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.
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.