By Rick Wilson
End-of-the-year list articles are, to my chagrin, a constant drumbeat in our culture, and I refuse to do one just for my contrarian nature. Instead, I want to offer a few guidelines for 2024, given the seriousness of the stakes.
1) Always Attack.
I know it’s exhausting. It’s disheartening. It’s work. The autocratic movement in this country never rests. It never sleeps. It’s watch-and-watch 24/7, always-on in its absolute intentionality and determination.
You must attack it without a break.
Clausewitz called the attack the “…weaker form with the positive purpose,” and he was right. It’s more challenging and more costly to attack than to defend, but the attack is where victory is found.
You’ll notice I said “always attack,” not “always communicate,” or “always respond,” or “always wait for the bad guys to bash your skull in with a tire iron before issuing a vaguely condemnatory press release” in the title of this section.
Trump has an organic ability to be a media and political singularity, and history shows that only constant, frontal assaults on his ego, his manifold mental pathologies, and his raging insecurities break the pattern of his media dominance.
Last week, we released a silly, fun, frankly juvenile ad about Trump’s robust odor.
We didn’t do it just to make poop jokes; we did it because we know that when Trump is angry, distracted, and focused on himself, he makes it impossible for his campaign to do what a professional campaign should be doing. It makes his attack against Biden seem even more wildly unhinged and manic.
We did the same thing a few weeks before during Trump’s embrace of Hitlerian language and messaging.
It’s not Resistance Porn to attack Trump constantly; it’s a proven, demonstrated, and successful campaign strategy. (I’m sorry that the “Why ain’t y’all running 3000 GRPs of broadcast TV?” crowd is too stuck in the dim and distant campaign past to understand this one.)
2) Save the Family Squabbles For Later
From young Democrats to Muslims to progressives, many of you sure seem to hate Joe Biden. You’re enjoying a stompy-foot tantrum and threatening to stay home instead of pulling on the big boy pants and getting in the fight to save democracy from Donald Freaking Trump.
We know the long catalog of your complaints. He’s not progressive enough on every little thing. He didn’t cancel your student loans, legalize weed, or pass a subsidy for Instagram influencers. (I made up the last one, but I bet I could get it trending on TikTok.) He backed Israel over the Hamas terror state. You didn’t get every single line item in every legislative fantasy on climate or guns or whatever rings your ideological bell.
That’s the message America is getting, the media is amplifying, and the Trump campaign is obscenely enjoying.
Now it’s time for some very tough love: wake the hell up. You’re willing to throw a political tantrum and stay home or vote for RFK Jr. or Jill Stein (I-Moscow), or Cornell West (I-The Matrix) because you’ve made a fantasy world the enemy of the reality of a binary contest.
Political power doesn’t flow from your intra-party complaints. It flows from a massive victory in 2024.
And if you don’t grow up, suit up, and back Joe Biden with the passion of a millions suns,, it’s not that you won’t be welcomed back to the Democratic Party.
It’s that there won’t be a Democratic Party.
3) Sell Morning In America
Behold the power of assertion and repetition. Stop letting the Fox nattering take you off-message. The economy is rocking along, and it’s good news.
Keep making the sale all the way until election day. My colleague Joe Trippi’s formulation that the economic good news takes 3-7 months to lodge in the consciousness of voters is on point. By Spring and Summer, the absurd “We’re in an economic hellscape where the living envy the dead” will begin to make the Fox agitprop look vaguely absurd, and so it’s incumbent to hammer this message until voters get sick of it.
Six months before Reagan’s famous Morning In America spot defined the 1984 election, inflation and unemployment were roaring problems. You know how that movie ended for Walter Mondale.
Trump’s most powerful asset in 2016 beyond his celebrity was the idea that he was a potent dealmaker, a business leader, and a great executive who could make money.
All of it was — and is — an illusion, but that illusion is ripe for correction and shattering. Tell the counter narrative as well; Trump blew it on the economy. Spending was rampant. He suckered middle-class voters to pay for a tax cut for hedge fund executives. Trump talked about energy security, and Biden delivered it. Trump bragged about the stock market, but Biden’s is helping families save and retire with a market that makes Trump’s look sad.
Trump’s economy? Weak. Biden’s? Strong.
Assert and repeat.
Brag about how well Americans are doing. Smile. Take credit. Do a victory roll.
4) Fight MAGA From The Edges In.
Nothing makes normie Republicans more likely to break away from the madness of King Trump than categorizing them as Trump Republicans. The vestigial remains of the old GOP — those Bannon Line Voters the Lincoln Project targets and persuades — really, really, really aren’t comfortable being lumped in with Trump’s cruelty, criminality, absurdity, vulgarity, and the rest of the catalog of his sins. It is why they cringe at the video of January 6th and would sooner die than attend a Trump rally.
When these voters, operatives, activists, and writers see the Red-hatted and unkempt mob at the average Trump rally, their cultural reaction is more important than the political reaction. They were accustomed to leading the cattle, not being trampled by it.
This is what I like to call “The National Review Problem” for Republicans. The smart ones know just how vile and destructive Trump is for America, the pre-Trump limited-government Constitutionalist conservative movement, and for the Republican Party. They were desperate to boost Ron DeSantis or Nikki Haley over Trump for the last few years, but it’s all been for nothing.
Their natural instinct is to compromise for the third straight election, and pick the autocratic madman over the center-left Democrats, and they will contort themselves wildly to get there. They will devote millions of words to arguments that Trump may be a dangerous psychopathic autocrat with a dictator fetish, but that Joe Biden is somehow simultaneously a drooling codger and a devious Lenist mastermind.
This doesn’t mean they like it. Or like Trump’s base. Associating them with the loons, the conspirators, insurrectionists, the racists, the criminals, cosplayers, incels, madmen, the make-me-a-sandwich phony masculinity bros, and the rest of the MAGA flotsam.
The tone isn’t “Aren’t you ashamed of these people?!?”
No, the tone and message is calm, steady, declarative; “This is you.”
5) Corrupt The Fox Narrative Machine
There was a moment where a few people thought that post-Tucker, post-Dominion lawsuit Fox News enterprise may have Learned Their Lesson and would approach news coverage in the 2024 election cycle with a more sober and serious mindset. Some thought Lachlan Murdoch would be more normal than Rupert.
Bless their hearts.
For the 2024 election, Fox is going to be more insane, conspiratorial, lurid, and omnipresent than it’s been at any point in recent memory. Fox is the single most powerful normative force in the MAGA and Republican world.
Fox will flood the proverbial zone with a Chicxulub-scale tidal wave of rageporn tuned to stimulate even the calcified amygdalae of MAGA viewers; the old favorites are back; crime, immigrant caravans, trans people, Black Lives Matter, Antifa, and on and on. They will be elevated and exaggerated beyond human understanding.
For decades now, Democrats have struggled to break the code on Fox’s hold on its viewers. It’s seemingly impossible, but like most monocultures, the Fox News monoculture is strong, but brittle.
This is still a narrow sliver of a strategy, but the few Democrats who appear on Fox with a countervailing message often do more damage to the otherwise hermetic Fox bubble than an ocean of fact-checking press releases.
Because Fox is not a news network, but rather a scripted and glossy nationalist Kabuki dance, every time a Democrat slips in even a little dissonance into the Fox ecosystem, it ramifies and grows.
6) It’s The Fascism.
In early 2022, Reed Galen and I were on a Zoom call with a group of powerful Democratic donors and activists, all of whom were convinced that the 2022 election would be won or lost on prescription drug costs and gas prices.
It was absurd. It was idiotic. It was perfectly representative of the Washington Democratic consultant culture of focus-grouped vanilla pudding; inoffensive, meaningless, and imminently forgettable.
We both burst out, “No, it’s not! It’s about democracy!” I was so shocked I believe I may have added the word “fucking” in there somewhere. The U.S. Capitol had been attacked just a year before. Trump’s movement wasn’t gone; it had metastasized into an alternate culture determined to overthrow the government one way or the other, a determined and corrosive.
This time, it’s about fascism. Donald Trump makes this argument for the Biden campaign and the pro-democracy forces in this country every day. Republican governors and state legislatures are doing the same thing at scale. Mike Johnson and his twisted form of social extremism (it’s not social conservatism by a long shot) are background music for the era of Unlimited Government Conservatism.
It’s a picture of a dark, violent future of a powerful government turned against the American people. It’s a story with Trump as its Fuhrer and the architects of a future where the Republic and democracy are inconvenient obstacles to their vision of a grand autocratic future
This campaign will not be about policy.
All campaigns have an undercurrent of the past vs the future. This one is about a Trumpian future that looks like the past: 1936-1945, to be specific.
7) Pressure the GOP At Home, Not DC
If the worst happens, the firewall against a second Trump term runs through the House and Senate. You won’t win the House or hold the Senate (particularly in this cycle) without weakening the GOP at home.
The fight isn’t in DC; it’s in the suburbs in the swing states. It’s in the local media. It’s in preventing the GOP House and Senate members from going home and saying, “I’m here for you” when their behavior in Washington is to tell Trump, “I’m here for you.”
The MAGA caucus — and that’s all but a handful of Senators, now — is from top to bottom corrupt and corrupted. They will terrorize America for the coming year with shutdowns, phony impeachments, and mendacious investigations. They will work to provide
Put their majority in peril. Force them into splitting from Trump, defending his most indefensible statements and actions, and owning his worst aspects. They lose when they embrace him and lose when they don’t.
Trump’s hypersensitivity to any disloyalty, divergence, or even disagreement will do most of the work for us, but the fight is in the states, not D.C.
8) Don’t Underestimate The New Trump Team.
They are much, much better than the 2020 and 2016 iterations. They are serious, capable people running a professional and funded campaign operation. The fact that they work for a gibbering lunatic is a detriment, but they’re worlds more professional and competent than before.
They’re working very, very hard to discipline him and channel his outbursts into the Truth Social ghetto. They’re building a real voter turnout operation in swing states.
I beg you not to underestimate Chris LaCivita and Suzy Wiles. They’re orders of magnitude better at this than Bannon, Kellyanne, and Brad Parscale.
The Biden campaign keeps talking about a Spring start. Dear God, go now. Start making the Trump world spend money now.
9) Miracles Are For Suckers. Hope Is Not A Strategy.
If I could weigh one magic wand and accomplish one simple change in the minds of anti-Trump voters, Republican or Democrat. It would be this: stop believing in miracles. Miracles are in short supply when Donald Trump has the luck of the devil.
It’s taken me a while to overcome the hope that something Trump And the arc of his fortunes. But nothing does. He is a protean force in American culture now, seemingly beyond all sanction. He is not going to jail. He is not going to be disqualified from the ballot in 50 states. He won’t be disqualified from the ballot in any states when the Supreme Court is done. Trump is going to be the nominee, he is going to lure the media into his narrative frame once again.
Unless we fight every single day against it, he’ll succeed.
The miracles in politics are the ones we make. They come from work planning, preparation, organization, and focus.
Nothing will set the Democratic Party back further and faster than the fantasy that somehow the law or fate will take Trump out of their way.
This one will take a lot of work at every return, and there are no shortcuts.
10) Third Party Candidates = Trump
I imagine by now you’re heartily sick of me reminding you that No Labels, RFK Jr, Cornell West, Jill Stein, and the rest of the third-party aspirants are enablers of a second Trump term.
This will be a close-run election in every sense. We cannot afford to lose even a few percent in a single swing state.
It’s a natural psychological trait to look at two contentious options in our politics and seek an alternative. It’s also a trap; we simply don’t live in a world where a third-party candidate can do anything but spoil this election in Trump’s favor. (Small caveat on RFK, Jr., who may be closer to splitting the R-D divide, but given the Electoral College maps, it’s still not a good bet.)