Republicans have a serious Taylor Swift problem – The Hill

Every time I write about pop culture, I get emails from my fellow conservatives with comments like, “I don’t go to movies,” or “I don’t have cable or watch TV.”
That’s all well and good, if incredibly boring. But a lack of interest in or even a strong dislike of pop culture doesn’t eliminate its impact on your life. All it means is that you aren’t aware of it and are blindsided every time it comes around.
Republicans are about to be blindsided by a pop culture tsunami called Taylor Swift. They are in no way ready for it.
Republicans have always been terrible at reaching younger voters, mostly because they don’t really try. When they put the Republican National Committee chairwoman on the Sunday morning shows, the only twenty-somethings that reaches are the ones who fell asleep with the TV on, and are now too hung over to crawl to the coffee table and grab the remote.
Democrats, on the other hand, have all the avenues of pop culture under their control. They police them, shunning and canceling anything not in keeping with progressive orthodoxy, so as to stifle dissent through the threat of lost work.
There has never been much of an effort to counter this from the right, because whom can conservatives count on? Country music, the last outpost in pop culture with some conservatives, is also succumbing to cancelation. An artist is more likely to be attacked than to receive praise within the industry for a song like “Try That in a Small Town.”
And no, I’m not talking about sales. There is certainly an appetite among consumers for pro-American, pro-tradition music. But that’s coming from the audience, not the industry.
In any case, no other artist today compares to Taylor Swift. For example, the mere fact that she is dating Kansas City Chiefs’ player Travis Kelce caused his jersey sales to increase by 400 percent, and that was just at the start of their relationship. With the Super Bowl looming, the sky is the limit.
If Swift can make her audience take a sudden interest in football, to the point of buying the uniform of a player they’d probably never heard of before this season, just imagine what she could do if she actively tried to stir up support for something.
That thought has occurred to Democrats, too.
In 2018, Swift endorsed Democratic former Gov. Phil Bredesen’s (D) unsuccessful run for U.S. Senate in Tennessee. In 2020, she endorsed President Joe Biden. In neither case did she really put much of her star power behind it. She also wasn’t as big of a star in those years. Today, however, she is the star, in the top five in terms of social media footprint and by far the most important American on social media.
That has Democrats targeting her, according to the New York Times.
If they get her to go political, Republicans will have no counter to it. Sure, there will be monologues and op-eds about how she’s alienating half her audience, but she has audience to spare, and more money than she’ll ever know what to do with. If she can’t cash in a huge pile of those chips, the thinking goes, then what was the point in amassing them?
Democrats already have the rest of the entertainment industry, but that goes only so far. Stephen Colbert is happy to disgrace himself on national television if that’s what it takes to help Biden, but his share of the American public is very tiny. His audience of young people — just 286,000 viewers under the age of 50 — isn’t even a rounding error.
Taylor Swift, on the other hand, has an audience of tens of millions of young people. There hasn’t been anything like her since the Beatles or Elvis. One word from her could move a mountain — or even more incredibly, make youngsters bother to care about someone as unappealing as Biden.
What will the Republican response be? I grew up in Detroit and I like Kid Rock, but he’s no response to Swift’s army.
Republicans are in a corner when (and it is a matter of when) Swift becomes a Democratic mouthpiece. Donald Trump will have to resist his natural urge to hit back, lest he further motivate her fans to mobilize. A bunch of old people (even “younger” conservative commentators sound old most of the time) whining about a pop star expressing an opinion isn’t going to cut it with an audience that has likely never heard of them.
Republicans won’t be able to counter Swift with young people, so they’ll have to flood the zone when it comes to their appeal to grown-up voters. If you can’t win over the Swifties, water down their votes by turning out other demographics.
It would take clarity of message and discipline to deliver on such a plan, neither of which are strong suits for Republicans. But if they can’t do it in the face of an existential threat like Swift, the game is already over.
Derek Hunter is host of the Derek Hunter Podcast and a former staffer for the late Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.).
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