The Republican Party needs to freshen up. The re-election of President Obama in November 2012 came as a shock to many, perhaps most, possibly just about all Republicans.
What went wrong is the subject of a column by Scott Johnson at PowerLine:
Looking back at the election, it’s worth asking how we got here – because just about everything we thought we knew about politics and presidential elections proved to be false. Or at least just about everything I thought I knew.
First, that a reelection campaign is a referendum on the incumbent president – that was the fundamental thesis of the Romney campaign. Wrong! I bought it. The Romney campaign staked itself on the proposition that it needed to present Governor Romney as a plausible alternative to a failed incumbent. As a result they shied away from a comprehensive critique of the Obama presidency and from ideas generally.
Second, that a bad economy dooms an incumbent president. Wrong! The Romney campaign seemed to think that the bad economy and high unemployment by themselves made the case for Romney. …
Third, that Americans reject government dependency and laugh off the promise of government support from cradle to grave. Just look at the Obama campaign’s promise of life everlasting in its famous interactive feature The Life of Julia. They told the American public to “See how President Obama’s policies help one woman over her lifetime” and how Mitt Romney would change her story. It was It’s A Wonderful Life redone for the welfare state. …
So … how can Republicans learn from [the Democrats'] success? I want briefly to mention four factors.
1. Technological expertise:
In the realm of technology, the Obama machine crushed the Romney machine. Following the election, the Obama campaign actually put its playbook online – here it is — detailing the workings of the operation called The Cave. … an efficient and data-driven operation that correctly predicted the behavior of millions of Americans. At the same time, it maintained the flexibility to make real-time adjustment and produced votes. Romney’s Project Orca crashed on Election Day.
Technology also helped the campaign’s record fundraising efforts. … Most of the $690 million Obama raised online came from fundraising e-mails. During the campaign, Obama’s staff wouldn’t answer questions about them or the alchemy that made them so successful. If there is such a thing as political science, I think the Obama campaign discovered it in its email fundraising. By a rigorous process of trial and error, they determined the most effective email subject line with which to raise money and the correct amount to ask for in order to maximize their return. …
2. Blackening the reputation of opponents – what we call “fighting dirty”:
The Democrats … have a genius for being able to blacken the names and reputations of men of the most sterling character — Mitt Romney is just one, and he was a dead man walking before he got the nomination.
Before he had even formally been nominated, the Obama campaign was running a devastating advertising campaign attacking his business record and personal character in key battleground states. I thought the attacks were ludicrous, but they did the trick.
Romney never responded. He never got off the mat. His campaign operated on the thesis that it was too soon to engage, that voters make up their minds at the end of a presidential campaign. Wrong again!
3. Taking notice of how the electorate is changing demographically:
Something’s happening with the issue of demography. The electorate in our presidential elections is shifting in a direction adverse to Republicans. The Republican consultant Jeffrey Bell has noted that, in the six presidential elections between 1992 and 2012, the Democratic Party has regained the solid popular vote majority it enjoyed during the New Deal/Great Society era from 1932 to 1964 — which it lost in the six elections between 1968 and 1988. …
If the country’s demographic composition were the same last year as it was in 2000, Romney would now be president. If it were still the same as it was in 1992, Romney would have won in a rout. If he had merely secured 42 percent of the Hispanic vote — rather than his pathetic 27 percent — Romney would have won the popular vote and carried Florida, Colorado, and New Mexico. They conclude that Republicans have a winning message for an electorate that no longer exists.
4. The issue of dependency – or the maddening fact that a lot of people want a lot of free stuff:
Something is happening in terms of how Americans view dependence on government, too. Beyond Social Security and Medicare, we have the continued growth of Medicaid, food stamps, Social Security disability, welfare, and, just over the horizon, Obamacare. … The number of Americans seeking entitlement benefits from the government continues to increase.
We appear to be undergoing a “fundamental transformation” that goes deep into our character. As we can see in The Life of Julia, President Obama promotes it as a positive good.
[President] Lincoln … asked rhetorically in one of his 1858 campaign speeches, in all soberness, if all these things, if indulged in, if ratified, if confirmed and endorsed, if taught to our children, and repeated to them, do not tend to rub out the sentiment of liberty in the country, and to transform this Government into a government of some other form. What are these arguments? he asked:
“They are the arguments that kings have made for enslaving the people in all ages of the world. You will find that all the arguments in favor of king-craft were of this class; they always bestrode the necks of the people, not that they wanted to do it, but because the people were better off for being ridden. That is their argument …”
It’s as true in 2013 as it was in 1858.
In a recently published booklet titled Go for the Heart: How Republicans Can Win - and also in an article to be found here – David Horowitz writes:
After voters re-elected an administration that added five trillion dollars to the nation’s debt, left 23 million Americans unemployed, surrendered Iraq to America’s enemy Iran, and enabled the Muslim Brotherhood to gain control of the largest country in the Middle East, the one lesson Republicans should agree on is that elections are driven by emotions, not reason. Moreover, when it comes to mobilizing emotions, Democrats beat Republicans hands down.
Worse, Republicans appear unable to learn from their losses. Year after year, Democrats accuse Republicans of the same imaginary crimes – waging wars on women, not caring about minorities, and inflicting pain on working Americans to benefit the wealthy. And year after year, Republicans have no effective responses to neutralize these attacks. Or to take the battle to the enemy’s camp.
Horowitz believes that the central issue in any election is “caring“.
Before voters cast their ballots for policies or values they want a candidate or party that cares about them.
How crucial is this concern? In the 2012 election, 70% of Asian Americans cast their ballots for Obama … because they were persuaded that he cared for minorities – for them, and Romney didn’t.
The Republican response to the Democrats’ attack (that’s “class warfare rhetoric”) doesn’t work because it’s an abstraction. … [Whereas] the Democrats’ attack on the rich is an emotional appeal to those who are not rich. It tells them that someone cares about them.
Using the term “class warfare” is a polite way of discussing a problem, a habit Republicans seem unable to break. It avoids finger pointing – naming an adversary and holding him accountable. Elections are adversarial. They are about defeating opponents … about “us” and “them.” Democrats are as adept at framing “them,” as Republicans are not. Democrats know how to incite envy and resentment, distrust and fear, and to direct these volatile emotions towards their Republican opponents. …
An exit poll conducted by CNN asked, “What is the most important candidate quality to your vote?” Among the four choices were, “Strong Leader,” “Shares Your Values,” “Has A Vision for the Future,” and “Cares about People.” Romney won the first three by more than 54%. But he lost “Cares About People” by 81-18%. That says it all. …
Of course elections are divisive – that is their nature. One side gets to win and the other side loses. … Appeals to reason are buried in the raucous noise that is electoral politics. Sorting out the truth would be a daunting task, even if voters were left alone to make up their minds.
But voters are not left alone. They are barraged by thousands of TV and electronic media messages, which confront them with contradicting data and malicious distortions. These deceptions are not inadvertent. They are the work of the professionals who run political campaigns and who are hired because they are experts in disinformation and misrepresenting the facts. In the world outside politics this is called lying; in politics it’s called spin, and to one extent or another everybody does it. But Democrats do it far better and far more aggressively than their Republican targets. …
The Democratic Party has been moving steadily to the left since the McGovern campaign of 1972. It is now a party led by socialists and progressives who are convinced that their policies are paving the way to a “better world.”
This vision of moral and social progress has profound consequences for the way Democrats conduct their political battles. Unlike Republicans, Democrats are not in politics just to fix government and solve problems. … Their goal is a new order of society— “social justice.” They think of themselves as social redeemers, people who are going to change the world. It is the belief in a redemptive future that accounts for their passion, and their furious personal assaults on those who stand in their way. …
Republicans see Democrats as mistaken. Democrats see Republicans … as enemies of the just and the good. Republicans have no parallel belief that drives them and their agendas, and no similar cause to despise and hate their opponents. …
If Obama and the Democrats were interested in addressing the immediate economic crisis they would not have used their monopoly of power to pursue a trillion dollar new social program opposed by half the nation and by every Republican in Congress.
The reason the Democrats made Obamacare their priority is because they are social missionaries whose goal is to “fundamentally transform” the United States of America, as Obama warned five days before the 2008 election. Creating a massive new government program that would absorb one-sixth of the economy and make every American dependent on government for his or her health care was the true order of their business. This was a program they saw as a major stepping-stone on the way to the fundamental transformation of American society.
That’s the way progressives think and Republicans had better start understanding just what that means. Progressives are not in politics to tinker with the existing system … They are in politics to achieve “social justice” – to transform the system and the way Americans live.
Horowitz then raises and tries to answer a burning question:
Why do progressives not see that the future they are promoting – with its socialist “solutions” – has already failed elsewhere, and particularly in Europe?
Because in their eyes the future is an idea that hasn’t been tried. If socialism has failed in Europe it’s because they weren’t in charge to implement it and there wasn’t enough money to fund it.
It is the very grandeur of the progressive ambition that makes its believers so zealous in pursuing it. Through government programs they are going to make everyone equal and take care of everyone in need. They are going to establish social equality and create social justice. It is an intoxicating view and it explains why and how they are different from conservatives. It doesn’t matter to them that the massive entitlements they have created — Social Security and Medicare — are already bankrupt. That can be taken care of by making more wealthy people pay more of their fair share. In their hearts, progressives believe that if they can secure enough money and accumulate enough power they can create a future where everyone is taken care of and everyone is equal. Everything Democrats do and every campaign they conduct is about mobilizing their political armies to bring about this glorious future, about advancing its agendas one program and one candidate at a time.
No Republican in his right mind thinks like this.
Those who vote for Democrats want to be taken care of; want a government that would “care for every man, woman and child from cradle to grave”. And “Republicans are reactionary and hateful because they stand in the way of a society that can and should care for every man, woman and child from cradle to grave.”
Republicans take a view of politics that is fundamentally different. Republicans do not aspire to change the world. They want to repair systems that are broken. They are not missionaries, and they are not selling a land of dreams. …Because Republicans are mindful of the past, they are uncertain about the future, and therefore wary of impossible dreams. They hope for a future better than the present but they are mindful that things could be even worse. Many problems are intractable and will not go away. Because this is their attitude, conservative emotions can never be as inflamed as their progressive opponents’. Their instinct is to come up with practical plans and explain how specific problems might be solved. …
Republicans – or “conservatives” – can “never be as enflamed” as Democrats, and yet Horowitz urges them to behave as if they were, because “you can’t confront an emotionally based moral argument with an intellectual analysis. Yet this is basically and almost exclusively what Republicans do”.
The only way to confront the emotional campaign that Democrats wage in every election is through an equally emotional campaign that puts the aggressors on the defensive; that attacks them in the same moral language, identifying them as the bad guys … that takes away from them the moral high ground which they now occupy.
Start the next electoral campaign now, he advises Republicans, and put the other side on the defensive. Use the emotional weapons of “hope and fear”. Chiefly fear. Republicans must attack the Democrats as job destroyers. They must “frame them as the enemies of working Americans and the middle class”. They must pin the subprime mortgage crisis on them where it rightfully belongs.
The bottom line is this: If Republicans want to persuade minorities they care about them, they have to stand up for them; they have to defend them; and they have to show them that Democrats are playing them for suckers, exploiting them, oppressing them, and profiting from their suffering.
It’s a case that can be powerfully made:
Large populations of the African American and Hispanic poor are concentrated in America’s inner cities … [where] the unemployment rates are off the charts, the school systems so corrupt and ineffective that half the children drop out before they graduate and half those who do are functionally illiterate. They will never get a decent job or a shot at the American dream.
In these inner cities, every city council and every school board and every school district are 100% controlled by Democrats and have been for more than 70 years. Everything that is wrong with the inner cities and their schools that policy can affect, Democrats are responsible for. Democrats have their boot heels on the necks of millions of poor African American and Hispanic children and are crushing the life out of them every year.
But Republicans are too polite to mention it.
… Democrats will fight to the death to prevent poor parents from getting vouchers to provide their children with the same education that well-heeled Democratic legislators provide for theirs. This is a moral atrocity. This is an issue to get angry about and mobilize constituencies over. This is an issue that could drive a Gibraltar-size wedge through the Democratic base.
But Republicans are too polite to do that.
This is merely the most obvious atrocity that Democrats are committing against America’s impoverished minorities. Subverting family structures through a misconceived welfare system, encouraging food stamp dependency, providing incentives to bring into this world massive numbers of children who have no prospect of a decent life just to earn a welfare dollar. These are the corrupt fruits of Democratic welfare policies … Republicans criticize these programs as “wasteful.” They need to start attacking them as destructive, as attacks on the human beings who are ensnared by them.
The way for Republicans to show they care about minorities is to defend them against their oppressors and exploiters, which in every major inner city in America without exception are Democrats. Democrats run the welfare and public education systems; they have created the policies that ruin the lives of the recipients of their handouts. It’s time that Republicans started to hold Democrats to account; to put them on the defensive and take away the moral high ground, which they now occupy illegitimately.
Government welfare is not just wasteful; it is destructive.
The public school system in America’s inner cities is not merely ineffective; it is racist and criminal. …
Because Democrats regard politics as war conducted by other means, they seek to demonize and destroy their opponents as the enemies of progress, of social justice and minority rights. Republicans can only counter these attacks by turning the Democrats’ guns around — by exposing them as the enforcers of injustice, particularly to minorities and the poor, the exploiters of society’s vulnerable and the reactionary proponents of policies that have proven bankrupt and destructive all over the world.
All these ideas of Scott Johnson and David Horowitz – that the Rpublican Party must fight harder, dirtier, much more aggressively, appeal to emotions, learn lessons on how to campaign from the Democratic Party and stop being so stupidly polite (for which they never get any credit anyway) – are all good. But are they enough?
Scott Johnson makes an important point about demographic changes. Perhaps even more important are generational changes.
Our own view – or vision – is that the Republican Party should bend towards libertarianism to appeal to a rising generation of voters who don’t want government to interfere in their private lives. No laws against smoking pot. Stop the wasteful, unwinable and counter-productive war on drugs. Have nothing to do with questions of who may marry whom. Leave the issue of abortion out of the political discourse and out of the party platform.
Also: Learn and use Spanish, even let it be a second official language, why not? – English, the biggest and most used of all languages, will not cease to be the first language of America (and of all nations in their dealings with each other). Lift the regulatory burden on business. Put human activity above the preservation of animal bird and fish species. Go heavily for fossil fuel and nuclear energy. Keep church and state sternly separated, and positively encourage secularism. Add all this to the perennial policies of lower taxes, smaller government, market economics – and strong defense (the issue over which we conservatives part company with pacifist libertarians).
And yes, as the man says, learn to fight dirty. Attack. Be personal and ruthless. Engage with malice and fury every issue the other side raises. Accuse them of everything bad you can think of with passion. It can be done by rational beings when there is reason enough to do it. And there is reason enough. The Democrats must be put out of power.