Two weeks ago, the normally mild-mannered Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) caused a stir when he used some harsh words to describe the Koch brothers and the big-dollar ad campaign their organization, Americans for Prosperity, is mounting against politicians who voted for Obamacare. “It’s too bad that they’re trying to buy America,” he said on the Senate floor. “And it’s time that the American people spoke out against this terrible dishonesty of these two brothers who are about as un-American as anyone I can imagine.”
The statement wasn’t an off-the-cuff remark, and Reid isn’t alone in calling out the Kochs. Today, Greg Sargent of The Washington Post’s Plum Line explained that there’s more than meets the eye in the Democrats’ rhetoric.
The Dem strategy of tying Republican Senate candidates to the Koch brothers continues to be portrayed simplistically, as little more than an effort to tar Republicans with the image of distant and menacing plutocrats.
But to understand what this strategy is really about, watch this new Senate Majority PAC ad that’s airing in Louisiana, tying GOP Senate candidate Bill Cassidy to the Kochs in response to Americans for Prosperity attacks on Senator Mary Landrieu:
A Dem source tells me the spot is backed by a $200,000 buy.
Out of state billionaires spending millions to rig the system and elect Bill Cassidy. Their goal: Another politician bought and paid for. Their agenda: Protect tax cuts for companies that ship our jobs overseas. Cut Social Security and end Medicare as we know it. They even tried to kill relief for hurricane victims. Cassidy’s billion dollar backers: They’ve got a plan for him. It’s not good for Louisiana.
As I noted the other day, this is all about creating a framework within which voters can be made to understand the actual policy agenda Republicans are campaigning on. This is what the Bain attacks on Mitt Romney were all about: Dem focus groups showed voters simply didn’t believe Romney would cut entitlements (per the Paul Ryan plan) while cutting taxes on the rich. The Bain narrative made Romney’s actual priorities more comprehensible.
The Koch attacks are designed to do something similar. They aren’t really about the Kochs. They are a proxy for the one percent, a means through which to tap into a general sense that the economy remains rigged in favor of the very wealthy. Placed into this frame, GOP policies – opposition to raising the minimum wage; the Paul Ryan fiscal blueprint, which would redistribute wealth upwards; opposition to the Medicaid expansion, which AFP is fighting in multiple states – become more comprehensible as part of a broader storyline. In that narrative, Republican candidates are trying to maintain or even exacerbate an economic status quo that’s stacked against ordinary Americans, while Dems are offering solutions to boost economic mobility and reduce inequality, which are increasingly pressing public concerns.
In many ways this strategy is born of necessity. The 2014 fundamentals are stacked heavily against Democrats, who are defending seven Senate seats in states carried by Mitt Romney in 2012 that are older, whiter, and redder than the diversifying national electorate. This is made even worse by the midterm electorate, in which core Dem groups are less likely to turn out.
GOP attacks on the health law in red states are not just about Obamacare. They are, more broadly, about casting Senate Dems as willing enablers of the hated president and blaming the sputtering recovery on #Obummer Big Gummint, to channel people’s economic anxieties into a vote to oust Dem incumbents. With the law and its author deeply unpopular in these states, Dems can’t really run on any Obama accomplishments. So they need to make these campaigns about the fact that Republican candidates don’t have an actual agenda to boost people’s economic prospects, and indeed are beholden to a broader agenda that has made the problem worse, even as Dems offer a concrete economic mobility agenda of their own. The goal is to boost turnout among Dem constituencies while minimizing losses among the older, blue collar, and rural whites that predominate in these states.