Disruption, and the Path Back To Power

If Republicans want to reconnect with America and overcome the perception that they’re elitist and out of touch, they have to bypass the usual closed-shop messaging of D.C., and close the distance of Republican leaders from the culture. As Brad Todd pointed out in a smart piece, it’s partly about fielding candidates who don’t strike voters as arrogant, elitist and disconnected.

It’s also about the new generation being willing to defy – and in some cases, kill off – some of the structures of power and communication that lock the GOP into a weak position that leaves us playing the foil to Obama and the Democrats in media coverage.

You’ve seen it a hundred times: Obama calls Republicans racist, sexist, evil, stupid, bigoted … the usual. Republicans respond with guys in suits doing the Sunday shows or some tiresome, wordy press conference in front of a fake bookcase, speaking in Washington arcana utterly disconnected from normal Americans. Then the media reports on a substantive discussion of … “OMG! Michelle has BANGS!”

Barack Obama doesn’t win message fights simply because of media bias (yes it exists, yes there is a Golden Kneepad Prize for Most Sycophantic, but MSNBC has a lock on it so you won’t even make it to Regionals): he wins because some of our most clever and passionate voices are trapped in a D.C. communications paradigm that is mannered, formalized, predictable, and boring.

Today’s system allows no room for surprise, for passion or for much engagement beyond (to use the execrable Washington term) stakeholders … and it doesn’t scan as courtly or genteel. It doesn’t scan as respect for history and the institution. Increasingly, voters see it as arrogant, dysfunctional, and detached from the realities that confront the nation.

This is why Rand Paul’s filibuster play resonated with Republicans (and beyond) so strongly last week. Candidates who disrupt Washington’s expected narrative form are viewed with horror by the tripartite D.C. establishment of Republicans, Democrats and the media .. .but the public craves it.

70,000 people tweeting the #StandWithRand hashtag per hour wasn’t a coincidence. It was engagement. Americans riveted to C-SPAN for 13.5 hours wasn’t an aberration: it was an affirmation that real politics, raw and tough, is great television.

The old guard hated Paul taking the floor, arguing passionately for something bigger than today’s budget fight or for some tenth-decimal change in policy. They tut-tutted Rubio throwing down hip-hop knowledge. You could hear the old bulls grinding their teeth as Lee and Cruz and others had the temerity to challenge the President on the Constitutional exercise of his powers.

When Mark Kirk delivered the apple to Paul, and when Cruz started reading Tweets on the floor, the cultural linkup with Mr. Smith Goes To Washington was complete, much to the chagrin of the Quisling Caucus who were sharing dinner with the Main Enemy during the height of the filibuster.

The media worked their hardest to ignore the filibuster (to say nothing of its real topic; Obama’s License to Kill from Holder’s Justice Department), but couldn’t. John McCain and Lindsey Graham took to the floor the next day in a RINO harrumph that represented what I call the “twilight of the old order.” What offended them was that Rand Paul and the rest didn’t wait for Mitch McConnell and leadership to issue a Mother-May-I … he took the floor. His colleagues tagged in and out, not asking for leadership’s blessing. They eventually even drew Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to join for a few minutes, which was a compelling statement on the power of the moment.

As I told the Washington Post “It was one of the first examples in a long time of messaging that made the base feel like we had control of the day. Rand Paul’s stock price rose sharply today, and being the guy who set Obama on his heels — even for a day — will pay dividends.”

It doesn’t matter what the nuance of the drone policy question is, or whether you have issues with the Pauls. (He’s mostly right, and I do.) What mattered was that instead of waiting for permission, Paul took action.

He broke the tired cadence of Washington’s dance and got inside the OODA loop of the political culture. He got Barack Obama and Eric Holder to cave the next morning. A member on our side told me, “I didn’t love it, until I figured out how much Reid and Durbin hated it.”

A lot of the Senate class of 2010 gets it. A lot of new House members get it. They know that the old rules went something like this: “Stay quiet and you’ll get your appropriations.” “Play on the team and in 15 years you’ll be Chairman of the Toilet Seats Standards Committee.” “Be a good boy and you’ll go on the sweet CODELS.”

Those rules built a culture that wasn’t working against Obama, the Democrats and their Amen-chorus in the media. They built a culture that was too cautious, too timid and too hidebound … a culture that then wonders why it fails to win political battles and the support of the public. 

Breaking those rules, creating compelling, irresistible events that force media coverage and being unafraid to break the traditions of DC are milestones on the part of the path back to national power.

  1. BrentB67

    Perhaps communicating less with the Washington Press and more with the local press.

  2. Barbara Kidder
    DocJay: The fact that anyone stood up to this would be dictator is cause for celebration. I don’t think our slide in to hell can be stopped though whether it’s Paul, Cruz, or Rubio. Socialism is here and the disease is rotting us from the inside out. · 5 hours ago

    You see the condition the country’s in, as a physician does;  no amount of outward primping and change of bandages will eradicate the disease.

    The physicians keep applying more leeches and telling the patient to buck up and try some new ‘experimental’ potion;

    and the relatives are just standing around, waiting for the patient to lose his will to live.

  3. Indaba

    The party will need to get back under control though. I agree with the break through from the usual image if out of touch elites.

    We just had Rand Paul’s Dad as a guest at Canada’s conservative conference, like your CPAC, I would think. First, he was surprised that Canada has no abortion law, there is no law and Harper refuses to open this for government law. Our taxes are way down. So many elements that would delight conservatives around the world but done quietly. I am sure he will tell his son all about how our many factions were dragged under one tent and under one leader, Harper.

    But how did the conservatives break the past century’s complete domination of politics? It began with a young Stephen Harper commenting EVERY day on the traditional media about what the lefties were doing.

    Rand reminded me of that Stephen Harper who woukd criticize policy that the media and the left thought correct.

    once Harper got elected, he never did the traditional media again. He told them to watch televised parliament where he and the party were speaking every day.

    One leader will emerge.

    I wish Paul Ryan.

  4. The King Prawn

    Bravo, Rick! Rand and company are playing the game by the rules in the book, not by the unofficial ones dreamed up on the field.

  5. Sumomitch

    “We’ve got to appeal to younger voters, the West Coast, people who view Republicans as in league with crony capitalists and the wealthy, and those who are suspicious of endless foreign interventions,” Rand Paul says. “Otherwise, we are going to become a niche product for red states.”

    In this brief statement, Rand Paul not only lays out an effective political message and strategy, but one based in principle. In particular, he identifies two areas that Romney (for whatever reason) was unable to run against Obama on: crony capitalism and endless foreign interventions.  This, to me, is a more promising path to how the Republican Party can compete in a Presidential election, than any cheap identity politics.

  6. G.A. Dean
    Rick Wilson: Today’s system allows no room for surprise, for passion or for much engagement beyond (to use the execrable Washington term) stakeholders…and it doesn’t scan as courtly or genteel. It doesn’t scan as respect for history and the institution. Increasingly, voters see it as arrogant, dysfunctional and detached from the realities that confront the nation.

    I’d add “inbred” and even “corrupt”, or perhaps “corrupting” is the better term. As you say, the system has been rigged for generations to force new members into line. Anyone willing to break with the faux gentility of the institution and give some expression to the frustration and anger of the people is getting noticed. We’ll see if it can be sustained.

    More, the dignity of the institution is much overblown, largely a matter of political theater, and an insult, in a way, to the more real dignity, dedication and importance of other American’s contributions. There are plenty of people in this country who daily face up to real issues with courage and get results that should put Congress to shame, were they able to feel any.

  7. Butters

    This is all well and good as a mindset, but putting it into practice is much more difficult.

    McCain and Graham foolishly pitched a fit, but Obama and the media were smarter. They made sure this was a one day story. It may have some lingering positive impact no doubt, but they were not going to let it become a knock down drag out fight.

    Toward the end of his life, Breitbart lamented how hard it was to get any traction, to break through the media filter.

    I submit that the AP/Reuters banner headlines that make up the Yahoo! front page are far more effective at influencing low information voters than any Rand Paul fillibuster.

  8. Charles Starnes

    This hits my ear very much like the premise of George Weigel’s Evangelical Catholicism. Couldn’t agree more.To the commenter above: don’t worry yet about how to directly replicate it. What matters first is the change in sensibility. A lot of good stuff will flow naturally as that change rolls through the caucus, shifting the leadership.

  9. Republic of Texas

    Excellent post Rick.  To me the best aspect of Rand’s filibuster was its appeal to Constitutional principal.  I’ve read negative commentary focusing on specifics of his hypotheticals or the definition of “enemy combatant”, but Paul’s point was to get the administration to agree that they must abide by Constitutional limits.

    The Constitution (as written, not as currently interpreted) is the greatest guarantor of liberty in the history of the world.  THAT is the path back to a cultural connection.  I’d like to see the new breed of Republicans tie the Constitution and Freedom to as many issues as possible, in as many creative and inspiring ways as possible.  The cumulative effect ought to move the argument our way!

  10. DocJay

    The fact that anyone stood up to this would be dictator is cause for celebration. I don’t think our slide in to hell can be stopped though whether it’s Paul, Cruz, or Rubio. Socialism is here and the disease is rotting us from the inside out.

  11. Barkha Herman

    Ditto to everything said in the post.  

    For the first time on facebook, I had younger democrat voting friends post Rand Paul posters with captions on freedom on it.

    Yes, there is a need to appeal to the youth, and sticking to the small government and freedom principles will make it happen.

    Disrupt the Republican Party!

  12. genferei

    the perception that they’re elitist and out of touch

    Does this actually exist? Is there ‘data’ that shows this? How more actually elitist and out of touch do you have to be than this President?

    Yes, destroy the hidebound culture of Washington and its GOP versions. But do it because these structures undermine democracy and sacrifice liberty, not because they get in the way of some nebulous ‘messaging’.

  13. Rick Wilson
    C

    I am haunted by that era. Meek, compliant, scared of their own shadows.

    Jeff Schulte: Rick’s post made me think of the pre-Gingrich House Republicans under Bob Michel.  Go Along to Get Along.  Sounds like time for another house cleaning, but this time in the Senate. · 58 minutes ago

  14. George Savage
    C

    How do we best take Senator Paul’s stirring filibuster and translate this into the on-the-ground person-to-person organizing needed to prevail in the next election?

    The Democrats have community organizers on every block–the moniker “Organizing for Action” as a subdomain of BarackObama.com is no coincidence–while we have Karl Rove and others carpet-bombing swing voters with ineffective television ads every election as though it is still 2000 (undoubtedly earning millions in media placement fees in the process).

    We need to scrap donations to PACs eternally fighting the last political war and start funding more permanent institutions–Tea Party, anyone?–promoting continuous person-to-person outreach.

  15. Jeff Schulte

    Rick’s post made me think of the pre-Gingrich House Republicans under Bob Michel.  Go Along to Get Along.  Sounds like time for another house cleaning, but this time in the Senate.

  16. Barbara Kidder
    Indaba: The party will need to get back under control though. I agree with the break through from the usual image if out of touch elites.

    But how did the conservatives break the past century’s complete domination of politics? It began with a young Stephen Harper commenting EVERY day on the traditional media about what the lefties were doing.

    Rand reminded me of that Stephen Harper who woukd criticize policy that the media and the left thought correct.

    once Harper got elected, he never did the traditional media again. He told them to watch televised parliament where he and the party were speaking every day.

    One leader will emerge.

    I wish Paul Ryan. · 7 hours ago

    Thanks, this was an encouraging comment!

  17. Barbara Kidder

    You make a good point;  we have long been sitting on the edge of the nest, with the adult birds letting us practice flying, but always insisting that we return to the nest so that they are the ones who fly off to  hunt and, thus return and feed us;   not we ourselves!

    We elected these new Republican conservatives and we do not need the permission of the ‘old guard’ (both in the U.S. Senate and elsewhere) to get behind them, wholeheartedly!

  18. Barkha Herman
    George Savage: How do we best take Senator Paul’s stirring filibuster and translate this into the on-the-ground person-to-person organizing needed to prevail in the next election?

    The Democrats have community organizers on every block–the moniker “Organizing for Action” as a subdomain of BarackObama.com is no coincidence–while we have Karl Rove and others carpet-bombing swing voters with ineffective television ads every election as though it is still 2000 (undoubtedly earning millions in media placement fees in the process).

    We need to scrap donations to PACs eternally fighting the last political war and start funding more permanent institutions–Tea Party, anyone?–promoting continuous person-to-person outreach. · March 13, 2013 at 1:10am

    Edited on March 13, 2013 at 1:10am

    George – I donate to the YAL PAC; it works on college campuses, supports libertarian leaning republicans.

    We need more of this.

  19. SEnkey
    BrentB67: Perhaps communicating less with the Washington Press and more with the local press. · March 12, 2013 at 10:42am

    Spot on. This goes along with George Savage’s point as well. If Republicans took control and got active in local and “small” politics it would trend upwards. Most people would agree on the little things and those small agreements could build to consensus on big issues. We have to take politics out of the abstract and tie it to the concrete. 

    Tocqueville argued that the small New England towns were the heart of true democracy and created good citizens. I think when we as a nation abandoned local politics for the national, we made a big mistake.

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