Hit 'em where it hurts How to save democracy by beating Republicans at their own game

Rachel Bitecofer

Book - 2024

"A radical, urgent plan for how the Democratic Party and its supporters can maintain power at one of the most pivotal moments in the history of our nation's democracy. Why do Democrats fail to win voters to their side, and what can they do to develop new winning political strategies-especially as the very fate of democracy hangs in the balance in 2024? Too often the carefully constructed, rational arguments of the Left meet a grisly fate at the polls, where voters are instead swayed by Republican candidates hawking anger, fear, and resentment. Only when Democrats are handed an overwhelming motivational issue-like the Supreme Court's 2022 Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade-have they found a way to counter this effect. Poli...tical scientist and strategist Rachel Bitecofer came to prominence after predicting the size (to the seat) of the Democrats' rare Blue Wave in the 2018 midterms. At the heart of her prediction lay a powerful concept-negative partisanship, or the idea that voters, even most so-called independents, don't vote for their candidate so much as they vote against their candidate's opponent. Seen through this lens, Hit 'Em Where It Hurts is a deep dive into the Republicans' own playbook, sharing how Democrats can turn the Right's own tactics against them. The way for Democrats to wage-and win-electoral war, Bitecofer writes, is to present themselves as "brand ambassadors for freedom, health, wealth, safety, and common sense," the very opposite of the extremist, freedom-fearing Right. This is a last-ditch effort to armor democracy while there is still time to save and strengthen it against hijacking by a small minority of ideologues. As America careens into the election cycle that will determine its democratic future, Hit 'Em Where It Hurts is the book for any Democrat who has ever banged their head against a wall when obvious reasoning failed to sway voters over to their side. This guide is a lifeline to save American democracy in its darkest hour"--

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New York : Crown [2024]
Main Author
Rachel Bitecofer (author)
Other Authors
Aaron Murphy, 1979- (author)
First edition
Physical Description
xvii, 262 pages ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 225-250) and index.
  • Introduction: The Dirtiest Word in America
  • Part I. Rough Clay
  • 1. Democracy on Its Deathbed
  • 2. Partisanship Is a Helluva Drug
  • 3. You Are What You Eat
  • 4. A Critical Culture War
  • Part II. Chess Versus Checkers
  • 5. This or That?
  • 6. All Politics Are National
  • 7. Controlling the Narrative
  • Part III. The Art of Electoral War
  • 8. Stronger Messaging in Seven Steps
  • 9. How to Land Punches
  • 10. How to Give Wedgies
  • 11. The Proof Is in the Pudding
  • 12. Voters Are Just Not That into You
  • Conclusion: Democracy, If We Can Keep It
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Index
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A packet of recommendations for selling the Democrats--and democracy--to the American public. "Until the Republican Party gets its own shit together, America will always be just one Election Day away from fascism," writes political scientist and strategist Bitecofer. There's not much incentive for the GOP to head for the center, however, because they're doing a good job of messaging the Big Lie of election theft, to say nothing of prepping Americans to give up their rights and their money to support authoritarianism. The author demonstrates that while the Democrats have the better product, they're also unable "to accept that the American voter is, at best, rough clay….We can soften it, mold it, change it." Put another way, the American voter is ignorant about history, politics, and civics. The GOP knows this--not for nothing did Trump praise the uneducated as his kind of people--and meets voters where they are. The GOP is also skilled at turning nuanced slogans such as "Defund the police" into political kryptonite. In a narrative that's refreshingly stuffed with strong language ("As I told the neo-fascist Charlie Kirk…I was happy to argue CRT with him, but just like the rest of America, I had no fucking idea what it was"), Bitecofer offers commonsensical solutions to the messaging problem--such as not turning every campaign postcard into a white paper and instead grabbing people in the 10 seconds between mailbox and trash can: "Republicans are coming for your pot." "Republicans said they made America great again, but now your kid's school is open only four days a week." "Extremist Republicans refused to expand Medicaid and now your community is losing its only hospital." Scrap the niceties, in short, and go for the jugular. Progressive political activists will want to take Bitecofer's well-argued recommendations to heart. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

1 Democracy on Its Deathbed How many times have you heard a politician or a political pundit say something to the effect of "the American people are too smart for that"? If you watch the Sunday news shows, or any cable news for that matter, you've heard it many times. The only problem is, it's not true. Sure, Americans are plenty smart. Like most developed nations, our nation is home to a highly educated population with ample access to the calories and high standards of living that are the hallmarks of modern civilizations. But overall intelligence is not the same as civic intelligence. A space genius can build a rocket that can land upright on its launchpad without knowing a damn thing about how his own government works while your HR manager may well be able to explain the intricacies of presidential primaries around the office coffeepot. What separates these folks isn't IQ or what they study in school. What marks them distinct from each other is interest. To illustrate this, think of something you like a lot. It can be anything: sports, Hollywood, cooking, fashion. Whatever it is, your interests and passions are an important driving force that builds and strengthens your working knowledge and I bet you know a lot about it. Sports fans can list half the roster of every major-­league team in the country. Football fans can still recount the ins and outs of Deflategate. Now think of something that doesn't interest you at all. If you could care less about, say, country music, you probably know very little about it and can't name very many people involved in the country music world. See the knowledge gap between the things you're interested in and the things you aren't? Now consider America's current political landscape. If you're an average American, politics isn't your jam, which means you don't fill your precious time following, worrying about, or even understanding political events. Because you're reading this book, you likely have more interest in politics than the average American ( much more), so it's important to accept this fact right off the top: the average working political knowledge of the average American voter sucks. Sound harsh? Well, I'm being generous. When behavioral research first emerged in the field of political science in the 1950s, it uncovered some stunning findings. For the first time ever, political scientists quantified that the average American knew next to nothing about politics and government. But don't worry, these political scientists asserted, because in our unique two-­party system Americans don't need to know much to adequately fulfill their democratic obligations. They can simply use a candidate's party identification as a heuristic (a shortcut) to quickly figure out which candidate to vote for--­no mental commitment needed! In fact, the American Political Science Association published a report way back in 1950 arguing that it would be really great if America had two "responsible" parties with clearly discernible platforms, programs, and ideologies so that lesser-­informed Americans could make even better use of the party heuristic when deciding whom to vote for. This is why you should always be careful what you wish for. If we're going to understand why the Democrats' traditional electioneering efforts come up short, which we soon will, look no further than our inability to accept that the American voter is, at best, rough clay. Some of the most important works of art started out that way. We can work with rough clay. We can soften it, mold it, change it. Republicans have long understood this and have built an electioneering system that shapes the electorate and meets voters where they actually are. Much of the Democrats' system does not do this. Many of the Democratic Party's leaders wrongly assume that American voters know their civics and engage in politics, which results in an electioneering strategy aimed at selling a product few want to buy or have interest in. In my line of work as an analyst, I often hear, "But everyone already knows [insert political fact]!" No, no, they don't. And we're gonna spend the next few pages proving it. First, consider this: The nonpartisan Annenberg Public Policy Center regularly measures what Americans know about politics in its annual Constitution Day Civics Survey. In September 2022, Annenberg researchers found that less than half of the 1,113 Americans they surveyed, only 47 percent, could name (not explain, name! ) all three branches of the U.S. government. And that's an improvement from the recent past. Back in 2006, only 33 percent could name all three branches. Asked to name any of the five rights guaranteed in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, 37 percent of those surveyed by Annenberg couldn't name a single one. Another respected nonpartisan research organization, the Pew Research Center, found that not long after John Roberts cast the Supreme Court's deciding vote to uphold Obamacare in 2012, only 39 percent of the thousand-­plus Americans surveyed could even identify him as chief justice. And a 2020 survey by New York's Stony Brook University suggests up to 80 percent of Americans follow politics only "casually or not at all." These are lights-­and-­sirens warnings about the state of America's democracy. Our political system is sick and barely wheezing by on life support. Healthy democracies around the world are defined by values like equal treatment under the law, widespread access to voting and fair elections, the acceptance of majority rule, and the tolerance of nonviolent dissenters and opposition parties. Citizens in healthy democracies vote consistently and regularly because they understand the consequences of low participation. They know that if they stop being part of their own democracy, tyranny will fill the void. They understand that democracy is fragile, a lesson World War II taught Europe well. Many Americans, however, don't understand that fragility--­or have forgotten it. We take our democracy for granted and have, until recently, been lucky enough to live in a country so stable and well run that most of its citizens can completely ignore the government and the people who run it. You cannot ignore the government in authoritarian regimes like Iran or Russia because it's up your ass every day. If you do happen to follow the day-­to-­day work of Congress--­if you know the who's who of the political world, its winners and the losers, who's up for reelection--­then you may find it difficult to understand the civic behavior and political opinions of average Americans who don't follow politics closely at all. Many Americans wake up, maybe scan some quick headlines, work all day, attend school band concerts or ball games, catch a show on Netflix, chill if they're lucky, then go to bed without a single thought about whatever happened in Congress or at the White House. Excerpted from Hit 'Em Where It Hurts: How to Save Democracy by Beating Republicans at Their Own Game by Rachel Bitecofer All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.