Democrats do some things very, very well. Not so much actually governing, but when it comes to politics and optics, they hold world records for creating outrage.
Outrage is the Democrat’s most trusted weapon. It is their reliable defense and their strategic offense. No matter how deep the corruption or horrific the scandal, a liberal can judo onto the high ground simply by peppering the conversation with accusations of racism, bias, unlawfulness, or simply meanness. They will call their opponents’ actions “unprecendented” and “shocking” without any care for whether or not those adjectives apply.
Liberals most often unleash the outrage machine when two conditions are met: a Democrat is under siege and a Republican is surging. Let’s explore these conditions.
Take for example the current liberal outrage over the open letter to Iran signed by 47 US Senators. Nothing in the content of the letter is outrageous. In fact, the letter is probably the most clear, direct and effective diplomatic effort the United States has performed in the last six years. Score one for Republicans.
That alone is not enough to gin up the outrage machine. But, couple that with Hillary Clinton’s meltdown even before getting in the race and you have a dire situation for Democrats.
Clinton dodged every possible standard of transparency, security and protocol by maintaining a homebrewed email server as the United States Secretary of State. Her press conference on Tuesday created more questions than it answered and has ensured that the email controversy will be a continuing story throughout the 2016 campaign.
Early efforts to mitigate the Clinton controversy backfired. Her surrogates tried to push the narrative that it was a “non-issue” and “voters don’t give a sh**.”
That story didn’t hold up — “Hillary Clinton” is currently the #8 most searched for phrase on Google. Echelon Insights finds that conversation about Clinton’s email scandal extends to “Americans living and working far from Washington, D.C.”
The press conference seems to have shocked Clinton world with just how much political communications has changed in the last 10 years. Today, it is always best to address controversies both directly and honestly. Clinton’s team convinced her to try the former. She was unable to pull off the latter.
So here we have a situation where a prominent (soon-to-be) Democratic candidate is under attack and faltering. We also have Republicans getting credit and praise for their actions. These two elements — Democrat under siege and Republican surging — are the raw elements for the Left’s outrage machine to manifest.
What happens when the outrage machine gets going?
1. Anxiety creates energy
First, these conditions create stress on the status quo. Liberals, including those in political organizations, unions, and the media, experience stress over the situation. There’s increased energy and an anxious need to take action.
2. A catalyst sparks action
Second, a catalyst enters the situation. In this case, it was President Obama wildly accusing the Senators who signed the open letter as having sided with “hardliners in Iran.” Hillary Clinton herself, eager to talk about anything but email, called the letter “out of step with the best traditions of American leadership.” (Side note: as with most things Hillary says, what does that even mean?!?)
3. Surrogates fill the echo chamber
Third, scores of surrogates now enter the echo chamber echoing their version of the catalyst’s message. “Their version” is important because the actual message can get warped and twisted at this point, but it is all centered on the same objectives: change the subject and turn the good guys into the bad guys.
In this case, the original chastising of the Senators’ letter has now turned into a trending Twitter hashtag: #47traitors. Dare to read the tweets using this hashtag and you’ll see scores of vile, creepy, indignant, hostile — even murderous — messages targeted at the Senators who signed the letter.
The Washington Post claims the letter is “dangerous” and another left-leaning publication insinuates that Senator Tom Cotton is now engaging in unethical conduct for speaking to a trade association. Jon Stewart mocked the Senators, calling the GOP “cuckoo bananas.” John Kerry, who himself traveled to Nicaragua as a United States Senator to go around the foreign policy of Ronald Reagan, said the letter “ignores more than two centuries of precedent in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.”
4. The GOP responds
Fourth, Republicans respond. Often, it’s not pretty. It’s fair to say that the liberal outrage machine — simply because of its raw speed and often illogical claims — catches opponents off guard. It hits quickly, and at first the sheer nonsense of what’s being said strikes as being so off base its funny. But it soon gains momentum, and as the same talking points are repeated over and over, no matter how far from the truth, they start to stick.
Suddenly, non-political citizens who were watching NFL free agency trades are now constitutional scholars. There’s a band wagon effect that pulls in people who were otherwise not paying attention, like a tsunami pulls in debris. In fact, because of the original conditions that triggered the outrage machine — a democrat under siege and a republican rising — it’s likely that most people have heard something about the issue before, but without depth. This triggers a mental reaction to pay more attention now, often resulting in the outraged response being absorbed more than the original story.
So it’s natural that the initial response is often off foot. The GOP defends their statements. One reflex response is to point to when the Democrats have done the same thing they’re doing now. This is a critical error. It pulls conservatives off of the moral high ground and down into the Democrats’ muck. It puts good, rational policy on the same level as irrational, often unethical activity.
Regardless of the response, it too often only does one thing: makes more people hear about the story. Unfortunately, since the Democrats have such powerful allies in the media and are so good at feigning outrage, they have the megaphone. The more people hear about the story, the more they hear the outrage machine’s message.
At this point, once both sides have engaged, the Democrats have succeeded in moving the battlefield. The topic is no longer “What is Hillary hiding in her emails?” or “can we stop Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon?” but “Are Republicans traitors?”
How can Republicans fight back?
The liberal outrage machine thrives because it succeeds in changing the subject and vilifying their opponents. It creates a red herring that shifts everyone’s attention. It changes the moral compass of the debate. It is a force of nature not to be taken lightly, but there is a path to success.
1. Play the long game
First, know the value of a strategic retreat, and a strategic win. The zombie horde has overrun your village. The force of the first wave of impact is overwhelming. You are now a guerrilla fighter. Resist the urge to stand in the open field and fight. Think strategically and be prepared for a sustained resistance. The Left wants to move the fight to their battlefield — one where booby traps and Chris Matthews are plentiful. Don’t go there.
2. Spark a new catalyst
Second, there needs to be a new catalyst. Once the echo chamber is talking about an issue, reporters are going to cover that issue. The Democrats are already feeding them lines. Once Republicans respond, they have a story. They are going to keep writing on that story — until there is a new story.
Whether it’s a new angle that feeds controversy or an over-reach in the attacks (e.g., calls to imprison and physically harm GOP Senators), it takes a sharp pivot to shift the narrative. Sometimes it takes a completely new story.
Gov. Rick Perry’s team did this effectively when he was indicted last year. The media swooped in as MoveOn and other groups cranked up their outrage messages. Rick Perry was going down, and they all wanted a front row ticket to watch.
The only problem was the person doing the indicting — Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat. It quickly came to light that the whole situation was precipitated after Lehmberg was arrested for drunk driving and spent a night in jail that was not pretty.
The revelations about Lehmberg — especially the multiple videos of her berating officers and stumbling through a sobriety test — were a huge catalyst that changed the story. Even the Washington Post editorial board came to his defense, effectively shutting down the outrage machine. Well played, Team Perry.
There’s a sadistic twist on this strategy often used by Obama team. If a scandal breaks out that they can’t control, often the best way to get through the crisis is to drop another scandal into the mix. Now reporters have something new to write about. Not that its ever a good idea to promote the coverage of (much less, be involved in) a scandal, but it does highlight the power of a catalyst to change the narrative, even a bit, and how it can be used to regain lost ground.
3. Focus on the core question — with empathy
Finally, keep coming back to the core issue — and do it with empathy. We cannot cede every issue where the liberal outrage machine gets going, nor should we. Their success depends on being able to change the subject and vilify their opponents. Our success depends on painting the contrast between emotional rhetoric and proven, principled policy. We can only win on policy if we communicate with empathy — cutting off their strategic supply of emotional appeal.
In this case, every Republican is going to get asked some version of, “Are you a traitor? Voters think you should be hung for treason. How do you respond?”
The response should be some version of, “I have three children, and I want them to grow up in a world that is not under threat of attack from a nuclear Iran. I owe it to my children and families across this nation to make a stand and stop Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon. So I have one question: Are the President’s efforts going to stop Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon or not?”
If the original debate was good enough to trigger the liberal outrage machine, it’s good enough to come back to as a response. Take the air out of their outrage. Keep your head down and communicate with empathy. Don’t let them push you onto their battlefield.
The liberals will be shocked at your unprecedented and outrageous winning message.
If you have thoughts or feedback, feel free to comment on RootsHQ’s Facebook page or tweet with the hashtag #outragemachine.