Having created a new moral panic out of whole cloth about the teaching of critical race theory in K-12 schools, my former Republican colleagues are once more inside the OODA loop of my current Democratic allies. OODA — observe, orient, decide, act — is a concept originally developed to apply to military combat operations, but it is equally useful in politics.
It posits that a cohesive force that constantly assesses and understands a given situation, decides how to respond and then acts preemptively can defeat a larger, more powerful, but less nimble adversary. To put the concept more colloquially, being inside the OODA loop of your opponents means they are always a day late and a dollar short in coping with a reality you are continually creating. It is the difference between initiative and inertia, offense and defense.
The Trump GOP, undeniably the smaller force compared to the present and potential Democratic Party, is nothing if not cohesive. Moreover, it is also remarkably agile, free of any traditional restraints. Republicans are not strategically inconvenienced by having to deal with allies beyond their angry, anxious and insecure white base, because, with de minimis exceptions, they have none. And they are tactically unimpeded by either policies or principles, because their prime directive is to cling to power at any cost.
Republican cohesion and their single-minded determination to defend the prevailing political paradigm enables them to slip inside the OODA loop of the Democrats with comparative ease. Illegal immigration. Islamophobia. Socialism. The COVID “Yellow Peril” canard. Anti-mask and anti-vaccine hysteria, which is a subset of the socialist moral panic. Rampant voter fraud. Now critical race theory. Next up is the old Nixonian law and order gambit as violent crime spikes in Democrat controlled urban areas with the relaxation of COVID restrictions. The through thread on all of these “issues” with the exception of socialism and its mask/vaccine variants is, of course, white fright, the sweet spot for manipulating the MAGA multitudes.
This is not to say Democrats have not had their moments in the Trump era. There were the massive Women’s Marches after Trump’s inauguration, the fervid #MeToo moment and the widespread and enduring protests following the murder of George Floyd and the shootings of other unarmed Black men and women in encounters with police. But these were for the most part waves of organic outrage that Democrats tried to surf rather than strategic initiatives they called into being and directed, movements they could exploit but could not manage.
As a result, these waves peaked and petered out in off-putting excesses, like distraught women pounding on the doors of the Supreme Court with their fists following the Kavanaugh confirmation and the riots and looting that too often accompanied police violence protests. And they have frequently resulted in own goals, like the defenestration of Al Franken in the U.S. Senate and the toxic “Defund the Police” slogan that decimated and almost destroyed the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives.
One can sympathize with the difficulties Democrats face in trying to cobble together an intersectional class of the oppressed from disparate and uncooperative components in order to overthrow the despotic white patriarchy. For example, women, the sine qua non of Democrat viability at the polls, are, as a potential voting bloc, fractured by race, education and gender politics, and many of them, particularly white women without college degrees, are stubbornly resistant to having their class consciousness raised. And one might suspect that a lot of the glue that bound suburban white women with college degrees so tightly to the Democratic Party was a shared revulsion for Trump, a gag reflex that might weaken now that he has exited center stage.
Then there are the environmentalists whose agenda undermines efforts to lure working class voters back to the Democratic fold. Affirmative action in higher education admissions to benefit Black applicants does not endear the Democrats to Chinese-American and Japanese-American overachievers who are thereby displaced at elite universities. Hispanics, long an essential element of the demography is destiny mantra of the Democrats, may actually prove to be an unreliable formation in the class struggle with the white hegemons if Republican gains in the 2020 election among Hispanics from Dade County to the Rio Grande Valley and beyond continue. After all, 80% of Hispanics identify as white, and the boundaries of whiteness are actually fairly porous, as the descendants of Irish and Italian immigrants can attest.
And so on and on. Pity the party that must be all things to all people.
As a Greek philosopher said a long time ago, the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing. Democrats are foxes who must let a hundred flowers blossom. Republicans are hedgehogs who need only focus on their will to power.
Mac Stipanovich was chief of staff to former Florida Gov. Bob Martinez and a longtime Republican strategist who is currently registered No Party Affiliation.