Trump’s Convention May Be The Culmination Of Decades Of Republicans’ Dirty PoliticsRoundup
tags: Republican Party, Lee Atwater, Republican National Convention
Julian Zelizer is a political historian at Princeton University. He is author of Burning Down the House: Newt Gingrich, the Fall of a Speaker, and the Rise of the New Republican Party.
On Monday, the Republican National Convention begins. With memories of “Lock her up!” and a schedule of D-list celebrities, right-wing memes and trolls, everyone paying attention knows this will be a raucous event. President Trump already offered Americans a taste of his campaign last week when he delivered a fusillade about an undocumented immigrant who robbed and critically injured a woman while on a jobs program that Sen. Kamala D. Harris, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, helped launch in California as San Francisco’s top prosecutor. He also falsely accused Democrats of taking the words “under God” out of the Pledge of Allegiance. Trailing in the polls and fresh off a successful Democratic convention, Republicans might be even more emboldened to trot out outrageous, false attacks against presidential nominee Joe Biden.
Somewhere, Lee Atwater must be smiling.
The 2020 Republican campaign will be built on the foundation that Atwater created.
Atwater, a South Carolina Republican and former rock-n-roll-loving frat boy, was one of the fiercest campaign consultants ever to enter the business. The “Babe Ruth of negative politics” started out as an intern for the segregationist senator Strom Thurmond and moved his way up to Ronald Reagan’s political director in 1984.
Atwater was to campaigns what Newt Gingrich was to Capitol Hill. As Gingrich elevated his smash-mouth partisanship to the highest level of congressional politics in the same period, Atwater began to mainstream his vicious brand into the highest levels of electoral politics. He compared politics to professional wrestling. He relied on character assassination, distorted information and made-for-television spectacle to manipulate the crowd into hating Democrats. Chaos was a good thing.
When politicians like Richard Nixon had used dirty tricks in an earlier period, the guardrails in American politics forced them to do so secretly.
Atwater, however, threw out the rule book. While he understood the value of coded language, he urged clients to say almost all of the silent parts out loud.
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