designed to do is to get people to realize, actually, Republicans stopped doing that a long time ago.

They don't do that. They didn't sell J. D. Vance to Ohio. They made sure Ohio would not buy Tim Ryan. 

MILA ATMOS - HOST, FUTURE HINDSIGHT: Right. Yeah. Well said. Well said. Well, so you suggest a number of ways for Democrats to wedge various issues. And my favorite one actually was about wedging rural America, where Republicans have controlled politics for more than two decades.

Of course, we know notoriously, rural Americans are primarily Republicans. So tell us about how a good wedgie would sound about rural America. 

RACHEL BITECOFER: Yeah, so when we get to rural America, you know, here's the thing, voters are mad, right? They're always mad because stuff's never great. We're living through the best, literally the best human experience any human has ever had in the whatever, 30, 000, 40, 000 years of humans [01:28:00] crawling on the face of the earth.

We're the first people that have the opposite problem of starvation. We have too much food, we have a calorie surplus, we're living at a time where we can regrow organs out of pig stuff. I mean, it's an incredibly, wonderfully rich time to be alive. No one cares. No one knows that, right? So, if you're gonna be angsty and mad, and they are, Especially about economic stuff, probably we want to do, instead of telling him not to be angsty, because that's not going to work, and instead of saying, well, you know, we know you're mad and that both parties have let you down because that's also not going to work in terms of branding and winning stuff.

We tell people the story of what happened to their rural community because the Republican Party has ruled the roost there for 20 years and their record is absolutely dismal. They've totally eviscerated. rural America. And at every turn, vote in ways that harm rural America, particularly with Medicaid [01:29:00] expansion, which ended up costing many rural communities their hospitals.

And that is still ongoing, right? So, to me, what you do is you come in and you stop being micro. It's not just that Trump is a scab, though that is a helpful brand he uses in the Midwest. It's about telling the story to working class America, which is not just white anymore, working class America, the Republican Party steals your stuff and gives it to their rich donors, right?

If we try that, we don't know if it will work. But we do know telling them, I'm not one of those Democrats, and reaffirming the GOP's attack, which is that the Democratic brand is bad and there's something wrong with Democrats. We might want to go into rural America and run the race as a referendum on the Republican Party's rural record, which I just laid out is, is dismal in many ways.

I mean, if you're a rural voter right now, you're not having a high probability of being able to keep your children in the [01:30:00] town that you're living in because they have no economic opportunity. And the reason why Reaganomics, starve the beast, divest. And that's why we've seen a real decimation in rural America.

It's a compelling story and it's one you can lay squarely at the feet of the Republican party. 

POLL Republican Policies VERY Unpopular With Voters - The Majority Report - Air Date 3-26-24

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: That's what they're talking about here. Then If that's not enough, they want to mess with social security. The single most successful government program probably we've had in this country, maybe ever. Keeps two thirds of our elderly out of poverty and when your parents are not having to eat cat food in their retirement, you can save money to send your kid to college or to buy a home or whatever it is.

They have a plan for Medicare too, and it's called, uh, Basically privatization. Yep. They call it a premium support model. This is what Paul Ryan [01:31:00] wanted to do, which is, um, we just subsidize your private, um, it's basically Obamacare, but for everybody. And not even the Obamacare. It is, uh, the privatized part of Obamacare as opposed to the expansion of Medicaid.

And I'm sure. I am sure, uh, if they're in a position to do this, they're also going to say insurance companies can rip you off like they used to. Of course. Um, and then we should also say they also, uh, in their, uh, budget, which even though has nothing to do with money, uh, that life, uh, begins at conception act.

Which would grant rights to embryos, and, um, If you grant rights to embryos, I have a feeling these embryos are going to rise up, And, uh, say, hey, wait a second, this whole, um, IVF thing? Yeah. Part of us get thrown out. We're not going to want to do that. We 

EMMA VIGELAND - CO-HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: don't want to do that, and it's really cold in the freezer where we're kept, so.

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: [01:32:00] Exactly. And they will just scream and scream, those, uh, embryos, uh, In the bastulae. Or what is it called? Basulots? I have no idea. Blastocytes. Um, also, we should just add, that, uh, the Republican study committee in their 2025 budget, which involves fiscal sanity to save America, um, instead of raising taxes on really wealthy people, it calls for a rollback of, um, free lunch.

In fact, a ban on free lunches. They want to eliminate the community eligibility provision from the school lunch program, uh, which allows certain schools to provide free lunches regardless of the individual eligibility of each student. 

EMMA VIGELAND - CO-HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Democrats should run on this. Democrats should put, like the way Tim Walz did in Minnesota, this should be just like every governor in the [01:33:00] country.

Begin to certify free lunches for school, for, for kids in school. 

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: But you see the dilemma that the Republicans have. 

EMMA VIGELAND - CO-HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Well, this is a wish list to head off like essentially the criticism of Mike Johnson for getting Democratic votes on his budget, I'd imagine. That's the strategy, right? 

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Well, this has been in works even before that, I think.

I mean, the problem they have is that when they come out with their proposals, they realize no one likes this. Yeah. And so they have literally nothing to run on. Um, the Democrats at least. By not fulfilling a whole host of their promises that people want, at least have stuff to claim that they're running for.

But Republicans, even in theory, the only thing they can run on is their racism and [01:34:00] xenophobia, but that has a lid on it. Uh, frankly, and so they, they are stuck in this problem of not being able to, um, offer really anything, anything beyond we're going to protect you from the non existent caravan that is, uh, marching in our way.

Um, let's talk about, uh, the most encouraging polling that, um, Biden has seen in a while. Um, again, Let me just read a couple of quotes in this Axios thing. There was a, um, GOP's top fundraising committee for state level leaders, uh, says that Biden doesn't hurt candidates down ballot in the way that some presidents have in the past.

I think something that we've all been aware of, like there is a unique problem with Joe Biden as a candidate. [01:35:00] And, but broadly speaking, people like the Democratic policies and Democrats more than the Republicans, at least in this context. The memo advised, steer clear of making the election a singular referendum on Joe Biden.

Now the problem is, is that's exactly what Joe Biden also wants. Don't make this a referendum on May. Make it a question of choosing between me and Donald Trump. So they're, they have a, they have a challenge here. The memo advised using Biden as your crutch. Said campaigns need to make an affirmative case for GO policies.

GOP policies. The problem is that nobody likes the GOP policies. They much rather prefer, um, Let's Go Brandon as a campaign slogan. Uh, we must learn from the missteps of 2022 cycle and not solely target Joe Biden in our campaign messaging. They have 

EMMA VIGELAND - CO-HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: nothing else to message with. That's, that's the problem.

The problem for the Republicans is what, is, because, is Trump [01:36:00] and the fact that they are Republicans. The problem with the Dem, for the Democrats is that, in fact, actually, things for them domestically are set up quite well in terms of negative partisanship. But Biden is so demobilizing and is seemingly making all the wrong choices over the past, uh, year or so, that it's a question of does he sufficiently, uh, depress turn out so that thethat advantage doesn't necessarily matter?

But it seems like his State of the Union actually did have an effect. I thought the speech was good politically, like, it was like, okay he's beginning to go on the offensive. And the polling seems to reflect that even though I, I, I, there were some skepticism about whether it would change anything. I, um, uh, were you here that day after?

I, it was the day, the day after I left for vacation. So, yeah. 

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Yeah, no, I mean, um, well, I think we were talking to, I can't remember who it was. Was it Ryan Grim or was it, uh, Digby? I, I found the State of the Union speech, I mean, aside from the fact that, you know, um, uh, [01:37:00] I'm angry about the, the, the The, the, uh, Israel Gaza stuff, and I don't think he, you know, I would have liked him to address that more and up front.

I thought the speech was a huge, uh, win for him. The, uh, the quick polling afterwards did not show any bump, but Go and Google how many times people have said, He's old. And can't do the job since then. I like that it killed that entire narrative. 

EMMA VIGELAND - CO-HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: He also was emphasizing Social Security and Medicare in the speech and taxing the rich.

And then we saw a week later, that polling that we highlighted about how when you emphasize Social Security and Medicare versus Trump, it gives, Oh yeah, he has like a 55 to, it was 51 or something, but still sizable compared to the neck and neck stuff. 

Everything's a cult now Part 4 - The Gray Area with Sean Illing - Air Date 4-27-24

DEREK THOMPSON: To go one level deeper here, I think sometimes about what does it take to be a successful media [01:38:00] entrepreneur these days?

Like, let's say that you and I want to launch some new podcast that explains the world to people. We want it to be really, really popular and really, really powerful. One I think easy blueprint to steal from is to say that what we need to prove is that everyone else is wrong. Like, the first thing that a new entrant into the market has to do is to demonstrate why it's necessary to the consumers of that market to have a new entrant in the first place.

And the easiest reason is that the marketplace of ideas Is broken in some way, and so what I see is a lot of new influencers and a lot of new media companies entering the market with the theory that the media, capital T, capital M is broken, and that tends to be the thesis that they exercise over and over and over again, and it creates this really interesting and somewhat even paradoxical dynamic where lots of people trust a media in order to understand the world, but because every media is [01:39:00] telling them to distrust the media, capital T, capital M, everyone distrusts the media while loving their own individual media.

It's sort of the berserk example or berserk implication of, you know, love your Congressman, hate Congress. But I think it does create a very bizarre dynamic in terms of trying to understand what's happening in the world when you have so many different News entrants and news entrepreneurs that really are, I think, highly incentivized to sort of in cult their audience and tell them that there is a conspiracy against them.

Employ Negative Partisanship w. Rachel Bitecofer Part 4 - Future Hindsight - Air Date 3-21-24

MILA ATMOS - HOST, FUTURE HINDSIGHT: In terms of CRT, I wanted to turn back there because I feel like, maybe not exactly CRT, but wokeism is still on the agenda for a while. Republicans, especially at local levels or on school board elections. So what would be an effective rebuttal for Democrats when it comes to CRT or wokest education? 

RACHEL BITECOFER: I mean, I wish I could be on Meet the Press one day with Ron DeSantis when [01:40:00] he starts talking about wokeism and how he has to protect children from it, because the second a Republican makes the mistake of uttering the phrase, protect children in my presence, they're going to get hammered for letting our children get slaughtered by weapons of war at school.

And I'm going to ask them, why do you want our children to die at school? Just like they would do to us, right? So it's about pivot and attack. In Virginia, I wrote, you know, in the CRT chapter about my frustration and, you know, this is when I was first trying to get in to the pit of democratic electioneering, that we were responding to CRT by proving it wasn't real, that showing how great Toni Morrison's book is or whatever, right?

And what we should have been doing is Oh, the Republican Party wants to make an election about education? Great! Because the Republican Party's record on public education, it's dismal. Okay? They came in with their Reaganomic stuff in the 80s and utterly decimated America's K 12 infrastructure. Our public schools have been [01:41:00] in decline every year since then, and it's the Republican Party that killed them.

So it should be a conversation where it'd be like, come into my web, little You know, mosquito. I'm happy to have a conversation about protecting Children with a party that's letting them get slaughtered every day at school. 

MILA ATMOS - HOST, FUTURE HINDSIGHT: Hmm. Yeah. So pivoting and attacking on something that really does hurt because, of course, they are the party that is preventing.

gun safety 

RACHEL BITECOFER: and voters do not know that. So like, okay, if you ask a voter, which party wants to take away all your guns, Democrats, okay. If you ask people which party wants pro pot, higher minimum wage, climate change action, whatever it is, all of our popular stuff that we've made really popular gun reform.

They don't connect it immediately to us, right? And that's because we have developed a messaging system that bleached out partisanship. So we talked about the bad guys as the NRA, big pharma, big oil, Congress, [01:42:00] generally. And you do that because when you're smart and you're informed, you read Congress and you saw the headline yesterday or whatever about the immigration bill get killed.

So you immediately know, Oh, that was Republicans in Congress. Normal people do not know that. They will not know that. Unless you tell them. We have to be assigning blame to the Republicans. Wide brush. All Republicans. Right? Not most Republicans. Just because somebody says they're not going to vote yes on it or doesn't support a national abortion doesn't mean they're not going to vote for it.

And they don't give us that kind of quarter. They don't say, oh well, Joe Biden doesn't want to defund the police. They branded him, even though he said publicly, I don't support it. They still run him as a defund the police candidate. And we have to do the same thing. We have to do the same thing because if we do not, we're not going to win.

And if we don't win, People who are these marginalized groups that we care about are going to be the very first people to suffer. 

MILA ATMOS - HOST, FUTURE HINDSIGHT: Well, [01:43:00] tell us a little bit more about taking credit and giving blame strategy, because we've heard so many times now in the news where Republicans tout the federal dollars that are coming into their district, even though these very same Politicians voted against the Inflation Reduction Act or the American Rescue Plan Act.

And then progressives, of course, on Twitter go bonkers. They're like, oh, my God, you know, these hypocrites. But then, of course, the elected Democrat says nothing. Give us an example of effective branding up for Democrats from the get go. 

RACHEL BITECOFER: I mean, it comes from the members, right? The most important message narrative setters we have are our electeds.

And so, you know, big part of my work is about getting to them to give them an explanation of like, okay, look, if you were to watch like election analysis today or anytime, you're going to hear election analysis kind of from a practitioner angle. And so candidates, you know, they're, they're practitioners are not.

Like studying it systemically or institutionally. So [01:44:00] it's really important that at the end of the day, why does the Republican messaging machine work so well? Well, it's two reasons. They've built an ecosystem and there are people behaviorally, Republicans love, like the old people love Fox news, right? We have people who don't really like politics, but we'll vote for the left.

So we're very diverse in all of our media. Even the people that do listen to the news, which isn't much of a By any means, the majority of us, okay, we're very diverse in our selections. They are very, very centralized. Almost all Republicans trust one thing for news and that's Fox. I don't trust anything else.

And so they have that amplification, but what makes it so powerful folks is the other side of it. And this is something we can fix. And that is, you know, they come up with an attack. It's a border invasion. They all start using the phrase border invasion. From the party committees, the House Oversight Committee chair accounts, from everything official, all the electeds, [01:45:00] and the press covers the politicians, right?

So they pick up the narratives from these politicians and they start talking about, Oh my God, Joe Biden, what is he going to do with this border crisis? So we need to understand That we're stronger together, that we would be best off to have a talking point memo that we operate off of where everyone's on message, everyone's pounding things like nowhere to hide national abortion ban.

If you just keep saying nowhere to hide national abortion ban, you're branding for people in these safe blue districts and states in particular, like the threat is to you, right? You know, getting the electeds on the same page is to me a very important strategic shift that we're still working towards.


JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: And finally, this is section D independence and low information voters.

Hit 'Em Where It Hurts A Conversation About How Dems Can Win in November with Rachel Bitecofer Part 3 - Deep State Radio - Air Date 2-8-24

DAVID ROTHKOPF - HOST, DEEP STATE RADIO: Presumably, independents are less You know, uh, uh, you know, sort of [01:46:00] Attached to to one one side or the other it's let their identity comes from being independent to some degree How do you pick them up or is it as as I think you indicated earlier a mirage? 

RACHEL BITECOFER: No, it's not a mirage. I mean the swing bucket is important You gotta win the independent vote and you know, that's why with all this doomsaying in the polling I'm still very confident a the hard data the special elections keep coming out Really hot for Dems and they have since Dobbs was repealed, but also because, you know, at the end of the day, like you've got a, you know, in polling 30, 40 percent of any poll who claimed to be in, and you separate out the leaners because you ask them, well, do you lean one way or the other?

And, and now when a good pollster does data, they group all the partisan leaners into the partisan camp and keep them out of the pure independent poll. Okay, so now we're talking about 15 percent not 30, taking half the half the indies away. What is going to motivate those people [01:47:00] is, is narrative imagistics, right?

And so when you, when you, when you say, oh, they're probably, there are people like that, my mother in law, she is so well researched and she's completely, you know, and she couldn't be rationalized and appealed to, but that's not really typical. Most independents are actually very low information voters.

They don't feel an obligation to civically participate because they were socialized into civic participation, maybe from military or whatever it was, but they don't feel the interest that fires ideology that puts you into a camp. Do you see what I'm saying? And so really they're tuned out and they're going to tune in and what will matter and dictate their vote is that final narrative that they hear.

And if that narrative is coming from the right, don't vote for Joe Biden. He's a scumbag. Socialist who's gonna, you know, do all these, he's gonna steal all your money or whatever it is. He's going to let your family get murdered by brown people. That's what their messaging is. I'm not being hyperbolic, right?

Then, um, and, and our message [01:48:00] is we passed a historic infrastructure bill and did this and this and this and got you 35 insulin. I'm here to tell you folks, which the brain is going to respond to. It ain't going to be your wonky deliverables, right? So although it's important to define because there is a perception of ineptitude that the republicans have been careful to To perpetuate by blocking action on things like immigration There's a perception that biden hasn't done a lot when the record speaks a whole different truth, right?

So you can't ignore credit claiming but it's not and it's not it ends in a means it's in other words. It's necessary But it is not sufficient. You have to go in and make sure that independent voters in Wisconsin, in Arizona, in Georgia, Georgia, walk into that ballot booth. And when they look at the ballot and they see D they think democracy.

Okay. Like they think. Okay, I've got to vote for this, this party, this brand, because this is the brand that's going to protect my freedom. And [01:49:00] it relies on all the swing races from the state legislative, house, senate, governor's, presidency, to make that narrative a cacophony and that's why it takes total buy in.

We've already got buy in from the top. The Biden Harris campaign is going to run an effective referendum campaign. They're going to give the electorate a choice. They're going to do a referendum on Trump's crazy and remind people what it's, what, what it was like and what it will be like when he's a dictator.

But at the end of the day, it takes the rest of us, as you were alluding to, to be hammering that as well. If we want to create a noise that can even somewhat take on the cacophony that they're able to make with their ecosystem, media ecosystem, we do not have a media ecosystem that is centralized and political and can be deployed for the purpose of winning campaigns.

Right? So we have to force the media to talk about what we wanted to talk about and what we wanted to do is make sure voters are afraid of the Republican Party, 

DAVID ROTHKOPF - HOST, DEEP STATE RADIO: right? Although we do, you know [01:50:00] that we live in a different age. It's not 2016. It's not an age. You know, I know this seems recent to some people, but it is actually light years ago.

Well, that's distance. It was a long time ago. The 2016 scene. You know, you still do big TV buys and you're trying to send a message and on TV networks, TV networks are essentially irrelevant right now. It's, you know, if somebody runs an ad, they see it on social media, social media is the vehicle. So you, we actually have an infrastructure in place to overnight has an organized message delivered by a million people or 10 million people that reaches 200 million people.

If. You know, if it becomes important enough for people to do it. 

RACHEL BITECOFER: And that's why, you know, when I taught, when I work, I do a lot of pro bono on top of my paid consulting, you know, and what I do, and that's mostly grassroots. Right. So what I'm doing with them is saying, look, listen, I know your issues, climate change.

Okay. But it falls under this [01:51:00] democracy, dictatorship threat. There's not going to be any help for the earth under a Trump dictator. So getting Democrats out of like. They're very distinct camps because they're very activist based group. It's not an ideological movement like the Republican party is and forming an umbrella ideology, freedom, right.

To, uh, to kind of bring in all these disparate things, but you're right. We have exactly what we need because pop culture is liberal. It has a liberal bias because it's cool. Okay. Taylor Swift. 

DAVID ROTHKOPF - HOST, DEEP STATE RADIO: Has 293 million followers. That's 

RACHEL BITECOFER: exactly right. Because they are a minority, a very small minority when you get down to like the Tucker Carlson's of the world, right?

But they have big loud media voices. So if all of us could say to ourselves, yeah, my, my, my passion issue is education, but right now I'm going to talk about threat to democracy and the threat of the Republican party. And I can do that in the education context, but But I'm not focusing on a policy proposal.

I want to push Congress [01:52:00] to do next time. Well, guess what guys, every time you're doing that a you're detracting, you're making shit look normal. That's not normal. We're in a existential crisis and our only hope for survival is to make sure that average Americans who watch the bachelorette and have never heard of Joe Scarborough vote and vote for D all the way up and down the ballot because they see that D and they think democracy.

Why Voters Are Down On The Economy, In Their Own Words - FiveThirtyEight Politics - Air Date 5-2-24

GALEN DRUKE - HOST, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT POLITICS: So when we look at polling, we see that The economy is still pretty high up on folks lists, and according to Gallup polling on the most important issue, it still ranks number one. But other things have increased as well. I mean, we've seen in particular that immigration has risen to now almost match the economy in terms of most important issues facing the country.

We also see just questions of leadership. quality of leadership, other things have sort of risen and fallen and maybe aren't as high on the number one most important issue. But we see folks saying that it might decide their [01:53:00] vote, things like democracy or abortion or what have you. I mean, to what extent did some of these other issues come up?

And even for the lean Trump group, were things like immigration ever trumping the economy? 

MONICA POTTS: For the Trump group, they cared a lot about immigration, and people said immigration and the economy are my top issues. They didn't really single one out or the other out, but a lot of times, too, people saw those things as connected.

Like, we can't deal with the economy while the border is in crisis. And I have to say, too, that they, what they volunteered about the immigration situation was sounded a lot like Republican messaging. It was, you know, the border is out of control. Biden's not doing anything on the border. They're just rushing in.

They're voting. People who aren't citizens can vote. And so they had a lot of, I would say, a mix of misinformation and some information about what was happening on the border that was influencing how they were talking about it. And for the Biden [01:54:00] group, they also had other things that they cared about, and that was mainly democracy, things like personal rights.

A lot of people mentioned abortion unprompted. So they really care about a woman's right to choose. They saw the Supreme Court decision. And the anti abortion sentiment in the Republican Party is infringing on personal rights. So I think that even though voters care about the economy, when all is said and done, that may not be the sole factor that they vote on.

GALEN DRUKE - HOST, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT POLITICS: Yeah. I mean, was there anything that came up, like we said, there's these moments where personal experiences come to the fore. Were there any moments that really just sort of surprised you? 

MONICA POTTS: There were a lot of things that I didn't exactly know how to place. There was a woman who works in I. T. In a follow up interview, she told me that when she was trying to hire people under the Trump administration, she had to go to extra lengths to justify why she might be hiring somebody outside of the country, like why she might be offshoring a job, or why she might be trying to hire someone who wasn't a U.

S. citizen. That was her memory. [01:55:00] But then, uh, under the Biden administration, she felt like that had all gone away and that all these jobs were going overseas. And she said that that was her personal experience, that she was involved in this in her own firm. And I had a hard time kind of placing at what exactly that might be that she was talking about.

There have been some shifts in policy and executive orders about immigration and hiring foreign workers, um, between the two administrations, but nothing that would really account for her personal experience. So that really surprised me. 

GALEN DRUKE - HOST, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT POLITICS: Was this a Biden or Trump leaner, and was she describing a dynamic that she was unhappy about, that she thought that Trump's policies on offshoring IT jobs were better?

MONICA POTTS: Yes, she was unhappy about it. She was a Trump leaner. And what she and other Trump leaners said, and even some Biden leaners said, was that we really had to start putting America first. That messaging from the Trump campaign. Of putting America first really resonated with a lot of Trump leaners that they felt like American [01:56:00] workers had to be put first.

The American economy had to be put first and they liked that part of Trump's message. 

GALEN DRUKE - HOST, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT POLITICS: Yeah, and to that point, one sentiment that really united. both the Biden leaners and the Trump leaners here. Was that America First message? And specifically when it comes to foreign aid and the recent aid package to Ukraine and Israel, et cetera.

This here, we're going to listen to, um, a Biden leaner. Talk about that. 

VOTER: Biden is constantly giving money away to other countries when we got our own problems here. What are we? Are we the Mother Teresa for every other country? It's crazy, man. Take her home first. Then you help out when you can with other people, you know what I'm saying?

Like if I can't pay the bills here I'm gonna help another kid. It's the same thing with our country, bro We are in such debt, but yet and still we constantly giving money away and you see homeless people all over the place 

GALEN DRUKE - HOST, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT POLITICS: So that is how somebody who says he's planning on voting for biden or leaning biden [01:57:00] Is feeling Did we hear specifically about people being upset by the recent, you know, 95 billion foreign aid package that was passed?

MONICA POTTS: This took place a little before that, but people in general were upset about Ukraine aid, Israel aid, aid to foreign countries in general. They felt like it was an opportunity missed to take care of things at home, that dollars going overseas prevented dealing from the problems that we have here and helping people here.

And, you know, I have to say here, the reality, this comes up a lot, but the reality is that U. S. foreign aid and, you know, in general is usually less than 2 percent of the federal budget. The Ukraine aid, even though in comparison historically it's been pretty massive, is still less than 1 percent of the U.

S. GDP. But people feel like it causes us to miss opportunities to help people at home and that it makes more sense to solve all of our own problems first [01:58:00] before we start, you know, helping other people with their problems. 

GALEN DRUKE - HOST, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT POLITICS: Yeah, I think that's an important point. And going into a campaign, I mean, a lot of what we're going to hear about the economy is messaging.

And to the extent that you can keep a message simple, it'll probably resonate more with voters or be more memorable. And that is something that, of course, we've seen polling specifically post the Iraq War that folks really feel like America has spent a lot of time helping others abroad while things have gotten difficult at home.

And obviously that gets exacerbated. When people feel down on the economy, right, like post the financial crisis or during this period of inflation, it becomes not a, oh, we're all doing well, so why question how we're helping folks abroad, but we're in a tight spot. What are we doing helping folks abroad? I think that's right.

MONICA POTTS: And I'll say too that I think the, when I asked people what they wanted to see a president do about the economy, they weren't that specific, but they, one of the things that almost everyone I spoke to wanted was to hear [01:59:00] the president saying, we know things are tough for you. We know things are tough right now, and this is how we're going to make it better.

And they felt like they were being gaslit by all the news about how great the economy is doing, you know, that they see see that the job market is doing great in the headlines and they hear it on the evening news and they feel like that's not true and they're not hearing the truth about the economy.

Closing credits

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: That's going to be it for today. As always keep the comments coming in. I would love to hear your thoughts or questions about today's topic or anything else. You can leave a voicemail or send us a text at 202-999-3991, or simply email me to [email protected]. The additional sections of the show included clips from The Gray Area, The PBS NewsHour, Morning Joe, MSNBC, Future Hindsight, The Majority Report, Deep State Radio, and FiveThirtyEight Politics. Further details are in the show notes. Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show and participation in our bonus episodes. [02:00:00] Thanks to our Transcriptionist Quartet, Ken, Brian, Ben, and Andrew, for their volunteer work helping put our transcripts together. Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work behind the scenes and her bonus show co-hosting. And thanks to those who already support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships. You can join them by signing up today at bestoftheleft.com/support, through our Patreon page, or from right inside the Apple podcast app. Membership is how you get instant access to our incredibly good and often funny weekly bonus episodes, in addition to there being no ads and chapter markers in all of our regular episodes, all through your regular podcast player. You'll find that link in the show notes, along with the link to join our Discord community. Where you can also continue the discussion. 

So, coming to you from far outside, the conventional wisdom of Washington DC, my name is Jay, and this has been the Best of the Left podcast coming to you twice weekly, thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show, from bestoftheleft.com.

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