Plans and Stories

First, I don’t love the shutdown, but for reasons that may not be immediately obvious. While I don’t buy the “a shutdown dooms the GOP in 2014” argument, the narrative fight in the coming days is going to be big, brutal and consequential…and I’d rather it be about Obamacare than about a government shutdown. Making it about Obamacare lets us continue to tear at the soft underbelly of Bonny Prince Barry’s legacy and at this heinous abomination of a bill. It keeps the fight, and focus, where it benefits the GOP and the conservative movement.

But we’re in a shutdown and that’s the fight we’ve got to win. You don’t have to be happy about it; we just have to step up our game dramatically. Sure, there will be a compromise soon enough, but until then we need a plan — and a better story.

So far, no one on our side – not the House GOP and its sundry factions, not the Senate GOP, not the Tea Party groups, not the Senate Conservatives Fund, not Heritage Action, have covered themselves in glory as communicators and advocates. Too much fire has been danger-close or targeted at our own. After seeing too many messages and themes, ad-hoc hail-Mary legislative plays, and too many rapid leadership reversals, it’s clear we need a plan.

In politics, a plan beats no plan every time, and for the post-shutdown message battle we need a communications plan that runs deeper than “Fire two broadsides and board ‘em in the smoke.”

As a young campaign guy sticking to a plan sounded awfully stuffy and less fun than just going out and having a good political bar fight. While I love a good scrap, every campaign I’ve been in that really worked had a plan. The campaigns with no plan rely on speculation, folklore, entrail-reading and managing the crisis-of-the-day. They sometimes win, but often find themselves on election day wondering how they got to Tijuana, why they can’t find their wallet, and who left that dead hooker in the trunk.

Good plans are explicable and use simple steps to execute complex operations. They’re resilient and able to deal with contact with the enemy. But if your plan of “don’t blink” relies on complex parliamentary gymnastics where Harry Reid can shoot you in the head politically at any moment, it’s not a plan: it’s a death wish. If you’re using the crisis to teach fractious Tea Partiers a lesson (looking at you, Boehner and McCain), it’s not a plan; it’s a family feud. If your Tea Party group is busy punishing your own team members rather than deeply vulnerable red-state Democrats…well, you’re doing it wrong.

It’s time for all the players on our side to get all their asses on seats in one room, swallow their respective pride, and built a strategy to break the Democrats, rather than each other. This isn’t about the optimum outcome; it’s about the best political outcome.

Now that we’re in it, we need more than a Day 1 Plan to communicate shutting down the government. Show me your Day 2, 3, 4, 7, 14 and 30 plans. Show me how it works after contact with the enemy and how you sell it to people who aren’t on your fundraising list. Show me how it works when the media culture that loves the concern-trolling narrative of “Why Are Evil Stupid Republicans Being Evil and Stupid When Barack Loves Us So?” gets the bit in their teeth. Without a plan, expect more flailing, more dissent and more bad media coverage.

A plan is necessary, but not sufficient. We also need to get a grip on the story. We haven’t been telling one story; we’ve been telling 15 disparate tales from all of the factions on the right side of this battle. Is it about Obamacare? The shutdown? Reid? Obama? Cruz? The Tea Party? Boehner’s internal factions? Pandas? The process? The story should be about Obamacare, full stop.

We’ve also been telling those stories in the worst possible language. Here are some words I never, ever want to hear in communications from the GOP: cloture, conference committee, continuing resolution, subcommittee, chairman, regular order. If your statement couldn’t be understood by a counter guy at a Waffle House in your district, fire your comms people. Fire them right now.

Listen to Obama’s language: people, pain, terror, anarchy, Republican malfeasance, taking away health care, denying birth control. It’s not steeped in the terrible, turgid language of parliamentary procedure. It’s emotional, evocative and understandable.

We forget a fundamental rule; every campaign is a story with a hero, a villain, a quest, and a battle in the last chapter between light and darkness. It can be any campaign: for a candidate, an issue, or a product, but a in big narrative sense they’re all the same.

Take on the mantle of the hero, make the villain’s evil evident, define the quest and win the decisive battle. If you don’t think those rules work, I welcome you to consider the 2012 Presidential campaign. Obama and his team applied them diligently. We rarely do.

Democrats have a story they’ve been telling since before Ted Cruz stood on the Senate floor for 21 hours or the House passed its weekend CRs. They’ve been telling it over and over again to a cooperative media; Democrats as the heroes, rescuing the Republic from those villainous Tea Party granny-killing scoundrels who want to shut off the Panda-cam and kill the government.

No, it isn’t fair. Yes, it depends on deeply ingrained media bias working assertively against the us. Yes, Obama gets a free pass for everything. Yes, our own Quislings have gleefully sided with Harry Reid in order to teach those young whippersnappers like Cruz, Lee, Paul, and Rubio a lesson. Yes, the Tea Party guys hate the old guard, and the old guard reciprocates. Way it goes.

But this is a fight we’re in now, like it or not, and, to paraphrase Ben Franklin, the GOP and the conservative movement must all hang together or assuredly they’ll shall all hang separately. 

There’s a chance to make this about Obamacare, and extract political advantage from it, if we’ll take it.

Or, we can keep on with the current rudderless clown show and see where that leads us.

  1. Rick Wilson
    C

    I could not agree more. Full disclosure: it’s what I do.  ;)

    Raxxalan: One thing that doesn’t require unity or leadership but is a no brainier is start running ads in red states with democratic senators about Obama refusing to negotiate with the GOP and agreeing to negotiate with Iran. It would be helpful if the spots could include Iranians chanting death to America, which the do once a year on their equivalent of Independence Day. Maybe asking what the president means by refusing to negotiate with “Terrorists”. Outside groups could do it and it would go a long way toward countering the “shutdown is the GOP’s fault meme”. It it puts public opinion against a deal with Iran that is helpful too. · 14 minutes ago

  2. Rick Wilson
    C

    The only way we get it to happen is once the pain level increases.

    Al Kennedy: Rick, thanks for a great post.  If the Republicans have a strategy and plan today, it is not evident to me.

    How do we get McConnell, Boehner, Cruz, Lee, and Price together to agree on a strategy, plan, and spokesperson?  There are several big questions that need to be answered.  A few of these might be: how do the CR fight, the debt ceiling fight and the 2014 elections relate to each other and to the strategy and plan; do we admit defeat on the CR fight; how do we extend the strategy and plan through November 2014; how do we get the PACs to support the strategy and plan; how do we improve our messaging?

    With the launch of Obamacare signups, we have a golden opportunity to drive home all of the defects of this ill-conceived legislation to the American people.  The messages today are different, but Reagan showed us the best way to do it. · 2 hours ago

  3. James Stack

    In this case the plan is the fight itself. For symbolic and important reasons, it’s the fight. Talk of strategy, “to what end”, etc misses all of it. The conservatives have to show that no matter what they will dig in and fight. 

  4. Skyler

    If only NPR would shut down its propaganda too.

  5. Al Kennedy
    James Stack: In this case the plan is the fight itself. For symbolic and important reasons, it’s the fight. Talk of strategy, “to what end”, etc misses all of it. The conservatives have to show that no matter what they will dig in and fight.  · 20 minutes ago

    James, what are the symbolic and important reasons that the plan is the fight itself?  Shouldn’t there be an objective or a reason as to why you are fighting?

  6. Manfred Arcane

    I’ve had smart people convince me The Plan should have as core the strategy that the Reps keep churning out funding piecemeal bills on untouchable parts of the Government, you know, like funding the Military, Social Security and Medicare, Federal Court system, etc.. 

    Then let the Senate or “the Bonny Prince Barry” vote or veto them down. 

    The Reps can keep saying, “We funded the Social Security (or Medicare) and the Dems voted it down.” 

    If that doesn’t work, nothing will.

  7. Xcheesehead

    Think back to the “Harry & Louise” ad back when Hillarycare was being debated. That ad, as I recall, had a major effect on its defeat, because we could identify with the people in the ad. Plus it was funny.

    To the earlier poster (sorry…didn’t check who it was) who suggested having Boehner sit and wait for the democrats with a box of doughnuts is exactly the right direction. Making fun of the President and his henchmen in a humorous and inoffensive way. Kind of debunks the idea of Republicans as haters, doesn’t it.

    Rick–you know the right people…

  8. Scott R
    Matthew Gilley: Scott, Scott, Scott … how the same state produced you and Woody Hayes is a riddle without a solution, my friend. · 5 hours ago

    Woody and I are content with “three yards in a cloud of dust”, when it’s there for the taking. Cruz is for Hail Mary’s from the opening snap.

    Woody would be punching him right now, Matt. I’m more forgiving. 

  9. Quinn the Eskimo

    I am reminded of Sun Tzu:

    A victorious army wins its victories before seeking battle; an army destined to defeat fights in the hope of winning.

    The Republicans have run head first into battle like Brad Jorgensen in The Searchers without any strategy for success.  It is not enough to stand for your principles; you have to advance them.  Otherwise, it gets to be too much like  posturing or stylized martyrdom or feel-goodism (if that’s even a word).  Is it too much to ask for our side to do something to try to win once in a while?

  10. Larry3435

    We need a plan?  Here’s a plan:  What Republicans should be doing right now is passing bills to fund popular programs.  Every day.  Dozens of them.  And let the Senate Democrats keep voting them down or Obama keep vetoing them.  Until there is no remaining doubt, anywhere, that the Democrats and only the Democrats are responsible for the shutdown.  

    Obama threatens to hold his breath until he gets his way?  Good.  Let him suffocate.

  11. Kofola
    Quinn the Eskimo:

    The Republicans have run head first into battle like Brad Jorgensen in The Searchers without any strategy for success.  It is not enough to stand for your principles; you have to advance them.  Otherwise, it gets to be too much like  posturing or stylized martyrdom or feel-goodism (if that’s even a word).  Is it too much to ask for our side to do something to try to win once in a while? · 1 hour ago

    Well, they had a plan: Unequivocal surrender. Had GOP just given the Democrats everything they wanted, the American people would flock to the Republican banners and the GOP would have free reign to reform Obamacare into a workable program. That mean ol’ Ted Cruz and his cronies screwed it up. Now the party doesn’t know what to do.

  12. Guruforhire

    The pin is out of the hand grenade……  Its a little late for waffling.

    May as well commit…..

  13. Guruforhire

    Invent a new theatrical stunt every week.

    I am thinking boehner cam.  just have boehner wait with stack of packets and a box of donuts waiting for democrats to negotiate, and stream it live on the internet.

    Have fox news reporters check in.  Have boehner smell the donuts, maybe surpetiously eat one like he thinks nobody can see him.  Pick his nose, etc.

    Anything that puts the fact that republicans are out there trying to negotiate into the news in a lighthearted fashion.

  14. Guruforhire

    I think the republicans should get some old leather jackets and put studs in them and dye their hair green.  If they are going to get called anarchists they can act the part.

    I am sure the local dispensery of Doc Martins could use the business.

    There does have to be one with “BORN TO RUNE” on it.

    Here is a theme song:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_ujVaXAJnw

  15. Ed G.
    Guruforhire: Invent a new theatrical stunt every week.

    I am thinking boehner cam.  just have boehner wait with stack of packets and a box of donuts waiting for democrats to negotiate, and stream it live on the internet.

    Have fox news reporters check in.  Have boehner smell the donuts, maybe surpetiously eat one like he thinks nobody can see him.  Pick his nose, etc.

    Anything that puts the fact that republicans are out there trying to negotiate into the news in a lighthearted fashion.

    I love the Negotiation Cam idea. The nose picking part is genius! Why isn’t Boehner on that already? GRRRRR!

    Bring in Cantor (or even Cruz for the sake of unity) and show them playing table top football.

    Have a banner hanging up in the background that says, “Welcome to the negotiating room, President Obama!” Then have one side of the banner fall as if from neglect.

    Definitely show Boehner smoking alot.

    Have Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair while eating one of the donuts.

    Boehner falling asleep on the table, a line of drool sliding down his cheek.

    Ryan and McConnell can team up to give Boehner the old hot foot treatment.

  16. Rick Wilson
    C

    hahahhahaa excellent

  17. Nick Stuart
    Rick Wilson: 

    In politics, a plan beats no plan, every time, and for the post-shutdown message battle, we need a communications plan that runs deeper than “Fire two broadsides and board ‘em in the smoke.”

    A very, very big ask. Remember, we’re talking about the Stupid Party here.

    However ill-advised and lacking in a mid- or end-game Cruz’s fauxibuster was, it resonated out here in flyover country because, plan or not, self-serving as it may have been, he at least was willing to climb into the ring and fight, punch and counter-punch, which is a damn sight more than we’ve seen from the Establishment Republican Capon Caucus.

    Let’s see if Boehner can earn his fancy Speaker’s office, staff, and perks. 

  18. Guruforhire

    Telethon…

  19. Z in MT

    My plan:

    1) Pass a clean Debt Ceiling increase ASAP.  I know the Republican leadership thought they had more leverage with the debt ceiling, but the fight now is on the CR.  This will also calm the markets and big Wall Street donors on both sides.

    2) Make Boehner the face.  I know he is not the most charismatic,  and cries a lot, but he is a more sympathetic figure than Cantor and his crying could be an advantage.  Let him tear up when discussing the unfairness of the unilateral Obama exemptions for big business and not for individuals.

    3) Boehner should be in NY not DC.  He should be sitting down with journalist after journalist with a simple set of assertions:

    - Republicans didn’t want to shut down the government.

    - This is about fairness.  Business and Congress should not get exemptions if individuals do not.

    - Republicans do want to repeal Obamacare, but are not going to use the government shut down to achieve that goal.