The real goal of this strategy has not been adequately explained. It is widely depicted as little more than an effort to tar Republican candidates with faceless plutocrats. Republicans paint it as a desperate effort to gin up the Dem base and to distract from struggling Dem candidates.
But there’s something more complex going on here. The “Koch addition” approach is rooted in a strategic imperative Dems face: How can they create a framework within which voters will believe what they are saying about the real policy agenda Republicans are campaigning on?
A recent Post/ABC News poll found that Dems hold a real advantage on many issues, but nonetheless hold a disadvantage in Senate races. Polls show majorities agree with Dems on specific policies they’re campaigning on — the minimum wage; unemployment benefits; etc. But that’s bumping up against the structural reality that Senate control will largely be decided in seven states carried by Mitt Romney in 2012.
The challenge Dems say they face is to get voters to focus on actual positions held by GOP candidates, and on the fact that those positions are not in their economic interests. Why do these candidates oppose raising the minimum wage, or extending unemployment insurance, or expanding Medicaid, all of which would benefit so many people in the states they would represent? Republicans may claim a legitimate rationale for these positions, but the question is, how do you get voters to focus on the fact that these are really their positions?
Dems hope to focus voters on these actual positions by painting candidates as beholden to an agenda held by outside interests. The Koch brothers are a proxy for special interests in general, an easy-to-understand concept designed to create a narrative framework within which voters might reach the general conclusion that GOP candidates’ priorities aren’t in their states’ interests; they are serving something — or someone — else.
The same thing is going on here. Will it work? Republican structural advantages may well prove very difficult to overcome. But it’s at least worth appreciating what Dems are actually up to.