Ironically, it was a billionaire businessman who broke the mold in the 2016 presidential campaign and brought a new voice into Republican politics. Donald Trump took up the cause of the forgotten working class, promising to restore America’s industrial prowess and bring back the jobs that a corrupt elite with a globalist outlook had negotiated away in reckless trade deals that sent Americans to the back of the bus and squandered the prosperity they had created over generations.
Equally groundbreaking was Trump’s bluntness in confronting the corruption of both parties for participating in a rigged system that left their constituencies out in the cold. The failure to secure the borders was a national disgrace in which both parties were complicit. In focusing on the criminal aliens who had not been blocked at the borders and were not deported, he broke the silence imposed by the politically correct party line. In calling Clinton a “crook,” a “liar,” and the enabler of a sexual predator, he took her off the pedestal on which her gender and the Democrats’ fantasy of a Republican “war on women” had placed her. By speaking out against the Democrats’ rape of the inner cities and their treatment of their black constituents as second-class citizens, Trump burst a bubble that had protected Democrats from the consequences of their actions and opened the ranks of the Republican Party to “people of color.”
Trump’s readiness to go for the Democrats’ jugular rallied Republican voters frustrated by their leaders’ long-running deference to Democratic outrages and their willingness to keep their party on the defensive. It was this rallying of the Republican troops, who turned out in record crowds during the campaign, that led Trump to call what he had created a “movement.” It is a movement, first of all, anchored in its opposition to the Democrats’ collectivism and in defense of individual liberty.
Perhaps Trump’s most significant innovation as a Republican candidate was the moral language he used to indict his Democratic opponent. Previously, Republicans would have been too polite to call their opponents liars and crooks — even when the evidence clearly showed that they were. If their opponent was a woman, they would never have dreamed of using such language, so deferential were they to the stringent rules of political correctness. Trump broke free of this constraint. But Republicans need to take this a step further and create a unifying theme that has a moral resonance with which they can characterize their opponents and level the political playing field.
That theme is individual freedom. The economic redistribution that progressives demand is not “fairness,” as they maintain. Socialism is theft and a war on individual freedom. Compulsory public schools are not a service to minorities and the poor but are infringements on their freedom to choose an education that will allow them to pursue the American dream. Obamacare is objectionable not only because its mandates drive up the costs and diminish the quality of health care, as Republicans have argued. Far more important is that government-controlled health care takes away the freedom of individuals to manage their own health and secure their life chances. Onerous taxes and massive government debt are not accounting problems; they are a war on the ability of individuals to work for themselves instead of the government and are therefore an attack on individual freedom. This is the moral language Republicans need to use if they are going to defeat the progressive agenda.
The movement galvanized by Trump can stop the progressive juggernaut and change the American future, but only if it emulates the strategy of his campaign: Be on offense; take no prisoners; stay on the attack. To stop the Democrats and their societal transformation, Republicans must adhere to a strategy that begins with a punch in the mouth. That punch must pack an emotional wallop large enough to throw them off balance and neutralize their assaults. It must be framed as a moral indictment that stigmatizes them in the way their attacks stigmatize Republicans. It must expose them for their hypocrisy. It must hold them accountable for the divisions they sow and the suffering they cause.
The first question to ask when thinking about how to frame such attacks is this: How is it possible that Democrats and progressives can pose as defenders of minorities, the middle class, and the poor? Democratic policies have devastated all three. “The data is going to indicate sadly,” the left-wing talk-show host Tavis Smiley admitted in a candid moment, “that when the Obama administration is over, black people will have lost ground in every single leading economic indicator category.”
For generations, Democrats have controlled America’s inner cities and virtually all the urban blight zones. Their policies have made it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to acquire guns to defend themselves and more difficult for police to apprehend predators and keep them off the streets. Their welfare policies have destroyed families and created lifelong dependencies on government handouts. The number of African-American lives damaged or destroyed by Democratic policies alone would exceed the wildest dreams of any Klansman.
Yet Democrats are still able to persuade people that they are defenders of minorities, working Americans, and the poor.
How do they do it? By attacking Republicans and the rich as uncaring and oppressive. They portray their political opponents as racists. By demonizing conservatives and wealth, Democrats are able to pretend they are friends of minorities and the poor, even as they leave them mired in dependency and exploit them for political gain.
Democrats don’t actually hate rich people or believe they are oppressors. Democratic Party socialists want to be rich and work overtime to achieve it, often — like the Clintons — exploiting a corrupt political system to do so. In fact, the really successful Democratic Party socialists are rich — filthy rich. Just ask George Soros, Jon Corzine, Nancy Pelosi, Rahm Emanuel, Terry McAuliffe and scores of other multimillionaire and billionaire progressives like them. As far as progressives are concerned, rich people are fine, provided they toe the party line and support its destructive agenda. This may be cynicism on steroids, but for them, it has been a winning strategy.
How can believers in individual rights and free markets expose this charade and repel the attacks? How can they neutralize the slanders and show that it is actually conservatives who defend opportunity and independence for minorities and the poor, for working Americans, and for the middle class? It’s not rocket science: Republicans need to turn the Democrats’ guns around and fight fire with fire.
David Horowitz is the author of “Big Agenda: President Trump’s Plan to Save America,” from which the preceding was excerpted and published in The Philadelphia Inquirer.