The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Republicans have been tying Democrats to socialism for 90 years. Trump is going all in on the tradition.

Ahead of the 2020 elections, Republicans are again trying to contrast themselves with Democrats by linking Democratic policy proposals to “socialism.” (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

While formally launching his 2020 reelection campaign on Tuesday, President Trump circled back to a word he has used publicly at least 118 times since becoming president: socialism.

“No matter what label they use, a vote for any Democrat in 2020 is a vote for the rise of radical socialism and the destruction of the American Dream,” Trump said at his 60th rally since being sworn in.

Republicans linking Democrats and Democratic policy proposals to “socialism” or “communism” is nothing new, examples of which you can watch in the video above. But the tactic of “red-baiting” has roots in a near-century-long Republican campaign to discredit policies including Social Security, the G.I. Bill and Medicare.

Former president Herbert Hoover and the son of former president William Howard Taft warned that President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal would lead to socialism.

Roosevelt’s 1936 presidential opponent, Alf Landon, ran an ad depicting the Democratic donkey (“the jackass”) corrupted by drinking Russian vodka. In 1964, Republican presidential candidate Barry M. Goldwater ran an ad against President Lyndon B. Johnson that included a clip of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, suggesting that U.S. children would become communists if Johnson were elected.

Politicians including Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and John McCain all tied Democrats to “socialism” or “communism.” In the final two weeks of the 2008 presidential campaign, Fox News tied Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama to socialism nearly three dozen times.

Now, after suffering their worst House midterm popular vote defeat since the Watergate scandal and with a majority of Americans saying they will definitely not vote for Trump in 2020, Republicans are doubling down on “socialism.” Trump is the only president to never hit 50 percent approval in Gallup’s weekly tracking poll, and as my colleague Aaron Blake noted, part of Trump’s reelection strategy is probably betting on low turnout among key groups likely to vote Democratic.

Republicans successfully tied Obama to socialism in 2010, and the majority of Americans are still more positive toward capitalism than socialism. But whether continuing to use a decades-old GOP playbook on “socialism” will work for Trump in 2020 remains to be seen.

When Gallup polled U.S. adults last month, 43 percent said it would be a good thing to have some form of socialism in the country, an 18-point increase from a 1942 survey on socialism.

But perhaps more notable is that 34 percent of Americans had no opinion about socialism in 1942. Last month, 6 percent had no opinion.