Can the Koch Brothers Force Voters to Take Republicans Seriously?

| Thu Mar. 13, 2014 10:14 AM EDT

Greg Sargent takes a look at the Democratic strategy of linking Republican senatorial candidates to the Koch brothers:

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.

Plus it's always good to have a bogeyman, isn't it?

But I agree with Sargent, and this is something that relates back to my posts earlier this week about the fact that middle-class voters don't perceive a big difference between the economic policies of Democrats and Republicans. I argued that one reason for this is that Democrats haven't offered the middle class very much over the past few decades. But several critics pounced on this: even if it's true, they said, the policy agendas of the two parties are like night and day. Republicans want to privatize Social Security. They want to shred the safety net. They want to let the minimum wage erode to nothing. They want to eliminate capital gains taxes. They want to gut the EPA. Etc.

But one of the mysteries of modern politics is that a lot of voters don't take this seriously. Partly it's because Republicans have never had the unified power to pass this agenda. Partly it's because they chickened out on a lot of it even when they came close to having that power during the Bush era. As a result, when Republicans engage in one of their periodic anti-government jeremiads it strikes a lot of people as just a sort of meaningless chant, words that Republican candidates have to mouth in order to prove they're part of the team, but not something they're really serious about.

This frustrates Democrats no end, and they'd love to find a way to truly pin this stuff on the backs of Republican candidates. If Sargent is right, the Koch brothers are a way to do this.