(c) Josh Sager – August 2012
Modern conservatives have developed a highly effective and extremely well-funded strategy of using relentless attack ads to destroy their political opponents. Unfortunately, most modern progressives and Democrat have not developed their ability to attack politically as much as many conservatives. By promoting conservative infighting and fueling conservative political cannibalism, Democrats and progressives can both promote strife within the conservative movement and weaken the surviving candidate to the point where they lose the general election.
The rise of unaccountable money in politics has led to a situation where candidates are able to shield their attack ads behind a veneer of deniability. Not only has this deniability allowed corporate interests to flood the airwaves with ads supporting “corporate friendly” candidates, but it has also allowed candidates to run negative and vicious attack ads without worrying about the blowback onto them. The climate of unaccountable attacks allows the most extreme, vicious, and well-funded politicians to simply carpet-bomb their opponents into submission.
A perfect example of how the current climate of unaccountable attack ads allows politicians to decimate each other is that of the Romney attack strategy during the 2012 Republican Primary. Romney’s super-PAC, “Restore Our Future” spent millions of dollars on negative, and often misleading, attack ads on his primary opponents. By spending many times more than any of his opponents, the Romney super-PAC systematically destroyed all opposing candidates who would threaten Romney’s candidacy.
Modern Republicans and conservatives have refined their political attack machines to the point where they are able to attack virtually anybody for virtually any perceived offense. Even politicians who have committed no real political or ethical wrongdoing are not immune to the attack machine of the right wing (ex. Jerry being “swift-boated”). Progressives and Democrats should capitalize upon the conservative attack machine’s strength by turning it upon conservative politicians.
During Republican primaries, progressive politicians and activist groups should attempt to shift the public conversation onto topics which are divisive within the conservative movement. Even with the highly homogeneous nature of the mainstream conservative movement (ex. virtually the entire movement is anti-choice), there are still ideological schisms which divide the conservatives from the extreme conservatives–one current example of such a schism is found between the neoconservative hawks and the libertarian conservatives. Despite the fact that they are part of the same party, neoconservatives support expansions in military spending, while libertarian conservatives support heavy cuts in military spending. Bringing up divisive topics (ex. military spending) during the critical time of primary season would incite conflict inside of the conservative movement and cause the different sides to expend resources to attack one another. As most conservative ads are highly negative, this tactic would allow progressives to shift conservative resources towards attacking other conservatives and surviving incoming conservative attacks.
In addition to attempting to shift the topics of public conversation during primary times, progressives should feed some damaging information on conservative politicians to their conservative opponents; this tactic is akin to supplying both sides of a conflict weapons and simply waiting on the sidelines to see both sides destroy each other. By utilizing the highly effective conservative attack machines to attack each other, progressives can conserve resources and ensure than the survivors of Republican infighting are drastically weakened during the general election.
The most common way a conservative will defend themselves from other conservatives criticizing them is to strictly adhere to all of the conservative ideology’s acceptable policy position (anti-choice, deregulation, tax cuts, etc.). Unfortunately for conservatives, many of these policies have become unpalatable to the average American voter, thus the defense against conservative criticisms is likely to be damaging in general election. Through being forced so far out on the fringe in order to survive the primary, conservative politicians can be forced into the position of winning the primary only to lose the election.
Progressive politicians should keep extremely damaging political attacks in their pocket—so as not to reduce their effectiveness in attacking the surviving conservative during the primary season—but should leak more minor damaging information to opposing conservatives during primary campaigns. Through inciting conservatives to batter one-another with minor scandals during the primary campaigns, then releasing the truly damaging attacks upon the conservative survivor during the general election, progressives and Democrats can inflict maximum political damage on their opponents with minimal exposure and resource consumption.
Through promoting conservative political cannibalism, progressives and Democrats can ensure that conservative candidates reach the general election greatly weakened and vulnerable to a coup de grace. By causing conservative infighting, rather than attacking conservatives directly, progressives can deflect criticisms over negative campaigning while ensuring that the attacks are not seen as partisan.