The Washington Monthly Newsletter: March 21, 2024

How the right frame can box in Trump

In my Washington Monthly column today, I discussed the frustrating debate around what Donald Trump really meant when he said “it’s going to be a bloodbath” if he doesn’t win the 2024 presidential election.

I warned that debating semantics only works to Trump’s advantage. Trump can often lean on his penchant for word salad to argue he’s been taken out of context, and then you’re left with a string of TV segments debating what he meant, leaving many voters with a shrug of the shoulders.

Instead, the Joe Biden campaign should be relentlessly building the narrative that reminds what Trump’s divisive rhetoric, constantly pitting Americans against each other, wrought by the end of his presidency: riots in the streets, cities burning, protestors shot dead by a minor, and Trump supporters laying siege to the U.S. Capitol.

Reminding voters of the consequences of Trump’s rhetoric makes irrelevant the intent of any future controversial remarks.

I have another example of how this can work in practice. But first, here’s what’s leading the Monthly website:

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Stormy Weather Ahead for Trump: Contributing Editor Jonathan Alter previews Trump’s trial in the Stormy Daniels hush money case. Click here for the full story.

The Low Information Trap: Why Don’t Voters “Get It?” Because They Don’t Know About ItMatt Robison, host of the Beyond Politics podcast, argues much pre-election punditry ignores the fact that most voters aren’t consuming much political news. Click here for the full story.

No More “Bloodbaths” or How to Avoid Stupid Debates Over Trump’s Semantics: my strategy for combatting Trump’s extreme rhetoric.

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On Monday, Trump said on a conservative online show, “Any Jewish person that votes for Democrats hates their religion. They hate everything about Israel, and they should be ashamed of themselves because Israel will be destroyed.”

Many Democrats, from the Biden campaign and elsewhere, charged Trump with being “antisemitic.” Republicans, moving fast to muddy that narrative, emphasized Trump’s stated support for Israel. They claimed Trump was substantively correct even if they wouldn’t choose the same verbiage.

Case in point: Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) chided Trump for not using “more artful language” but was nevertheless “not wrong about, I think, Democratic leaders’ failing the Israeli state.”

The response from Tillis and other Republicans exploits the challenges Democrats are shouldering in navigating the fraught politics of the Israel-Hamas war. That’s not the turf on which Democrats want to fight the 2024 election.

But if you are constantly looking for examples to reinforce the narrative that Trump pits Americans against each other leading to societal breakdown, then you can more readily formulate a critique of Trump’s rhetoric which does not have an easy rejoinder.

For example:

Once again, Trump is sowing division, this time by pitting Jewish-Americans against each other. We saw in 2020 and 2021 what happens when Trump is allowed to spew his hateful rhetoric from the Oval Office on a daily basis: Americans turned on each other, our cities burned, people were shot dead in the street, and our Capitol was attacked by insurrectionist Trump supporters.

These things happened. That’s not up for debate.

Of course, Republicans can try to insist Trump shouldn’t get the blame for all that. But that’s an uphill battle. After three-plus years of Joe Biden, our cities are not aflame, and Biden supporters are not organizing insurrections.

A good narrative frames the debate in a manner that makes it hard for your opponent to respond. Such a narrative is not only available to Biden, he has an opponent who will reliably provide fodder to reinforce it.

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Best,

Bill

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