April 1, 2019

News out of Washington DC that Mike Pence would not be on the ticket for the 2020 election stunned members of Congress, media personalities, and pundits like myself.  While Pence did say he would serve out the remainder of his term until January of 2021, it was quite a blow to the conservative wing of the party.  But such a move was seen by Republicans as improving Trump’s chances of winning reelection.

Nikki Haley - Caricature by DonkeyHotey

Haley, a former South Carolina legislator, became the first female governor of the Palmetto State in history. Trump tapped Haley to be his United States Representative to the United Nations.  The two clashed on policy regarding Russian hacking, American military intervention in Syria, and immigration from Honduras, leading Haley to resign.  While some thought Haley would challenge Trump in the primary, she endorsed the president and announced she would join the campaign.  But nobody realized how she would be added to the ticket.

Not since Gerald Ford chose not to run with Vice-President Nelson Rockefeller in 1976, in favor of Kansas Senator Robert Dole, have we seen a sitting president choose not to run for reelection with his sitting second-in-command.  While Ford-Dole came up short against Jimmy Carter, a snap Rasmussen Reports poll revealed that Trump had now pulled into a statistical tie with  Joe Biden and Stacey Abrams, and ahead of the Democratic candidates, Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris.

Publicly, Democrats announced that such a move would not change their election strategy.  But privately, several House of Representatives members expressed dismay that with a woman on the ticket, Trump would do better with a demographic he had done poorly with in 2016.

By this time, you are probably frantically checking your cell phone for Google News, or you’ve already flipped on Fox News or CNN for details.  It’s fake news, written around April Fool’s Day.  But there’s a point to this story, to catch your attention.  Americans who are gearing up to protect this country from hackers are going to be looking for such “fake news,” but they’re unlikely to find much from Putin’s slick operatives.

The Russian game has changed for 2020.  Knowing that news organizations and social media are now wiping such material off of their sites, our foreign adversaries are trying a new tactic.  They’re trying to amplify existing, legitimate, and yes, extreme content, which has some reality, to the forefront of the election.  Instead of making up news, the new Putin tactic is to get people to see a few obscure events as “the norm.”  The result is to be the same as the spread of fake news, however.  And it’s to present a distorted view of reality, so Americans will get mad at each other, point fingers at each other, give more divisive, and tune out of politics, or get madder online.

So what should we do?  Recognize that while there’s less fake news, sharing the most extreme stories out there is giving people a false impression of what’s really happening.  Watch what you share.  Post some positive, true stories about people cooperating, working together, helping each other, being kind, the kind of activities that make up 98% of the day.  Show that we’re more united than others think.  Don’t let the Russians win by putting the times we disagree into an echo chamber to amplify the content.  Support candidates that don’t play the division game for political gain.  We’re called the United States for a reason.

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Image Credit: Nikki Haley - Caricature by DonkeyHotey (flicker/CC)

John A. Tures

John A. Tures

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia.  He can be reached at [email protected]. His Twitter account is JohnTures2.  My class includes Devin Andrews, Troy Bradley, C.J. Clark, Baley Coleman, Casey Evans, Nick Harris, Ben Hays, Jacob Hester, Dillon Knepp, Blake Konans, Porter Law, Alanna Martin, Jessica Noles, Wade Rodgers, Damir Rosencrants, Payton Smith, Lawrence Terrel, Caleb Tyler, Andrew Valbuena, Benjamin Womack.