Theory of Change Podcast With Matthew Sheffield
Republicans built an infrastructure to attack democracy, Democrats must build one to protect it

Republicans built an infrastructure to attack democracy, Democrats must build one to protect it

Rachel Bitecofer on why Democrats must understand and counteract voter ignorance and apathy

It’s all but official that the 2024 presidential election is going to be Joe Biden versus Donald Trump. And so because of that, we’re going to move to more of a general election focus on Theory of Change.

At this point in many of the surveys, Joe Biden is trailing Donald Trump. There are a number of reasons for this, one of them being that the Democratic party is operating under a politics of yesteryear against a Republican party that has not existed in many decades.

Besides being much more dominated by openly anti-democratic extremists, the American right has become incredibly professionalized with a gigantic infrastructure for networking, career advancement, legislation composition, and also propaganda.

Democrats, by contrast, have almost no institutions that are as explicitly ideological and which work to advocate for center-left ideas to the public. As much as Democrats often talk about how democracy is at risk in this country, and indeed it is, they have not functionally changed their behavior from an institutional standpoint.

And we will talk about that today with the guest in today’s episode with Rachel Bitecofer. She is a political strategist and the co-author of a new book called Hit ’Em Where It Hurts, and also the creator of a newsletter called The Cycle.

The video of this episode is available. The conversation was recorded February 9, 2024. The transcript of the audio follows. Because of its length, some podcast apps and email programs may truncate it. Access the episode page to get the full text.

Cover photo: Lara Trump, recently appointed as co-chair of the Republican National Committee, speaks onstage at a lavish conference thrown by Turning Point USA. June 19, 2023. Photo: Gage Skidmore/CC-by-2.0

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Related Content

Audio Chapters

00:00 — Most Americans know very little about politics, but Republicans seem to realize the importance of this fact more than Democrats

08:37 — Television advertising doesn’t work, but Democrats keep wasting money on it

20:48 — Republicans invest in political networking and career building, Democrats do not

36:25 — How right-wing activists use mainstream media to push their message through manipulation

38:59 — Right wing messaging can impact people who aren’t even conservative

43:53 — How political branding influences people who consider themselves “independent”

46:25 — The “both parties are wrong” critique of politics is completely disproven by actual data

54:16 — Why humor and mockery are so important in political communications

Audio Transcript

The following is a machine-generated transcript of the audio that has not been corrected. It is provided for convenience purposes only.

MATTHEW SHEFFIELD: Welcome to Theory of Change, Rachel.

RACHEL BITECOFER: Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here today.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. so let’s I guess start off the discussion with what’s the elevator pitch behind your book here?

BITECOFER: Yeah, just contextually, I think it’s important for people to understand in this audience, probably in particular. This book is the product of a mission to, to bring the rest of the world up to what political science knows [00:03:00] about.

Voting behavior, the mass electorate voter psychology, political polarization, because the reason that I’m even sitting here today is a forecast using my academic work. I was a PhD. I was a professor at a university in 2018. That forecasted a really strong Democratic performance in the 2018 midterms.

And the reason I even put it out was I was frustrated watching and reading things like 538 and the Cook political report and others that didn’t seem to incorporate modern or recent political science literature, especially the literature on political polarization, because you guys hear the word all the time.

We’re polarized, it’s polarizing, whatever, but what people don’t know is that actually that has created a really distinct mass electorate that never existed. I mean, maybe back in the civil war, we don’t have polling. It’s never existed before, and it has conditioned behavior [00:04:00] in a different way than we’re used to.

What was happening in the nineties or when Ronald Reagan won and won almost every state on the map. Right? Those are things that can’t happen now because we have a different electorate. So motivating the book was to get a, the left predominantly to understand the reality of the American electorate, the role that partisanship party identification plays in vote choice.

And then the very, very rough clay that is the American voter, It’s not like the people who are watching us now, they are tuned out. They are mostly not interested in politics. And if you think about something that you’re not interested in, like say, I mean, NASCAR, I don’t know anything about NASCAR.

I couldn’t tell you one NASCAR driver, but if I was into NASCAR, I wouldn’t know a lot about it. I would be able to tell you a whole bunch, right? So, people don’t have an interest in politics. That’s the reason why half of the eligible electorate, basically it’s 60 40 percent in [00:05:00] 2020 don’t even bother to vote in the most consequential of our elections.

The presidential election people in America are very tuned out and that has gotten much worse in the modern media environment, which allows people to completely isolate themselves from political news and current events in and really just go all in on entertainment. Right. So,

SHEFFIELD: Oh, ’cause there’s, yeah, there’s just so much of it.

Oh, so much for to watch.

BITECOFER: It’s so much, right? Like, I can’t, sometimes I go into Netflix and I’m like, okay, what should I watch? Okay. Too much. I just, I quit . Yeah.

SHEFFIELD: I mean, hell, like, if you wanted to, you could literally. Only watch real housewives shows you literally do that for a year.

BITECOFER: Our system is built and based on a flawed foundation. So this book is 1st, getting you to understand. How that’s that assumption that the electorate is engaged and informed and the, they, the public knows all this stuff that’s happening with [00:06:00] Donald Trump, it’s a flawed assumption.

Okay. And if you accept that the electorate knows almost nothing about what’s happening in contemporary politics, strategically you shift, right? And it becomes, Oh, then we need a messaging strategy. That informs the electorate that they’re facing an existential threat to their health, wealth, safety, and freedom.

So getting that second part of the book is about getting people to learn how the Republican system operates, how they’ve developed and, institutionalized infrastructure to pull off. They’re, really, they have really strong electoral performance relative to the amount of people that they’re, Are in the Republican party and and they’ve used it to dominate.

Right. And so the book is about getting people to understand Republicans don’t campaign the same way their election messaging isn’t, Hey, I have candidate Tim, Tom, Tim Ryan, and he’s a bipartisan, moderate. Who’s going to get things done. He was up. [00:07:00] Good ideas. An extremist in JD Vance and JD Vance won that election.

Now there is a lean to the right on in Ohio, but at the end of the day, the voters that voted for JD Vance on that partisan label preference, the R on the, ballot next to him. Many of them, they had no idea they were voting for a fascist, a guy who’s actually espoused in the public record, very fascist views, especially about women.

Okay, they never heard that he would vote to ban abortion nationally. They never heard any of this because we are, our campaigns do not define our opponent. And so that’s what this book is about, getting everybody out of the old strategy. Understanding how modern elections work and how polarization has, really elevated the effect of partisan label.

And at the end of the day, if partisanship is going to predict the vote choice for 90 percent of voters, and it does, even those independent leaners, then you have to be designing a campaign that sells the entire brand. And that’s what the Republicans have been very [00:08:00] good at. Their brand good, our brand bad, right?

And so it comes, it’s a whole new approach to electioneering on the left.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, when it’s, when you’re talking about, defining the opposition the, Republicans figured out a long time ago and probably I’d say Paul Weyrich, the, right wing Christian strategist, he was the first one that really figured this out where he said that, people, it’s easier to motivate them against something than for something.

And that’s, and essentially like. And that’s right.

Television advertising doesn’t work, but Democrats keep wasting money on it

SHEFFIELD: There is so much political science that has, has, really just floated around within the academic community. And I mean, that was my major in college and I remember reading all these papers and then I would look at the way that the, Two parties behaved and I was on the right at this point in time. And I was like, wow, the Democrats, even though they all have these liberal professors don’t [00:09:00] pay attention to them at all. And what they say, and like one of the, key insides of political science is that advertising doesn’t work.

Especially at the higher, like the higher you go in politics, the less it works in terms of persuasion, because people already know who Donald Trump is. They already know who Joe Biden is. They already know who Barack Obama is or whoever, Hillary Clinton, they are, and they have their opinion.

It’s the same way that if I showed you, if you like, Pepsi and I show you a thousand ads for Coke, it’s not going to make you go buy a Coke. Yes. and it’s because of the, it’s not going to make you like

BITECOFER: it, especially. And really it’s not about the person. So it’s not Biden. I mean, Trump’s different.

Okay. But whatever. It’s not. Bush and Kerry or whatever. It’s the in American political science when the field of mine, mine is behavioral, right? When that field emerged, it was because we had finally invented surveys on telephone surveys. And people were like, people [00:10:00] like me, nerds, political scientists were like, Hey, now we can, find out things about the American electorate.

And so what they endeavored to do Was go find out about the electorate. It’s a seminal work in my discipline called the American voter. And what it found folks was this Americans don’t know jack shit about politics. They can tell you the president is maybe the vice president. Beyond that, most Americans don’t have much context to work with when it comes to interpreting political phenomenon, but.

The political scientist who wrote this book argue, don’t worry about it because they have this handy cognitive shortcut that they can use to make informed political decisions that don’t require them to have all this information. What is that shortcut? It’s the party label. Okay. And partisan elections, no matter how much you bleach out the party part in the campaigning, which is bad for us, right?

At the end of the day, the voter is getting into the ballot booth. And if [00:11:00] I know nothing, I mean, say you were sitting there right now, Matthew, but you were a black dot. I didn’t know if you were a man or a woman, if you were rich or poor. Old, young, suburbanite, rural, nothing. But I knew that you were an independent who said, I lean to the Republican party or a Republican, vice versa on the other side, I would be able to predict your vote choice a year away from an election, a year away, as I have done in two cycles, right?

I’ll be able to predict your vote choice nine out of 10 times. I’ll be right. Nine out of 10 times, because that you’re not buying a candidate, you’re buying a party. Yeah.

SHEFFIELD: And and to some degree we’re, kind of seeing that people not understanding that with, when you look at the, a lot of the discussion about public opinion polls and Joe Biden and Donald Trump, that, like, I, I think the.

The number one thing that happened in the Republican presidential primaries this year is that it wasn’t a [00:12:00] real primary. And that essentially because all the candidates were too afraid to attack Trump, basically it was a coronation of. You should vote for Trump because Joe Biden is the devil incarnate Republicans.

And you need to understand that. And that was the, message out of every single debate, Joe Biden is evil. That was it. It was never, well, Donald Trump is kind of dumb or he’s kind of corrupt or is extreme, even though some of, except for Chris Christie, he was the only one that was actually willing to criticize Trump.

And it was like the same, they, made the exact same mistake. The non Trump candidates that, that they made in 2016, they were too afraid to criticize this guy. And if you don’t criticize the number one person, well, you’re not going to win.

BITECOFER: Why would I pick a Trump alternative? If I can have Trump, right?

I mean, like they’re not going

SHEFFIELD: to tell me why Trump was bad. Exactly.

BITECOFER: Right. and as you point out, Christie did it. Now, if they had [00:13:00] all done it, I am convinced they could have put this guy down. Okay. But it would have taken all of them. Right. And they, just, they are so they’re like, it’s like, I don’t know.

They’re so Vic they’ve turned themselves into such hapless lumps of play. They can’t even figure out how to get out of a wet paper sack anymore.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. and I think the reason for that is that, the Republican party is not actually conservative. it’s reactionary. It is not a conservative party.

And in many ways, the Democratic Party actually is a conservative party in America. It’s sad to say,

BITECOFER: if you don’t classical conservatism, which you and I both, I think, understand pretty well. Yes, I mean, honestly, the Democratic Party is trying to preserve our institutions and, that’s a classic neoclassic liberalism, right?

Like, it’s crazy. Yeah,

SHEFFIELD: and certainly not trying to socialize anything. Yeah. And, and like, and, something that was, and, [00:14:00] of course, like somebody who’s right wing, hearing us say that might say, Oh, that’s just a bunch of communists talking nonsense. I don’t have to believe that.

But something that is an objective fact to this point is that, when that American political consultants who are Democrats will go and work for the British Conservative Party because they see it as not that different from the Democratic Party.

BITECOFER: Right. It’s amazing. Right. Because. When I do a, I did a survey once to test this and I, because I had a wonderful five year run where I had my own survey research center.

It was fantastic. And so when things came into my mind, I could test it. When I tested, I said, I tested like brand, like awareness, like what is, what do you, what comes to mind when you think of each of the parties brands? Right. And guess what? I mean, you won’t be surprised at all. When I tell you what the most common word was that people Popped out in terms of hearing, what do you think of the Democrats?

Right? And it was [00:15:00] socialism. So let’s think about how Republicans do their swing messaging. Okay. It’s about branding us as socialist and more lately child pedophile.

And what it is like, okay, so a Democrat’s like, well, you can’t call people a fascist. They don’t know what it is. Well, nobody knows what the socialist is either. All right. It’s not that voters know that we’re socialist because there’s a bunch of policy points that prove it out. They just keep hearing the association, the word association and the way that we run like Tim Ryan.

Did in Ohio. I mean, we, did kind of a bifurcated strategic map in 22 where Michigan and Arizona ran against the Republican party and defined it as an extremist movement. And then the old strategy ran with people like Tim Ryan. What Tim Ryan’s apologetic democratic approach is this, the Republican opponent saying, don’t vote for Tim Ryan because he’s a Democrat and all Democrats are socialist.

Okay. And Tim Ryan’s messages. Yeah, but I’m not one of those Democrats. [00:16:00] And what you hear if you’re a swing voter is, boy, there’s something really wrong with the brand Democrat. And if you’re walking into a ballot booth where the most important thing on the ballot is going to be the D and the R and brand association and basically top of mind awareness of impression, then that it’s very dangerous and bad to be telling swing voters.

Yes. There’s something wrong with that brand. You have to elevate your own party brand because at the end of the day, It’s the perception of the Democratic brand on the ballot is going to predict your performance in a swing race and especially against an opposition that’s willing to make. I mean, think about it.

We’re living in a country folks. We’re living in a country. The only advanced democracy. That doesn’t even have paid maternity leave. Okay, everywhere else, I’ve paid 6 weeks or whatever of maternity, maybe 6 months in some cases. [00:17:00] Here, I was back to work 5 days after a C section. Okay, no paid maternity leave.

So we’re not anywhere close to a communist regime. We can’t even see communists from our backyard in this country. And yet a not insignificant part of the population, I would argue, probably about 50 million Americans think that we’re socialist.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well, and, it is, I mean, and a lot of that is media effects.

And and as a discipline in political science, it has, there’s a massive, archive of studies that show that, It, media affects people’s opinions and yet when you look at the way that Democrats think about, Democratic leaders think about media, they seem to have the idea, and this is to the antiquated belief systems that you’ve been talking about, is that they seem to have this idea that, well, somebody can hear, 24 7 On six [00:18:00] different right wing cable channels and countless YouTube channels that Democrats are socialist pedophiles who are going to, let China take over America.

Yeah. They can hear that every single day of their lives. But then if we have, a hundred million dollars of ads on shows that they don’t watch for politics, that will counteract it. And it’s like, No, guys, that’s not how it works. But yeah, and, but this it’s so pervasive, this idea that.

Advertising is a panacea. Where, what can, let’s talk about why do you think that is?

BITECOFER: I mean, I, think there’s a real naivety about how media operates and how the Republican party operates in relationship to the media, I mean, Democrats don’t, it’s been, it was like me for five, six years now teaching people, actually public opinion flows From the top down, right?

The reason people are going to start noticing the economy is doing better. [00:19:00] Finally, is because the media is finally giving them headlines about how good the economy is. you can’t, you can, have things that are external, like, Gaza support from the Palestine people, but most of the time.

Media effects are shaping public perception, right? And even once you recognize that, then you have real logistic hurdles to implementing something like they have where they, as you pointed out all day long, if I’m a conservative, I’m going to consume different various. Conservative media, but it’s all going to be the same message over and repetition is what you need to make it sink in.

Whereas like us, we’re going to talk about 400 different things. There’s no repetition. 1 show is focused on this. 1 show is focused on that. And we can’t, we’re not going to, we’re not going to be able to compete with that. But what we can do. Because media follows campaigns is if we shape a narrow, if we’re shaping our message to create a narrative, then, and if we run [00:20:00] it from all levels, state, legislative house, Senate, gov president, it makes, I can make a cacophony effect.

Like the Republican party just did in 2021 was CRT. CRT is something even I, and I know almost everything had never heard of in, early 2021 and yet they took something I had never heard of and made it a household name, a national name. And made an entire election cycle revolve around it. How did they do that strategy and centralization?

We can’t stumble our way into better communication. We have to strategically design that system and intentionally centralize things. So that’s a lot of the work that I’m working on

SHEFFIELD: now. Yeah, no, it’s true.

Republicans invest in political networking and career building, Democrats do notz

SHEFFIELD: And of course the way that they’re able to do that is that they have and I can say this, as somebody who was on the political right, that the right wing spends probably in a [00:21:00] given year, at least 500 million on networking like networking organizations, internal networking.

And so they’ve got these groups like the council for national policy Americans for tax reform, CPAC, and Charlie Kirk’s many, organizations, which just alone, he controls like a hundred million dollars. That’s exactly

BITECOFER: right. You’re the only person I’ve ever met that knows that other than me.

SHEFFIELD: Well, that’s unfortunate.

BITECOFER: I mean, like, I lay out in the book, I’m like, look, this is what they do. Like we need, we don’t, we should stop telling rich people. We don’t want their money. We need. Billionaires and they have to start spending billions on building this infrastructure, Alec

SHEFFIELD: infrastructure of democracy.

BITECOFER: Yes. Infrastructure for democracy. And if we, and we have 500 grassroot groups for youth voting, all elbow grease. Okay. And spit, and there’s almost no one’s paid to run or to work in any of these [00:22:00] things. And they have turning point, they have a hundred million dollar For office buildings of 4 floors each because I went and debated Charlie Kurtz so I can see the infrastructure of turning point 1 of those buildings.

I didn’t access. Is outside labeled the turning point logistic center. So, 4 floors devoted to logistics guys. And like, we’re just getting like, we cannot band aid our way through this. We have to have an infrastructure that’s heavily invested in. We have to start right now because we’re already 15, 20, 30 years behind in that.

Depending on what institution you’re talking about. And at the end of the day, we, I mean, we, for years have been saying, Oh, they have all this stuff and why don’t we have any stuff? Well, okay. Then fucking build it. It’s time to build it, dude. How many years are going to go by when you were like, Oh, we wish we had an Alec.

Like, we have to find these donors and have conversations about how to better spend their investment money in elections. Because as you just [00:23:00] pointed out, a hundred million dollars in all, in September, Isn’t going to offset 10 months of narrative setting by right wing media. Yeah,

SHEFFIELD: no, it’s true. And, and, I think, and this is something that I’ve talked about a lot on, on, on my show is that I, think that the reason why you don’t see this stuff taken seriously is that when they look at a, like, a Democratic, a large donor or a party leader or high level consultant, when they look at Ben Shapiro or they look at Charlie Kirk, they see a buffoon who says, constantly says stupid stuff. And you know what, they are that, but they also are heard by tens of millions of people every single week when they say these things. And so you can laugh at what they have to say-- and it is absurd and like I have a comedy news podcast, so we do laugh at it.

It’s worth laughing at it But the [00:24:00] problem is that things that are like fascism is both absurd and dangerous Yes and if you only think that it’s absurd then you’re going to lose to it

BITECOFER: Yes, exactly. I mean, I’m doing a project. That’s called Project 1933. It’s tied into my work, trying to get people to read the Heritage Foundation’s Manual for Leadership, which is reissued since 1980.

Every, time there could be a new incoming Republican administration. I thought, could these people have possibly put a thousand pages of a fascist autocracy takeover plan into the Heritage Manual? And I ordered it and guess what? Because they know we’re so in it. They can write their shit in public and it describes how they’re going to use schedule of how they’re going to take over the civil service, how they’re going to ignore the court rulings.

it’s a pathway to fascism or transition to fast fascism. And I’m trying to get people to see what happened in Germany in 1933. [00:25:00] Hitler’s sworn in on Jan 30th. And it’s basically like the Trump’s swearing, right? Like, Oh, this guy’s going to be a hot mess. He’s going to, this government will last three weeks, but you know, the conservatives are going to reign them in this and that, and I’m not kidding by the summer, DACA was built and it’s filled full of the Nazi party’s political enemies, guys, three months to take long. So I’m like documenting it in real time. Like it’s a live tweet. Tomorrow, in fact, is the next segment of that where I’m trying to show people just how quick it is because all you need is a willingness to ignore the law to suspend the law to say the law is suspended and you are not going to ever sell me that this Republican Party.

Given Elise Stefanik was just on CNN talking about how she would have overturned the government, okay, overthrown the government for Donald Trump on January 6th. We have to believe them. They are quite serious. They are going to establish a fascist autocracy and we [00:26:00] have to panic now because if we wait until they’re actually doing it, like in Hitler’s Germany, it will be too late.

SHEFFIELD: No, exactly right. And, and I think on the Hitler point, one of the other things about him is that. People looking at him today, almost 100 years from when he first came along, they tend to think of him as just, this purely evil and, charismatic figure who was sort of, had an almost godlike competence of, dictatorship.

But that’s actually not how things were like. It is before he became, the absolute ruler, he wasn’t people thought of him as an idiot as a stupid moron who was constantly putting his foot in his mouth. And guess who that reminds you of. Yes.

BITECOFER: I keep trying to tell people, listen. Don’t compare [00:27:00] Hitler to like, or Trump to Hitler from 1944.

Okay? Like after he is murdered 6 million Jews in the gas chambers. What you should be looking at is the comparisons from 19 32, 19 33 Hitler, and if you do that. You’ll see the way the Nazis did their stuff was a victimization narrative. It was grievance politics, and it was an us versus them propaganda psych ops that they utilized a new mass communication tool to execute.

That was the radio. Never before could you beam a voice into a head. Of an American in their living room prior to that, and it was really instrumental in what the Nazis ended up doing. We’re in a very same situation because the invention of the Internet has completely and fundamentally changed how people are getting information and we learn that.

Because we know now that there’s a segment of the Democrats base, right? That has been radicalized over Gaza, probably [00:28:00] by social media content through TikTok and other things that were financed by Iran. Okay? We’ve never had a capability for foreign governments to put content into American brains directly.

It’s a new form of thing. And, Vladimir Putin used it to first elect Trump, help get Trump elected. And now it’s, being turned against us both domestically and internationally. So it, we’re really in a moment. Yes, there are differences. The United States is a stabilized, institutionalized democracy that’s been in operation for almost 250 years.

The Weimar Republic in Germany was never stable. Okay, so that is true folks. But at the end of the day, when you look at the mechanics of what happened, if the ruler is willing to say, there is a crisis of the border, the borders being invaded, I am suspending the constitution. That’s it. It’s game over.

Now you might say, well, won’t we all react? maybe, [00:29:00] but it’s really easy to say that you will when you’re not the one with the AR 15 pointed at your family, right? So maybe we’ll react, but if they’ve declared martial law and they’re shooting protesters in the streets, it’s not going to be sufficient.

The time to stop it is before it happens.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And we know for a fact that when Trump was trying to illegally cling to power in 2021, he was receiving advice from people. You need to suspend the constitution. You need to seize the voting machines. You need to declare a martial law because there is an insurrection.

And they were the ones talking about insurrection.

BITECOFER: Yeah. And we know this too, that was a white house meeting late at night after the, chief of staff had left because Cassidy Hutchinson told us. Right. And it came within seconds folks. And then actually it happened. Trump said, you know what I want to appoint, I can do whatever I want.

Right. I can appoint Sidney Powell. As a special prosecutor and literacy, [00:30:00] right? And, they’re like, yeah, you can do that, but we’re not going to do it. We’re not, no, one’s going to execute this for you. No, one’s gonna like, he tried to appoint her, but the rest of the room was like, no, we’re not going to do it.

Like they literally ignored a presidential order. People have no idea of any of that. Like my friends that vote regularly even, so they’re already better than most people. They don’t, know anything about what happened. They know there was an insurrection thing at the Capitol. They don’t realize it was part of an intricate, multi level, multi pronged, party wide conspiracy that came this close to ending democracy.

And that’s why they devised Project 2025. They’re actually taking applications from young conservatives who they’re going to ideologically scream. They’re going to have this whole data bank of pre scaring to people who were like you, right? You. That are committed to loyalty to not to the constitution, not to anything else, but to Donald Trump personally.

And I mean, that’s just where we’re at. [00:31:00]

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, it is. And the, and so all those people that refuse Trump. In 2021, if he wins, they will, no one like that will be allowed in,

BITECOFER: Donald Trump’s going to like pick a vice president that helps him do something like, he picked Pence because he wanted to get, make sure the evangelical vote, the most important constituency in the Republican party was squarely behind him.

And he’s, a hot mess personally. And we thought maybe they would care because they’re supposed to like be religious, but apparently not like that. He’s not doing that this time. Trump has one criteria for Veep, will this person do what I want them to do when I seize power? And that’s it. Okay. And that’s why Elise Stefanik was auditioning on CNN the other day.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, no, exactly. And of course, they also do this at the, sort of thing at, the local and state levels as well. And, you mentioned a group that I think a lot of people might not have heard of [00:32:00] called Alec. What is Alec for people who don’t know what that is. Yeah. In the Republican.

What do

BITECOFER: they do? Yeah. Yeah. Within the Republican massive infrastructure, which is, as he pointed out, at least 500 million a year, but probably significantly more if we could, actually look

SHEFFIELD: at the media, it’s over, billions.

BITECOFER: Yeah. Oh yeah, definitely. Well, one of the things that they did when they were developing a plan called red map, which is what they use to gerrymander, they, they had good timing, they had Michael Steele strategy.

Fire Pelosi, nationalized politics, a referendum on Obama and Obamacare seized in 2010, and they ended up having this great electoral performance right at the right moment, because that was a redistricting year. And they use that power to redistrict themselves a ton of state legislative seats at the same time, what they were doing was building something called the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Alec L A L E C. And what that does [00:33:00] is it, streamlines legislation for the state level. So when you look at Florida, right, we all know they have a thing called the stand your ground law, because we all know Trayvon Martin was brutally murdered for no reason because of the stand your ground law. What people don’t realize is stand your ground is a law that’s in multiple States.

And it came out of this think tank called Alec, which writes what we call model legislation. So they basically take a law, they, write it up. It’s, and it’s always crazy shit, like trans bans or stand your ground or busting the unions or whatever it is, right to work that all comes from Alec. And then they introduce it all across all the state legislatures that they control in the same legislative cycle.

And that’s how you can get somewhere where like. Ron DeSantis starts ranting about trans people, and within six months, every state legislature that’s controlled by Republicans have passed brutal anti trans legislation. It’s because it’s all centralized, it’s all coming out of ALEC, and we have [00:34:00] absolutely nothing like that.

SHEFFIELD: And I think, it’s really that network is so important because it allows them to move with extreme quickness in to impose their agenda on states and local and locality so like, and you, saw that, for instance, certainly with various, anti CRT laws, various, book censorship laws, teacher censorship laws, and, they just rolled these out before anybody in the local communities had any idea what the hell was going on. And like, and, they rolled the local media as well, because, they would give these signs, to their protesters and they’d show up somewhere and at a school board and say, I’m concerned about this or that.

And these were in many cases, professional. Right wing activists, not parents at the school, no connection at all to the area. And the local media had no idea that this was happening and who was doing this. And they didn’t ask anybody. [00:35:00] And so, they would just report it as here’s some concerned parents who were talking about schools and, and, they, fooled a lot of people and, it’s only now that.

They have, caused so much censorship and so many and suppress so much free speech that people are now realizing, oh, I actually have to pay attention to my school board election. So lunatics who want to, impose Christo fascism, don’t take over my school board.

BITECOFER: I mean, I don’t know if you saw this, but yeah, just yesterday, a Utah, one of these moms for Liberty school board nuts, right?

It was a man, but whatever, that’s the group that’s promoting Christofascism on our school boards. He accused a Utah student, a minor child of being transgender. She is not. And now she’s in police custody because so many people came after her that this poor, innocent, random kid. I mean, what, is that?

Right? Imagine if that was your kid, [00:36:00] like, what, how angry would you be that some dude on a school board set radical extremist to the point where you have to put your kid into protective custody? Right. Like we, yeah, we have to make sure that we’re communicating to people the stakes, because although we are disorganized, disinterested and not motivated are, and there are few in number, but they are all of those things.

How right-wing activists use mainstream media to push their message through manipulation

BITECOFER: And they also are very strategic. I lay it on the book, how they made CRT a household name using not only right wing media ecosystem, which is 1 part, but by getting our mainstream system to validate. The crazy stuff that they want to talk about. Okay. And, we see that last night too, with the, dirt her report for Joe Biden there, they’ve been pounding this narrative, trying to paint him as senile.

And now they’ve got this great report that they can point to. It’s none of it is an accident guys. Like it’s all intentional. And I was reading a book from another ex conservative [00:37:00] activist. I was talking about, Hey, I, everything that I was indoctrinated with, I thought like the left had.

All this stuff that was like, similar to the stuff on the right, all the strategic infrastructure with long term plans and goals that were, rolling out step by step radical plans. And then she gets out of the conservative movement into the, other side and realizes, okay, no, actually there’s no liberal conspiracy there because there’s no, nobody’s doing


Yeah. And there isn’t even a liberal media. No. Like, Right.

BITECOFER: There’s just a media that has been like, since the sixties, we, changed the model from, for media in America so that it had to turn a profit. It used to be that the networks we keep it when we’re talking about a very different environment.

So it was CBS, NBC, ABC, basically at the beginning, those networks in order to use the public airwaves had to air Public affairs programming as a public service, the news, things like that, even though those [00:38:00] things were not very profitable or didn’t turn a profit. It was kind of, the cost of doing business to access the American mind for entertainment and make money.

Okay, after we move away from that model. Suddenly the newsroom is faced with a problem. The corporate owner of the media station is saying, Hey, we need you to be profitable. We’re not going to operate you at a loss. And once that happens, they have to meet what people want psychologically. And people don’t want hard news, dense stuff, serious conversation.

We’re conditioned, we’re human beings and we’re conditioned for certain things. And at the end of the day. If you are operating a new station with a mandate to maintain a profit margin, you’re going to give people what they want, not what they need. So we stopped eating our civic vegetables a very long time ago.

And now we’re, really harvesting the ice. We’re harvesting now was planted back then in the 80s and 90s.

Right wing messaging can impact people who aren’t even conservative

SHEFFIELD: [00:39:00] Yeah. No, it’s true. And we’re seeing this on so many ways when it comes to different issues, like, and I think most principally currently with the economy that, you have, it’s just amazing to me how ignorant economists are about media studies.

They know literally nothing about it. And they don’t understand that, when you going, like ever since right wing media became enormous in roughly like 2012 or so Republicans, when you ask them, if the economy, how is it going with the economy? They say it sucks. It’s horrible.

It’s a depression. If a Democrat is the president and that’s irrespective of how it’s going, you could have, 10 percent GDP growth and, 1 percent unemployment. And they would say it was depression. Yes. And in fact, they did do that. We know for a fact that they, when, the after Obama was reelected, the economy was going great.

It’s been fantastic. And, but Republicans [00:40:00] said it was horrible, the worst ever. And and we’re seeing that over again now with Joe Biden. And it. And that constant, and this is just purely a repetition of the message. So they all believe it. And then that sort of is a. Infectious belief to people who don’t know anything.

Like if you’re a political person, their right wing neighbor tells them, Oh, we’re in a depression right now. We’re in a recession right now. What do they know to say otherwise? And who, who have they heard to tell them that’s not true? So they believe it. Yeah. Yeah. And that’s why we are where we are with the economy, but you know, like your average economist, they’re like, Oh gosh, that just must be inflation.

That’s all it is. And it’s like, you guys haven’t looked at any. Actual polling other than the usual ones you look at and

BITECOFER: just to reiterate how powerful the effect that you’re describing is. [00:41:00] And I do this every transition, like, every time the party switches in the White House, because the Gallup data goes back forever.

So you can do it for a long time. It’s much stronger of an effect in the polarized era, but it’s always been there. You have a let’s say outgoing Republican Trump, right. In December, November of the election year, you have an incoming Joe Biden. When you look at that four months of Gallup data, almost immediately upon the inaugural, you will see the Republicans that thought the economy was wonderful under Trump suddenly dropped down to 10 percent and it inverts completely, right, because Democrats are less tribal, so they’ll be more honest.

There’s still a partisan thing to it. And so, Trump is in office. The economy is awful. Trump’s out of office, even though we’re in a pandemic, Democrats are much more likely to say the economy was good even before it actually became good again. Right. So it, partisan, when I talk about partisanship and my frustration and my motivation to even become this person that I am [00:42:00] today, it’s, because it is so powerful.

And yet we ignore it in almost all of our analysis. We don’t understand. Like I did a survey once at the Watson center, my polling firm, I wanted to see like, okay, can I, since people don’t know anything, they, know maybe the Republicans and Democrats, the position on guns on abortion, but beyond that, not really.

Right. So I ran some policy questions by voters in an experimental survey design where I would rotate. The party proposing the policy to show people when you get, look at how Republicans act for a policy proposal. They’re told it’s a Republican that wants to do it massive support, but at the same policy description is assigned to a Democrat.

Collapse, I mean, and not just little changes, 5, 10, I’m talking 40 point movement on that. Okay. And so it really is completely [00:43:00] underestimated and understood how much partisanship matters. And in a modern public mass opinion. What we’re seeing in a lot of survey data now that we, this didn’t used to be so much of an issue is, basically a measure of latent partisanship.

So you have the partisans and then you have the lingerers that are basically closet partisans. And really, if you wanna know how the public

SHEFFIELD: is, , partisans in denial

BITECOFER: is what, right? And so if you really wanna know, like, not necessarily how the public is feeling, but how. Like the top level, top of mind awareness narrative in the independent bucket is, you have to suss out those leaners from your independence and sample enough that you can look at pure independence only.

And that’s where you can see things like how successful Republicans have been defining Biden as senile and having dementia when we all know that Donald Trump has much worse mental acumen problems.

How political branding influences people who consider themselves "independent"

SHEFFIELD: Absolutely. One of the other things that I think a lot of people who do [00:44:00] left-leaning politics is that they, don’t understand that the political.

Viewpoints of people that they were more of an X, Y graph rather than a left to right graph. And, once you have that realization, I think that, you, you understand, like when you look at and on the screen, we’ve got a graph for those who are listening, you want to check the show notes to see the graph.

But basically like libertarianism can be perceived as both left and right. It, because most people, they don’t really have. A sound conception of, well, the government should spend more on this five things and not on these and less on these five things. People don’t think in those terms.

They think in terms of, who do I, what do I prioritize society or the individual, or do I prioritize reason or tradition? And so, and I, and it’s relevant to this discussion because I think there are a lot of people out there who are, they have a libertarian standpoint. And we’re seeing, we’ve seen during the Trump years that a lot of libertarians have come [00:45:00] home to the right wing. Whereas before they, they have maybe a more secular outlook. They’re not religious fundamentalists. So they saw the Republican party as disgusting full of, theocrats. But then under, like with the rise of Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren AOC, the Democratic Party is kind of relearning its former economic populism that it had for a long, for a long time.

And these Republicans who, or these libertarians, they’re, disgusted at that because in their viewpoint, everything should be about the individual. And so in their case, if they’re, if the, party that’s saying less regulations and less lower taxes, then they’re going to go for that.

And that’s why I mean, I think the news media is, Filled with people like this the mainstream media that you know, they thought the rich Christian right was gross But now they’re saying oh their Democratic Party has become [00:46:00] too extreme. They’re just out of control. What’s wrong with them? Communist woke stirs

BITECOFER: Well, keep in mind.

I mean we’re talking about A branding operation of now steady for 14 years, 2010 on that have been defining making sure to elevate the squad. Right? I mean, so let me, let’s look at this thing. Right?

The "both parties" critique of politics is completely disproven by actual data

BITECOFER: I study stuff in quantitative form and we have great measurements of polarization and we can see which party has an extremism problem.

The Democrat, every party is going to have a base of ideologues that are nuts. Okay, but the question is about proportion how much proportional control and how much power do they have? Yeah to those bases have and so when you look at the Democrats, right? They’ve got the squad and the whatever the Hamas 11 you But it’s a lot of people dude 11 11 And they don’t have any committee chairmanships and they don’t control anything.

And they certainly aren’t running [00:47:00] the RNC, the DNC, and they don’t have a president in the White House. I mean, they’re basically neutered and the Democratic Party remains pretty much where it’s been the last 2, 20 years, which is predominantly dominated by moderates. Okay. It’s a 70 percent moderate party, a 30 percent ideological liberal party and on the other side.

Okay. 10 years ago, this was the truth for the Republican party, 70 percent establishment Republican, 30 percent Tea Party base, right? When that began in 2010 and what has been so remarkable as a political scientist is to see that invert. Okay. And it’s happening only on that one side right now where it’s actually the base, that’s the majority population.

The 75 percent of the Republican party that’s pro Trump, pro MAGA, pro christofascism, whatever it is, been, it dwarfs [00:48:00] the Mitch McConnell part of the party now. And, that’s the big difference, but the image. It’s very easy to make, to paint. I mean, that’s why I’m, it’s frustrating. Right. I haven’t had to write a whole book.

Like how can Democrats let themselves be defined by 10 people that have no power where the Republican party has all these extremists in charge and we’re not even telling people we’re not defining them around these crazy people. And these crazy people are actually running the ship.


SHEFFIELD: So we, yeah, Mike Johnson, Donald Trump.

BITECOFER: Yeah. That’s exactly right. And I, it is just a mathematical fact. Polarization is asymmetrical. Democrats are less polarized either, both in the mass public and in, voter, member of Congress behavior. And, at the end of the day, we’re now up against a real Radicalized party in the Republican party.

These are people that are living in a world in which some, truths are self [00:49:00] evident. Number one, Joe Biden stole the election and is illegitimate. Number two, the COVID vaccine is more deadly than COVID. Number three, Donald Trump is an innocent man. Who’s never done anything wrong, right? Those things sound loony.

Okay, but that’s the that is the truth that many millions of Americans are living in day to day. And that’s why we’re under this existential threat level in 2024.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, and but what’s. Terrible is that the, the vast majority of Americans don’t have those opinions. Almost all of that majority doesn’t understand that Republicans believe those things.

That’s right. And because if they did, they would be. Exactly.

BITECOFER: And we know it because we did that. We told people in two states in 2022 in Arizona and in Michigan, we told people what, what was happening with the modern [00:50:00] Republican party and made them see. And they rejected them. I mean, bye. September, it was clear that Michigan was uncompetitive for Republicans and that gubernatorial race.

So it, it’s clear to me, like once people find out about, but right now what they, most people who are going to go cast an R ballot in 2024, all they know about Republicans, honest to God, it’s low taxes. They have impressions. Low taxes, good for the economy, good on national defense. We both know that’s not the case for the last 20 years.

And yet those images, those issue ownership effects are still very profound in data. They’re going to remain so until we rebrand the Republican party and define it as a extremist cult.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Now, and I’m glad you mentioned the idea of issue ownership. Ownership, because that is something that you do talk quite a bit about in the book and it fits into the larger point that, for most people, [00:51:00] they, you know, they, don’t have a coherent idea about what the parties think about things.

And even under the, huge propaganda operation of Republicans telling them lies about what Democrats think, they still, all the people who are kind of, who are, will vote for Republicans, all they know is that the Democrats are extreme on that issue. They don’t actually know what, even an exaggerated version of what they, of what Democrats think.

They don’t know it. All they know is Democrats are extreme on education. Democrats are extreme on X. And that’s all they know. And like, and it is, when you, and I think anybody who has a MAGA relative or a Republican in denial relative or friend, like that’s all they really know to say to you about anything that Democrats are, Godless, communist, transgender, black people, radicals, or black [00:52:00] radicals.

That’s all Democrats are. And, if you don’t, and again, because like, because Democratic leaders, they know that’s an absurdly stupid idea, and it’s lies. It is, outright lies. They think, and you talk about this, that, This idea. Democrats are obsessed with the idea. Well, the American people will figure that out, right?

But will they figure that out?

BITECOFER: Right? That’s the whole like, if you had to sum up what the book is about. That’s what it’s about. Right? No, they will not figure it out. American people are plenty smart, like all civilized Western democracies living through the greatest period of human development ever. Okay.

There’s no human that has ever walked the earth that is more fortunate than you living in the 21st century. We can grow new livers out of pig kidneys and right? Like humanity is Peak [00:53:00] freedom, peak individual liberty, like libertarian friends. I have to tell you the entire right era of individual rights is a liberal concept.

It comes from the liberals, not from the Republicans. And yet no one knows that, right? No one understands that we’re living through this incredible time period of Massive calories, massive, people used to starve to death dude in the West, like all the time, millions and it’s so different now.

And we, we don’t do a good job of telling that story and making sure that people understand. how benefited they are from to be alive right now and be living in America, but that it’s all very, new, very. Very new. I’m the first generation as a woman born in 1977, that was born with the actual legal equality.

Okay. Because prior to that, women couldn’t maybe get a credit card. They couldn’t do bank loans. They couldn’t get birth control in the 60s. You couldn’t even get it as a married couple until the [00:54:00] Griswold decision said that actually it’s a privacy matter and people should be able to make their own decisions.

So if you’re big into individual rights and liberty, Okay. I’m telling you, you’re looking at the wrong party if you’re thinking about voting for Republicans.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, no, definitely true.

Why humor and mockery are so important in political communications

And one of the other things as a co host of a comedy news panel show, I certainly agree with you. You talk about the idea, the importance of mockery as a political strategy.

SHEFFIELD: So what do you, why do you think that is so important?

BITECOFER: Yeah, so, I was greatly concerned. Headed into this new Congress, because I knew that they were going to weaponize the government and use the committee process to try to politically damage Biden and other Democrats and I, the media has always assisted them every time, like, no collusion memo.

Or Benghazi and butter emails or whatever, right? The media will treat things that are delegitimate as legitimate, and once you do so, [00:55:00] you have legitimized it. CRT is a case in point of that. The Democrats kept explaining how it’s this and that, and it’s illegal theory and not about, it’s not even in the schools.

Now you’ve legitimated the stupid rando thing that Chris Ruffo basically steals from some freaks PowerPoint, right? Like you so mocking. Is about preventing the legitimization of the false premise of their bullshit investigation. And it’s so critical to our survival because when we, meet they’re crazy with a factual rebuttal.

All we have done is legitimated the crazy. And so mocking the crazy is a way of making people see it. Number one, but number two, it’s about making people feel like, I don’t want to be with stupid, right? So if we’re making fun of them and making, highlighting how ridiculously stupid they are, it’s much more likely that people are going to be like, oh, That’s [00:56:00] crazy.

They’re crazy people. And instead of trying to define why it’s wrong.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And the reason for that is that you can’t, fact check your way out of delusions. Like, and if, you disagree with that goes, try to have an argument with the schizophrenic about their hallucinations, whether it’s exactly

BITECOFER: exactly right.

And so, when you look at like the lead, like the Democrats on the house oversight committee have been just tremendous at this, right? Every committee hearing that they’ve had, they have strategically mocked. Yeah. The Republicans and prevented them from painting a false narrative about what is a delusion.

It is a delusion to argue that Joe Biden was selling porn interference with Hunter Biden. Okay. And the way to deal with that is to make sure people see it as ridiculous. Yeah.

SHEFFIELD: And. When you do that, like, it irritates the hell out of them. Yes, it does. And you certainly see that in those hearings. [00:57:00] They are constantly losing their minds when they’re fact checked like that.

Well, they’re so used to like Both

BITECOFER: mocked and fact checked. Yeah, they’re so used to us swinging on their pitch, right? So, like, it surprised them. That they couldn’t get the media to legitimate these Hunter Biden allegations. Okay. It’s the pride them that Democrats didn’t come in and like, grow the witnesses and dah, And accept the premise, the false premise that instead they use their state. They use their committee hearing time as a stage. Right. And they made their strategic mocking. The point of the coverage, and it was so it’s been very helpful, though. We’ve got lots of room to improve. There are signs of improvement, both on the electioneering and my work and others on team reform, pushing these reforms, because I’m certainly not alone and in the terms of media.

Being at least a little bit more wary of, carrying the Republican water when they serve [00:58:00] them up something. But, we’ll see how this her memo continues to be covered. It was last night was a real backslide, in my opinion, the media jumped right on it and treated it as a legitimate conclusion and not a political document designed to get them to say that Joe Biden’s senile.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, no, exactly. And and, I think one of the other things that, that the right wing is very good at is pushing and, you do talk about this also, that pushing a simple message. So like Republicans don’t run on their agenda. They don’t actually tell you what they want to do, except for maybe on immigration, that’s right at this point.

That’s all they, will tell you about what they will do on every other issue. They don’t ever talk about it. They don’t talk about what they want to do with taxes. They don’t talk about what they want to do on regulation. they don’t talk about spending. They don’t talk about anything else except for immigration.

And so it makes it easy if for people who are really into that issue to be really [00:59:00] motivated to support them, but it also makes it so that the voters that they don’t have to debate their positions because nobody even knows about them because and so they have no. So, like, there’s, this idea in in warfare of the idea of an attack surface that when you that you want to have as small of a from an aerial bombardment, you want to have as small of a surface possible.

And that’s basically the, core strategy of Republican politics is to minimize all attack surfaces of their own, and then maximize the attack surfaces of Democrats. And they’re remarkably successful

BITECOFER: at it. Yeah. And we have to be too. So like, like to me. Nothing frustrates me more than, well, we’re Democrats.

We just can’t do that. No bullshit. We can, we must, and we will. And if we don’t, if we don’t, we’re all, we’re going to be looking at some serious hurt for especially Brown people in this country. The Republican party has been very clear. [01:00:00] That they’re coming for communities of color day 1, they’re talking about route mass deportations and roundups and folks.

There’s no way you do that without really trampling on the rights of Latino Americans, many US citizens and people who have legal. Entry are going to be terrorized if we do this, if we let this happen. So it’s now or never when, Republicans go low, we got to hit them where it hurts.

SHEFFIELD: All right.

Well, there you go. You wrap that up very nicely there, Rachel. I thought you’d appreciate it.

All right. Well, so we’ve been talking today with Rachel, bit of cough. Ah, dang it. coffer. I’m going to, I have to do that again. So God, I always, it’s because you only have one F in there. It just makes

BITECOFER: me famous so I can never get rid of it. That sucks.

SHEFFIELD: Okay. I have to do that again here. So, so we’ve been talking today with Rachel bit of coffer [01:01:00] and she’s the author of the book, hit them where it hurts.

And you can get that everywhere now on the internet wherever you want to including bad places like Amazon, but other places.

BITECOFER: Where if you really like my capital, you can listen to the audible. I recorded

SHEFFIELD: it myself. Okay. There you go. And then you are also on various social platforms at Rachel Bitterkofer.

That is with one F for those who are listening. And so you can I encourage everybody to check you out over there. And then you also have a podcast and subset called the cycle, so people can check that out as well. So, all right. Thanks for being here today.

BITECOFER: It was my pleasure. Thanks for having me, Matthew.

SHEFFIELD: So that is the program for today.

I appreciate everybody for joining us for the conversation. And of course you can always get more. If you go to theoryofchange.show, you can get the full episode archive with the video, audio, and transcript of all the episodes. And if [01:02:00] you are a paid subscribing member. You get complete unlimited access and you can sign up on either Substack or on Patreon.

If you go to patreon.com/discoverflux you can subscribe that way if you don’t like Substack. And then of course I encourage everybody to go over to flux.community where this show is part of the Flux Network and we have several different podcasts and articles to check out about politics, religion, media, and society.

And how they all intersect and get our help, get this let’s do that again. And you can go to flux.community to get more podcasts and articles about politics, religion, media, and society and how they all intersect. And we need to band together people who are opposing fascism in this country. And I appreciate everybody who is supporting the show.

If you can’t support financially through a subscription just tell your friends or family about it. And I really appreciate that. And if you can leave a written review [01:03:00] on Apple podcasts in particular, that is super, super helpful. I really do appreciate those. Thank you very much.

Theory of Change Podcast With Matthew Sheffield
Lots of people want to change the world. But how does change happen? Join Matthew Sheffield and his guests as they explore larger trends and intersections in politics, religion, technology, and media.