In deciding to frame the 2020 election as an apocalyptic showdown between free enterprise capitalism and government-controlled socialism, national Republican party strategists hope to shift attention away from the chaos and uproar of the Trump administration and convince voters that a Democratic victory will push the nation into economic and societal ruin.
Republicans seek to exploit an opportunity handed them by a Democratic Party seemingly intent on devouring its own, pulled relentlessly to the left by a vocal band of mostly young activists who reject the philosophy and principles of their party’s establishment and wish for its downfall.
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York has emerged as the chief of the insurgents, gathering support for her Green New Deal. It’s a broad manifesto initially peddled as an all out assault on climate change but which in reality consists of a demand for unprecedented, massive social change to provide - among other elements - Medicare for all, public jobs for the unemployed, guaranteed annual incomes, safe and affordable housing, free college, and elimination of fossil fuels.
A source for the estimated hundreds of trillions of dollars necessary to fulfill her utopian vision is a mystery and, when questioned, Ocasio-Cortez airily dismissed the concerns by suggesting that government could simply print more money.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and several candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination have gently distanced themselves from the Green New Deal, describing it as aspirational and deserving of debate. Even Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the socialist independent who started the entire movement in his 2016 presidential campaign, has been cool to it.
Ocasio-Cortez, through her adroit use of social media and benefitting from a national press corps that eagerly laps up her every comment and tweet, has skillfully managed to frame the reference of debate around her agenda.
In a startling display of hubris - even for her - she threatened to mount primary election challenges to fellow Democrats who she felt had strayed from the socialist orthodoxy, infuriating many of her colleagues who believe her threat is nothing short of betrayal.
Republicans, not surprisingly, are gleeful spectators occupying grandstand seats to witness their opponents shredding one another over pledging fealty to an ideological concept - socialism - that they believe most Americans reject.
They’ve wisely remained largely silent as well as House Democrats agonize over how to deal with the outraged fallout from anti-Semitic comments uttered by Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.
The party leadership publicly struggled for days on end, eventually producing a resolution that was as embarrassing as it was meaningless, all in an outlandish effort to avoid a frontal assault and censure of their colleagues. For the party newly in control, it was a public relations disaster.
Democratic national chairman Tom Perez faces the task of negotiating a truce, easing the concerns of the veteran party establishment while mollifying the firebrands of the far left.
Ironically, it was Perez who early on contributed to the current party divide when he described Ocasio-Cortez as “the future of the Democratic Party” following her upset victory in the primary and her subsequent general election win.
More clear-eyed Democrats understand that America remains a largely politically centrist nation with occasional tilts to the left or right of center. When the leaning becomes perilously acute (Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Democratic Sen. George McGovern in 1972, for instance), backlash ensues and the ideological needle moves back toward the moderate middle.
In the autumn of 1945, shortly after the end of World War II, Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who had guided his nation through the war, addressed the Parliament as the English people grew increasingly restive over the privations and rationing they’d endured during the war and looked toward greater central government relief.
Churchill told his fellow MPs: “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings. The inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”
Nearly 75 years later, the Republican election strategy is one of hoping to convince voters that the “unequal sharing of the blessings” of capitalism can be remedied through individual initiative and unfettered personal freedom while “the equal sharing of the miseries” of socialism is eternal.
Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University in New Jersey. You can reach him at cgolden1937@gmail.