Nov 4, 2018 - Politics & Policy

The GOP’s bad barbed wire bet of 2018

An illustration of a Republican elephant made out of barbed wire

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

At a rally in Montana yesterday, President Trump said when he turned to the fear-the-caravans part of his speech: "We have our military, now, on the border. [Cheers.] And I noticed all that beautiful barbed wire going up today. ... Barbed wire, used properly, can be a beautiful sight." Trump repeated his ode to barbed wire during a rally in the Florida Panhandle last night.

Why it matters: This is a fitting coda to a barbed strategy of choice, not circumstance. Imagine if Trump had done the unthinkable — chucked the fear and loathing bit and crusaded across the country thundering about promises made, promises kept and an American economy on fire. 

Imagine if his speeches echoed the top of this column by the NY Times' Bret Stephens:

  • "The night Donald Trump was elected was supposed to be, for most liberals and a few conservatives, the beginning of the end of the world. The economy would surely implode. The U.S. would probably blunder into a catastrophic war. The new American president would be blackmailed into conducting foreign policy as Putin’s poodle."
  • "None of that has happened — not yet, at any rate. On Friday, The Wall Street Journal reported the fastest rate of annual wage hikes in almost a decade, depriving Democrats of one of their few strong arguments about the true state of the economy. Unemployment is at its lowest rate since Vince Lombardi coached his last game in December 1969. The North American Free Trade Agreement has been saved with minor modifications and a new name."
  • "Oh, and: The Islamic State is largely defeated. Tehran has not restarted its nuclear programs despite America’s withdrawal from the Iran deal. U.S. sanctions on Russia are still in place. Democrats badly damaged their chances of taking the Senate with their over-reaching and polarizing crusade to stop Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court."

Instead, it’s caravans ("Four others ... are forming," he warned yesterday), enemies of the people, Pocahontas, fake news, plagues and diseases.

  • And it's contagious: GOP officials and candidates around the country "have concluded that their best shot at victory is embracing the Trump political playbook of demonization" — including the caravans, now playing in an attack ad near you, the NY Times' Jeremy Peters reports.

This might work to save the Senate, but surely will cost the GOP House seats and probably the whole House. 

  • And, here’s the dirty little secret among Republicans: All they really needed was the Kavanaugh fireworks to electrify their base and exploit one of the most favorable Senate maps imaginable.

Truth is, bragging about accomplishments and the economy could have helped grow the Senate and keep the House. It might have helped the elections from turning into the boys against the girls. 

  • To the dismay of many Republicans too fearful to challenge Trump, they will never know.
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