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DNC Internal Debate: Sure, Trump is A Fascist–But What About Republicans?

DNC Internal Debate: Sure, Trump is A Fascist--But What About Republicans?

The WikiLeaks disclosure of internal Democratic National Committee emails shows DNC officials taking great pleasure in expressions of Republican disunity about Donald Trump. For example, the various statements of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s difficulties in supporting Trump rocketed around DNC headquarters as party leaders discussed how best to exploit GOP divisions.

But perhaps the most extreme attack on Trump left Democratic officials flummoxed. On May 18, Robert Kagan, in the Bush years a neoconservative who advocated the invasion of Iraq, published an article in the Washington Post headlined, “This is how fascism comes to America.” Kagan argued that fascism would descend on the United States “not with jackboots and salutes … but with a television huckster, a phony billionaire …”

Kagan’s article set off a debate within the DNC: Should they portray Trump and the Republican Party as being at odds with each other, or as one and the same?

When the piece first appeared on the Post website, DNC deputy communications director Eric Walker sent it to his communications shop colleagues with a single-word note — “Blastable” — meaning he would like to distribute it widely. “I would like to blast this,” Walker repeated in a later email.

But DNC national press security Mark Paustenbach had a question, sending the piece to colleagues with the subject line, “Blast? Does this fit our frame on Trump?”

Another colleague in the DNC press shop, Andy Crystal, agreed with the piece — “This is a great article,” he wrote — but had a problem: “Does this go against our messaging that Trump is the Republican Party?”

The problem was a passage Kagan wrote near the top of the piece:

But of course the entire Trump phenomenon has nothing to do with policy or ideology. It has nothing to do with the Republican Party, either, except in its historic role as incubator of this singular threat to our democracy. Trump has transcended the party that produced him.

 The Democratic staffers began to ponder whether they wanted to highlight an article that seemed to absolve, or at least sort of absolve, Republicans of the sins of Trump. And in a larger sense, just how should they portray the GOP nominee and his party?
“HFA [the Clinton campaign, Hillary For America] did the video of all the Rs criticizing Trump,” Walker wrote. “CTR [the pro-Clinton group Correct the Record] and HFA were also pushing a contrary message on Ryan meeting last week. They were highlighting things that divided trump / ryan while we were saying they were the same, as a way to hit down-ballot Rs. As Rs begin to coalesce around him, I think we might want to talk to HFA about switching gears and highlighting divisions, but I think this is a larger conversation. Regardless, for right now, I think the benefits of pushing the story outweigh the drawback of this graf. Maybe this gets Republicans to think twice.”

They came to no decision. And they were additionally troubled by a line of Kagan’s that said, of Republicans, that “Trump will owe them and their party nothing.” Should that be included in the DNC press release?

DNC national communications director Luis Miranda finally settled the debate. “This doesn’t work,” he wrote. “I don’t see it. That added graph that says [Trump] will owe nobody nothing actually helps him.”

The question was never fully resolved, nor has it been to this day. Going forward, it’s fair to say Democrats will probably portray Trump and the GOP as the same when it suits them, and portray Trump and the GOP as divided when it suits them.


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