Losing an election, even one as close as last November’s was, gives one cause for reflection. The “facts on the ground”, however, led many to believe that last year’s election should not have been close. The economy that had still not recovered, the Senate still refused to pass a budget, four straight deficits above $1 trillion, unpopular issues like Obamacare and tax increases supported by Democrats; if Republicans couldn’t win in this environment, when could they win?
Some have said that Republicans lost because they were not unified, because their candidates were not conservative enough, because our ideals are out-dated, because we did not get out our base. When an election is lost by two or three points, any or all of these should be enough to make up the difference. But at the end of the day, is our goal to get 50% plus one? [pullquote align=”right”]We cannot compete with the Democrats in giving away free stuff, but we can do a better job of explaining how that stuff is not free; the voter is actually paying for it. [/pullquote]Most of our policies are supported by a healthy majority of Americans; shouldn’t we be seeing that reflected in our vote tally at the polls?
There is no great disunity among Republicans. Every Republican I’ve ever met believes in the principles of smaller, limited government; greater personal freedom and responsibility, free market capitalism and property rights, and traditional family values. They most certainly will differ on strategies to enact policies based on those principles; Republicans in deep blue areas have been conditioned to expect that only the most marginal gains are possible, or are even resigned to playing a game of perpetual defense. But Republicans do agree on the direction we wish to go, even though we may argue about how to get there.
There can be no rethinking or modifying of our principles, and not just because we deeply believe them to be morally right. There is also the simple fact that they have been shown by experience to work, to provide positive benefits when applied; whereas the liberal solutions have inevitably lead not just to failure, but to the creation of greater ills than they purported to solve. There is no sense to changing our values, but we can learn to communicate them in a manner more attractive to that group of voters we need to win elections.
In today’s “50-50” America, Democrats and Republicans find themselves battling over an increasingly small group of unaffiliated voters. Both parties have their “true believers”, who will vote for their party regardless. Both have voters who are by-and-large faithful, but who may be swayed by an attractive candidate from the other party. While efficient GOTV programs are as vital as always, increasingly the margin of victory has come from independent voters in the middle. However, “independent voters” is a misnomer; they are perhaps better identified by the term “low-information potential voters,” because they really don’t have an interest in political issues (independent or otherwise) and the vast majority of them do not regularly vote.
This group of potential voters is immense, upwards of half of all those registered, and can be said to include many more who aren’t registered yet. Most will not vote, but even a small fraction is enough to change the balance of an election. Indeed, after George Bush’s “base” re-election in 2004, I believe this is the segment that has provided the deciding margin in each election since. Activate enough of this portion of the electorate and you have a “wave” election; but even a smaller turnout can out-poll the gains from a solid GOTV effort.
But how do you get a political message through to a group of people who by definition are not paying attention to political messages? Certainly not through political ads running a month or two before Election Day; Republican ads totaling several hundred million dollars seem to have been wasted to no effect last year. This group votes more on feelings, images and impressions than on facts and logic.
Where do these feelings and impressions originate, if not from political messages? They are birthed in the classroom, repeated by the Main Stream Media and reinforced by the Hollywood entertainment industry. This is the crux of our dilemma: all three are dominated by liberals. The message transmitted by union teachers, the newspaper headlines, even the popular shows and movies is relentlessly anti-Republican and anti-conservative. The falsehood that Republicans are old, rich white men who hate women, gays, minorities and poor people no longer requires any substantiation, it has been repeated over and over until it has become a truism.
This effort has been underway for decades; but it can be (and is being) defeated through breaking the union stranglehold on education with Right to Work laws, and through the emergence of conservative new media outlets in an environment where the old media of newspapers and broadcast TV is dying off. But this process will take decades to have effect. What do we do until then?
Already, several people in Republican leadership have come forward with new messaging plans, to re-brand the Republican Party. They are on the right path: we need to take a new message to the American people, starting today – not waiting until two months before the election. We need to focus on how the policies of the Republican Party can have an effect on improving their lives right now.
We cannot compete with the Democrats in giving away free stuff, but we can do a better job of explaining how that stuff is not free; the voter is actually paying for it. We cannot win over these low information voters with dire predictions of a national debt that will some day devour us all; but we can communicate how that debt is making their life worse today. Talking about the freedoms detailed in the Constitution is too abstract; we need to talk specifically about the freedoms that are being taken away from Americans right now. We need to tell people that Republicans care enough to promote policies that actually improve the lives of the poor, as opposed to the Democrat’s laws that perpetuate poverty. And let them know the best way to end discrimination by race is to have the Federal government stop discriminating by race.
We need to communicate that the big spending, big borrowing, big regulating, big government of the Democrats is the reason why gasoline is going back above $4/gallon, why Grandpa isn’t making any income on his retirement savings, why your kid can’t find a job, why everything seems to be going up except your paycheck, why your mortgage is under water, and why your 401K is decimated. We need to focus on the damage Democrat policies are doing not just to the country as a whole, but to the individual American. We need to explain how a limited government encourages economic growth that makes all Americans wealthier.
Our message of personal responsibility and hard work (on display at the 2012 RNC Convention) doesn’t sell with low information voters; they’ve been told that government largesse is endless and without cost, and they choose to believe the lie. But that doesn’t mean we can’t tout the economic rewards to the individual that our policies will bring. In the free market, everyone works for their own benefit and the whole society profits. We need to do a better job of reminding voters of the meaning of the term “American Exceptionalism”, and which party will really give them more for their vote.
[featured photo credit: depositphotos, used with license]