Joe Biden desperately needs to rebrand

"Democrats are finally upping their patriotism game"

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published July 1, 2024 5:45AM (EDT)

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on February 7, 2023 in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. (Jacquelyn Martin-Pool/Getty Images)
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on February 7, 2023 in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. (Jacquelyn Martin-Pool/Getty Images)

In advertising and marketing, a brand is a way of creating an emotional attachment between the public and a product (a good or a service – or a person such as a celebrity, politician, or other public personality). This is done through repeated messaging that involves slogans, songs, logos, color use, narrative, and other means of storytelling and emotional manipulation. The most effective marketing achieves “semiotic unity” where the brand and what is being sold are universally understood to be inseparable from one another in the minds of the target audience (for example see “Coca Cola” and other legacy brands).

Over the last few decades, the Republican Party and larger right-wing propaganda marketing machine have done an excellent job at branding the Democratic Party (and liberals, progressives and “the left” more broadly). This branding includes language and narrative frames where the Democrats are “libtards”, “feminazis”, “anti-white”, “baby killers”, “takers” and “welfare queens.” The Democrats are also the political party of “racial minorities.” Thus they are not “patriotic” “real Americans” or strong on national defense. The Democrats have been branded as the party of the welfare state, big government, “dependency”, anti-business and anti-capitalism – and in the most extreme frame as being communists, socialists, and/or statists. The Republicans and right-wing have also branded the Democrats as being anti-Christian, anti-god, pro-gay and anti-family, feminine, weak, and now “woke” and “DEI” and “anti-cop.”

As part of this branding propaganda strategy, the Republicans have presented themselves as the opposite of these things, where in total to be a “conservative” means to be a “real American” and defender of the Constitution and American values. Like most branding, this is not an accurate description of reality; it is caricature and stereotype that elevates the Republicans and “conservatives” while simultaneously and systematically diminishing the Democrats, liberals, and progressives.

Public opinion polls show that the Republican Party’s attempts to brand the Democratic Party have been very effective. The Democrats have been passive and allowed this to happen.

In an era of extreme political polarization and negative/affective partisanship political branding has become even more important. Newt Gingrich, working with noted right-wing pollster Frank Luntz, outlined this branding and propaganda strategy in a 1990 GOPAC memo called “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control.” The memo offered the following guidance in effective propaganda, perception management, and marketing:

As you know, one of the key points in the Gopac [instructional tapes] is that "language matters." As we mail tapes to candidates, and use them in training sessions across the country, we hear a plaintive plea: "I wish I could speak like Newt." That takes years of practice. But we believe that you can have a significant impact on your campaign if we help a little. That is why we have created this list of words and phrases. This list is prepared so that you might have a directory of words to use in writing literature and letters, in preparing speeches, and in producing material for the electronic media. The words and phrases are powerful. Read them. Memorize as many as possible. And remember that, like any tool, these words will not help if they are not used.

The GOPAC memo highlights the importance of “contrasting words”, which are:

Often we search hard for words to help us define our opponents. Sometimes we are hesitant to use contrast. Remember that creating a difference helps you. These are powerful words that can create a clear and easily understood contrast. Apply these to the opponent, their record, proposals and their party.

These contrasting words should be used in conjunction with “optimistic positive governing words”

Use the list below to help define your campaign and your vision of public service. These words can help give extra power to your message. In addition, these words help develop the positive side of the contrast you should create with your opponent, giving your community something to vote for!

Donald Trump and the Republican fascists and the larger right-wing antidemocracy movement have taken Gingrich’s model and made it even more extreme. For example, in their speeches, fundraising emails, and other communications, Donald Trump and his propagandists routinely describe President Biden and the Democrats and “the Left” as evil enemies of America who need to be destroyed. This destruction is not metaphorical; it is literal through massive violence.

The 2024 election will decide if the United States will remain a multiracial pluralistic democracy or will instead succumb to fascism and authoritarianism under Dictator Donald Trump and his MAGA movement and its allies.

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In response to this existential threat, President Biden’s reelection campaign has released a series of ads highlighting how the Democrats are the real defenders of democracy and champions of patriotism and the American project.

ABC News describes the Biden’s campaign’s flag ad:

President Joe Biden's campaign will air an ad during the pregame show before Thursday night's first game of the NBA Finals, in an attempt to reach young voters who are expected to tune in for coverage of the game.

The minute-long spot, titled "Flag," touts Biden's support for abortion rights and blasts the "extreme movement" seeking to discount election results and threaten America's democracy.

It will air toward the end of "NBA Countdown," directly before the start of the game between the Dallas Mavericks and Boston Celtics. ABC will air both the pregame show and the game itself.

The ad features video clips of the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and ends with a call to protect democracy.

"Joe Biden is running for reelection to make certain that the sun will not set on this flag," says a narrator. "The promise of American democracy will not break."

In a statement, Michael Tyler, a Biden campaign spokesman, said, "Not since the Civil War have freedom and democracy been under assault in America as they are today due to the threat that Donald Trump poses to the American people."

Via email, I asked political scientist M. Steven Fish, the author of the new book “Comeback: Routing Trumpism, Reclaiming the Nation, and Restoring Democracy's Edge,” for his assessment of the Biden campaign’s new American flag ad:

The “Our Flag” ads have the potential to be effective. They contrast Biden’s allegiance to the stars-and-stripes with the MAGA insurrectionists’ fealty to a variety of treasonous banners, and they laudably pull patriotic heartstrings on Biden’s behalf with vivid images. But whether the spots go far enough or will capture the flag from Putin loyalist Donald Trump who now owns the Republican Party remains to be seen. Biden is a hardcore patriot who fiercely safeguards the nation’s finest traditions and highest purposes—democracy, the lawful admission of new entrants who ensure America’s economic and cultural preeminence in the world, and the defense of the nation and its democratic allies against the predations of foreign dictatorships. Trump is a nativist would-be autocrat who eagerly sells out our allies to America’s greatest sworn enemy.

Unfortunately, none little of this comes through in the ads. Instead, Biden merely characterizes himself as a uniter, not a divider: “I don’t pledge allegiance to red states of America or blue states of America. I pledge allegiance to the United States of America.” That said, at least the Democrats are finally upping their patriotism game, and one can hope that a crush of even more pointed and gripping star-spangled messaging is soon to follow.

The new American flag ad, as well as the Convicted Felon Donald Trump ad, are part of a much more aggressive political marketing and communications strategy by President Biden and the Democrats.

For too long, the Democrats (and liberals and progressives) have been hiding from their successes in embodying the best of America’s values (and successes) and improving the day-to-day lives of the average American. The Democrats have also made the mistake of copying the Republicans and the “conservatives” by adopting neoliberal policies that sacrifice the needs of the average American to those of corporate interests and the financier class. The Democrats need to embrace their own brand and not offer a weak and less compelling version of the opposition’s. Democratic Party voters want strong and proud Democrats and not weak and watered-down Republicans and Trumpists. Ultimately, as we have seen for decades from the 1960s to Reagan and now the Trumpocene, if the Democrats do not write their own narrative the Republicans and Trump will do so for them.

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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