WHAT’S THE PROBLEM? GOP Clueless at Selling Their Brand
The mid-term elections are almost upon us, and many Republicans are eagerly anticipating a 2010-like wave election that will sweep Harry Reid from the Senate majority leader post. This is due much more to what Democrats are doing wrong than what Republicans are doing right. The nation is undoubtedly weary from six years of Obama’s duplicity and Democrat overreach in Washington, and yet the race for control of the Senate is much closer than it should be. This has resulted from a strangely passive and schizophrenic Republican Party that has been either unable or unwilling to state its case and to go for the jugular when it is presented to them.
It wasn’t always this way. In the 1988 presidential campaign the George H.W. Bush team seemed to be playing 3-D chess while the Michael Dukakis campaign was playing checkers. The late Lee Atwater defined Dukakis early as a hapless, Teddy Kennedy liberal whose policies were far out of touch with a majority of voters. Dukakis did his part to help by offering zero charisma, a record of furloughing rapists and a memorable photo op in a tank that made him look small and not up for the job as leader of the free world. Still, there was a certain ruthlessness and sense of purpose to the Bush campaign that allowed it to pull off the rare feat of electing a sitting vice president to higher office.
Compare that to the GOP of today. Obama has given them an embarrassment of issues to exploit, and yet they seem clueless on how to turn them into political hay. Obamacare is loathed by a majority of Americans, and yet the Republicans cannot unify behind a consistent message of full repeal. The establishment wing of the party seems to have accepted the Democrat premise that Obamacare is here to stay, and the only option is a series of peripheral tweaks and fixes.
Nonsense. A party with a strong, confident message could explain to the people why repeal is not only the best way but the only way.
In 2006 Nancy Pelosi rode to the Speaker’s chair by endlessly repeating the mantra of a Republican “culture of corruption.” Never mind that the case for that claim was weak, consisting of little more than a series of inappropriate texts from Mark Foley to an intern. The consistent messaging worked, in part because Republicans never offered a vigorous defense.
Harry Reid went to great lengths this year to rally the liberal base by incessantly demonizing the Koch brothers and suggesting that they control the GOP. I recently interviewed Jason Mattera, whose new book Crapitalism documents how a slew of Democrat politicians in Washington—including Reid-- along with their private sector cronies have accumulated obscene wealth by gaming the political system and fleecing the taxpayers.
To my knowledge not a single Republican in Washington has made issue of this, even though it is tailor-made for exploitation. That this corruption and these liberal billionaires have not been made infamous by the GOP is a case of political malpractice of the highest order.
The ossification of the Republican PR machine predates Obama. During the second term of George W. Bush, Karl Rove & Co. inexplicably offered no response as Democrats in Congress hammered away at Bush daily as a neocon war hawk who bungled the federal response to Hurricane Katrina and sank the country into an economic crisis. Bush’s notion that the office of the presidency was above such unpleasantness may have been honorable, but it was also politically naïve.
In an age of social media and shrinking attention spans, an electorate that only hears one message regularly will start to believe it if no counter message is offered. With an agenda-driven liberal media more than happy to carry the Democrats’ water, Bush’s approval ratings suffered death by a thousand cuts. The result may have been very different with a smart and effective communications response team.
While the Democrats have proven utterly inept at governing, they have been one step ahead of the Republicans at the messaging game on almost every issue. That includes attributing every criticism of Obama to racism, a charge that the GOP has sheepishly avoided rather than branding as pathetic and absurd. When explained properly—see everything Ronald Reagan ever said as an example—conservatism is a winning philosophy that connects with most people’s common sense instincts. Obama’s record of failure and destruction may be enough to push the GOP over the finish line in the mid-terms, but until they get a consistent, aggressive communications machine in place, they will continue to play a reactive game when they should be setting the agenda.
In the movie Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps, Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko tells his nemesis played by Josh Brolin, “You stop telling lies about me and I’ll stop telling the truth about you.” Democrats are required to tell lies about Republicans and themselves in order to win elections. All Republicans have to do is tell the truth, frequently and confidently.