Republicans regain campaign charm, and it’s Bush, not Trump

Bush’s campaign style is making a comeback.

Democrats should be afraid. Very scared.

Among the messages that emerge from Glenn youngkinGlenn Youngkin Democrats brace for a flood of retirements after Virginia’s defeat McAuliffe’s loss exposes a deep Democratic gap The memo: Democrats go to war for ‘awakening’ MORE‘s victory in Virginia’s gubernatorial race last week is this: The era of angry, fire-breathing Republican candidates may be over, replaced by a campaign approach that Democrats rarely seem to beat. Instead of a fury Donald trumpDonald TrumpIsraeli officials say the United States should open a consulate for Palestinians in the West Bank Virginia’s loss reveals Democrats’ struggle with rural voters Sunday shows progress: House passes bipartisan infrastructure bill; Democrats suffer electoral losses in Virginia MORE, Jim jordanJames (Jim) Daniel Jordan Good Republicans in Government May Be Democracy’s Last Hope Madison Cawthorn to Join the House for House Freedom Anti-Trump Republicans Target McCarthy, Scalise, and Other High-Profile Conservatives MORE, or Marjorie Taylor GreeneMarjorie Taylor GreeneGOP’s Efforts to Minimize the Danger of Capitol Riots Increase Memorandum: Now What for Anti-Trump Republicans? Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene Says She Will Meet With Trump ‘Soon’ In Florida MORE, there is the canny candidate with an eye for wedge problems, camouflaged by khaki pants and a calm demeanor.

Think of George Bush, senior and junior.

Both Bushes were presented as easy marks that Democrats were eager to challenge. To many they seemed privileged politicians who could not play hard in the campaigns.


In 1988, George HW Bush tried to do something that no vice president had done since Martin Van Buren: succeed his boss and take over the White House. Democrats rose in the polls, bragging about Bush and the so-called “Weak factor”.

Then came the “Willie HortonThe now-infamous commercial focused on the licensing policy of Democratic candidate Governor Michael Dukakis in Massachusetts. Horton, a convicted black murderer, was released through that show, only to commit more violent crimes. The ad was an extremely effective breed “dog whistle“- an indirect message to the radical Republican base that Patrician Bush was someone they could support.

The Democrats had no effective response. Dukakis went to great lengths to explain the goals behind his licensing effort. But, as Bush’s predecessor Ronald Reagan once said, “If you are explaining, you are losing. “

A key aspect of the Bush campaign now resonates with Republicans: Throughout that hard-hitting contest, Bush’s understated style and image allowed him to maintain his suburban appeal and vent his bespoke dog whistles.

Her son, George W. Bush, followed the family’s playbook in 2004. His re-election was an uphill battle, with unpopular conflicts still raging in Iraq and Afghanistan. Democrats smelled victory and nominated the veteran senator from Vietnam. John kerryJohn Kerry Miles protest to demand climate action at COP26 Energy and environment overnight – Presented by the American Petroleum Institute – COP26 ambitions could keep warming to 1.8 degrees Balance / Sustainability – Presented by Delta – Las Galapagos tortoises face off against the Chinese fishing fleet MORE.

Bush had at least one big advantage: Despite his privileged background, he seemed like a normal person, someone, as the phrase went in his 2000 campaign, with whom he could have a beer. Leading to the “Windsurfing” commercial, which changed the script to his Democratic rival and played on voters’ distrust of blue-blooded candidates. It showed Kerry sailing along the coast, the image of a self-satisfied aristocratic right, while the voice-over noted how the senator had cheerfully changed his mind on key issues.

The ad, like the Willie Horton ad, was constantly scrutinized by cable and television news programs. And the frustrated Democratic candidate stayed to explain.

Even the discreditedFast boat“The campaign worked for Bush. Controversial commercials defamed Kerry’s service in Vietnam. But the president’s team did not fund or produce them, so Bush was able to report the effort, maintaining his image, and still profiting from the mistrust those ads created around Kerry.

Trump and his acolytes broke with this style. There are no dog whistles here. Nothing subtle or indirect. Moderation was not in his campaign vocabulary, and the suburbanites eventually ran in the other direction.

But Youngkin went back beyond Trump and revived the Bush family’s strategy. He is a billionaire banker, a 25-year veteran of the elite investment firm Carlyle Group, but campaigned as an “average citizen.” Dressed in wool and khaki pants, Youngkin could have been a neighbor you ran into at Home Depot.

His campaign faltered at first, until he took another page from the Bush manual. Youngkin saw a possible wedge problem in growing hostility toward educational elites, with a hint of racial grievance added. He developed the commercial “Beloved,” which featured a supposedly average middle-class mother frustrated that her son’s school forced him to read The Explicit Novel by Toni Morrison on the Horrors of Slavery.

It was 1988 and 2004 again. True to form, cable and broadcast news diligently scrutinized the controversial ad, giving it the kind of exposure Youngkin could only hope for. And Democrat Terry MacAuliffe had to explain his veto of two parental control bills with a deaf campaign killer: “I don’t think parents should tell schools what to teach.”

Despite everything, Youngkin kept his demeanor accessible and credible. Attempts to paint it with a Trumpian brush failed. Voters in the suburbs made him governor-elect.

Youngkin’s victory shows the Republican Party that everything old can be new again.

They can maintain their base with deft nods in your direction while burying the fury-filled political style that has turned off indecisive and independent voters.

What about the Democrats? Well, his only candidate to face Bush’s strategy and win a great election was Bill clintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson Clinton Non-elected staff electing themselves as ‘President’ Voters oppose holding Joe Manchin infrastructure hostage and exodus of workers MORE – a man even his nemesis Ken starr have called “The most talented politician of the Baby Boomer generation”.

No problem: Democrats have about 12 months to quickly find a lot of people like him.

Time to be afraid: Yes, very afraid.

Joe Ferullo is an award-winning media executive, producer and journalist and former executive vice president of programming for CBS Television Distribution. He was a news executive for NBC, writer and producer of “Dateline NBC” and worked for ABC News. Follow him on Twitter @smith1.

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