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About last week: A ten point prescription for the GOP

 

We’re finishing up our post-election analysis, but I’m going to step on the punchline here.  Also, what we officially publish and send out is likely to be somewhat toned down from these thoughts.

So, for our three blog readers, a ten point prescription. Because an old boss once told me it took real talent to actually always be able to produce a credible ten-point list.

1. Don’t panic

In 2008, everyone was convinced that the Republican Party was dying and that the elections of 2006 and 2008 signified a new wilderness period of permanent minority status for Republicans.

In 2010 we won a historic victory in the House, swept governor’s mansions and state legislatures across the country, and proved clearly that there is a majority coalition for Republicans out there.

So don’t panic, a second Obama term is not the end of either the Party or the country.

2. Draw distinctions.

There are a lot of reasons that Romney and Republicans lost.  And I’ll explore some below.  But the simplest is that the entire Republican message–from the perspective of the average voter–this year was something like, “he’s done a bad job, how about us?”

Drawing distinctions isn’t a panacea.  Some years the environment will be against us, or we’ll be on the wrong side of public opinion on a singular issue (think Iraq in 2006) and we’ll lose.  But if there is one path that will quickly lead back to the post-New Deal permanent minority, it’s a Republican party that stands for “about what the Democrats want, just less of it.”

3. Understand our coalition/embrace populism.  

The votes aren’t all counted yet (and Sandy did reduce turnout in NY/NJ/CT so not all of the drop off from 2008 is going to be because of the campaign we ran) but it’s clear that millions of white, middle class to lower-middle-class voters just chose not to show up this year.  This includes something on the order of half a million in Ohio.

These are the same voters who formed the basis of the Independent/conservative wave that swept us to power in 2010 and won us the Governorship of basically every single swing state we just lost.

But from our nominee, mister “my wife drives a couple of Cadillacs, actually,” to a campaign that never went after Obama for healthcare, the wasteful stimulus, the crony capitalism of his “green economy,” and his preferential treatment of big Wall Street firms through Treasury policy, the Romney campaign never engaged in the kind of debate that would appeal to these voters.  And, unable to bring themselves to vote for Obama, they just stayed home.

If there is a single lesson we learn from failure of candidate and campaign Romney, it’s that these Independent-conservative blue and gray collar voters are a necessary part of a winning Republican coalition.  And they’re the least self-motivating and least firmly attached piece of our coalition, being the newest.  If we don’t have the candidate, message, and effort to energize and mobilize them they will stay home.  A we will lose.

4.  Embrace federalism/localism
We have now nominated two candidates with basically federal identities in a row.  One was a U.S. Senator, and the other was a candidate whose identity was pretty much as a candidate.  Romney’s stint as Governor was both so far in the past and so well ignored by his campaign that he might as well have come from the Senate or House.
The problem with these candidates is that they can’t credibly offer an alternative to federal action.  “No” is not a majority position in this country.  “No to Washington” is on most issues.  It’s almost impossible for creatures of Washington to say the latter without it being the former–they just can’t credibly offer an alternative.
I like Senator Rubio.  I like Congressman Ryan.  I think the Republican party would be very unwise to nominate either in 2016 over one of the many very good Governors available.  Localism and federalism matter a lot as the alternative to federal action.  And only a Governor seems to be able to tell that story well.
5. Stop handing Democrats ammo on women’s issues.
This country can, will, and has elected pro-life candidates to the White House.  Almost any state can, will, and most have elected pro-life candidates to the Senate.   There is absolutely no need for any change of position on these issues.
But we have to stop being so stupid in the way we communicate on them.
This all started with the birth control funding debates.  What might have been an opportunity to create a wedge issue with Catholics turned into a disaster of optics.  Were there really not dozens and dozens and dozens of Catholic women and conservative protestant women who could have testified before Congress on the issue?  Was it really impossible for some voices in our party to restrain themselves when it came to Sandra Fluke?
Skipping ahead, we handed Democrats at least two Senate seats and enhanced their overall narrative by botching the one question that every pro-life candidate for office must be most prepared for.
I’ve trained candidates on this issue.  I’ve focus grouped the issue.  I’ve surveyed the issue.  This should be easy.  Here’s a little script; imaginary readers, feel free to pass this along to all of our friends who might need it some day:
  • Rape is really really bad.  Evil, awful, heinous, terrifying, bad.  {Feel free to go on for a while.}
  • We should do everything we can as a society to support women who are victims of rape and help them heal from this evil thing that was done to them.
  • We should punish the hell out of rapists.
  • IT’S NOT THE BABY’S FAULT.  If you believe, as do a majority of Americans, that life begins at conception then you’re talking about an innocent baby.  As awful as the rape is, it’s not the baby’s fault.  The baby doesn’t deserve to die.

Anything else.  Anything about legitimate rape, rape blocks, or even just over-explaining and you’re setting yourself up for a fall.

6. We have to do something about some voices in our party on Hispanics.

Let me be clear when I say that there are a lot of good Republican leaders and voters who just can’t stomach the idea of granting amnesty to law-breakers. That’s not who I’m talking about.

But there are others in our party who seem to think that having Hispanics in our country is a problem in itself.  They advocate either deportation or making life so miserable for Hispanics that they “self-deport.”

These people are dead wrong.  And they’re costing us votes and will continue costing us votes. And they’re wrong.  And, frankly, racist.

It’s time we had an adult conversation as Republicans.  There are voices in our party on this issue who are bad people.  And there are voters who care about this issue who are racists.  Any time I hear the phrase “those illegals” in a focus group or read it in a verbatim, I cringe.  Then there are the opportunists in our party who take advantage of those voters for their own short-term gain…those are the worst people.

Here are the three options we seem to have as a party:

  • Embrace something like a path to citizenship.  That can take many shapes and forms, with or without penalties, etc.  If that’s “amnesty” to you and you oppose it then,
  • Say we’re okay with the status quo and just ignore the citizenship/residency question for existing illegal immigrants while we fix the other problems with our borders and system, or
  • Support either deporting illegal immigrants in mass (that’s right, rounding up millions and millions of adults and children and shipping them off) or creating a set of measures that makes the lives of millions of adults and children so terrible here that they feel that living under an oppressive dictatorship with a third world economy is better.

I doubt many people can look themselves in the mirror and say they really support that third choice.  And if someone can, I think the response of our party should be “we don’t need you as a Republican, you’re a bad person and you cost us votes, but mainly you’re just a bad person.”

7. Invest in mobilization and GOTV 

Fact: Barack Obama’s campaign found a way to get more black voters and young voters to the polls in 2012 than in a historic 2008 election.

I’m not going to engage in a long debate about ORCA in this space.  It obviously didn’t work.  That alone doesn’t explain the Romney loss.  And it wasn’t a holistic ID and mobilization tool anyhow.

The bottom line is that over the past two elections, the Democrats have proven the value of an identification and mobilization tool based on predictive analytics and an extensive technology infrastructure.  In the early days of micro-targeting, we had the advantage.  Now the Dems do.  This is an arms race and smart Republicans should be pushing themselves to understand the bleeding edge in data science and technology infrastructure so that we can own the next wave of innovation advantage.

8. Understand and embrace gamification and behaviorism for voters, donors, and activists.

The Obama campaign did an amazing job of motivating people–whether voters, donors, and activists with techniques other than “believe in us and vote/give/work” or “we need to beat the other guy so vote/give/work.”  From raffles for dinners with the candidate and a celebrity for small-dollar donors, to a home-based voter contact effort with game-like features to encourage effort, to the idea of that working for Obama in a community was “fun,” the Democrats used modern models of human behavior to get edges in each phase of their campaigns.

Until Republicans catch up on these issues, we’ll continue to give away ground.

9. Conservative groups need to take some responsibility.

No, this isn’t the part where I say “stop beating moderates” or “the Tea Party is to blame.”  Neither of those are right and both are more about a long-running power struggle within the party than about the path to victory.

But, the constellation of conservative organizations that are dedicated to beating moderate and apostate Republicans do have a problem.  They have created the perfect Terror, sacrificing a generation of office holders and candidates to Madame Guillotine with a network of funders and a simple message.

But too often they do so in an “anybody but X” mode without any real concern for whether the alternative is even a real conservative themselves–so long as they’re willing to claim the mantle, they get the chance to run.  And if they win and disappoint the Leaders of the Terror, then off to the Guillotine with them.  And if they prove to be just plain nuts or incompetent and lose the general, then that’s fine too.  Because there’s always another election and more victims.

This mentality has done good work at beating a number of moderates, but it has done little to build a party dominated by conservative voices.  Too many of the “anyone but” candidates turn out to be either moderates in conservative’s clothing or just plain unqualified and unelectable.

What we need, both as conservatives and as Republicans, is for everyone to put at least as much time into identifying, training, and building up great candidates whose ideology they support as they do tearing down those they disagree with.  Imagine a world in which there had been a Mike Lee available in Nevada in 2008.  Or one in which there had been another Ted Cruz available in Missouri or a Paul Ryan in Indiana.  Surely that’s a worthy goal to which some activists and funders can commit.

10. Stop with the echo chamber stuff.

This isn’t about the silliness that occured between Saturday and Tuesday as we convinced ourselves Obama wasn’t cruising to a win.  That was embarasing, but didn’t cost anyone votes.

I’m talking about certain phrases and  ideas that show way too much attention to the very insular conservative discussions and way too little undertanding of how things sound among average voters.  For example:

  • “Legitimate rape.”  Yes, I know what was intended.  No, I never want to hear it again.
  • “Women who are raped can’t get pregnant.”  Both false and stupid.
  • “Binders full of women.”  Silly, but still tone deaf.
  • “Self-deportation.”  Just ugh.  Code for “we hate your family and want to make their lives miserable.”

Here’s the thing.  We can use mainstream worlds and phrases to advance a conservative movement, or we can talk in code just to ourselves and lose.  And if you can’t tell the difference, you need to get out more and maybe make some friends outside of politics and policy.

 

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