Republicans Used to Play to Win



I’m old enough to remember when the Republican Party still played to win. It honestly wasn’t all that long ago, but it seems like a lifetime sometimes. While many might say that the fighting spirit was lost after Reagan, that isn’t quite true. Carrying 49 out of 50 states in 1984 did take a fight, but that was a “kinder and gentler” time.

No, the real fighting I remember very well happened when George W. Bush ran for office. Those campaigns weren’t remotely close to gentlemanly. The detractors that wrote about it — and even made documentary films to show the political steamroller that lead from Texas to the White House — weren’t lying, at least not completely. While the talk in the spotlight was about principles, the actions in the shadows were singularly focused on one thing: winning. I’m reminded of what was every time I see Karl Rove on the screen.

You used to be much more…”muchier.” You’ve lost your muchness.

I’m reminded of that line from Alice in Wonderland when I look at the man that engineered what was arguably the most vicious campaigns since the days of Richard Nixon. Watergate tactics were just part of the toolbox for Rove, or so the stories go. Some people might say that we’ve moved beyond that sort of thing, and that we’re better than that now. How? Is it better to stand on principles, and lose repeatedly?

When I worked on political campaigns, I wasn’t a true believer. I went where the money was. Since I live in a blue state, that meant I worked a fair number of campaigns for Democrats. Some people may say that means that I’m a traitor or something, but I was a capitalist. I only worked for two Democrats for something other than money — they were family friends, and blood is thicker than politics. You don’t tell your mother that you won’t help a friend when she asks. People may complain about my past, but I ended up knowing quite a bit about how Democrats work as a result. In all honesty, the Republicans back then were more cutthroat. Today, by contrast, the Democrats win that competition. I’m still trying to figure out how that happened.

Like it or not, we have to decide where we want to be as conservatives. There are some simple truths that the public has learned about politicians, and one of the first on that list is that they lie. They say what the people want to hear in order to win. What we need to do is ask ourselves why we are losing. Andrew Breitbart said it clearly, although many people probably interpret his words purely as a statement about standing on principle.

“If you can’t sell freedom and liberty, you suck… Profoundly. Irrationally… I just don’t understand that, I mean, that is the lifeblood of humanity – freedom and liberty – and the Republicans make it so boring.”

Republicans can’t sell freedom and liberty because we’re too busy jumping through hoops created by the opposition. We leap to protect marriage from gays, instead of pointing out that the federal government shouldn’t be defining it in the first place. That is for the churches. Women cry that we’re declaring war on them because we don’t want to pay for their birth control, and we still don’t scream for the pill to end up being sold over the counter — a situation under which no one would expect insurance companies or government to pay for it in the first place. The opposition plays dirty and we cry foul — to deaf ears.

Barack Obama won because his message resonated with youth. It still does. He doesn’t play fair and they don’t care. They’re happy to have handouts from the government, and that is how Democrats have bought votes for decades. Eventually, however, even the youth get annoyed with having government as caretaker. When they want to turn their “next big thing” into a real business, they quickly discover how government works against them. Some of them even figure out that the handouts end up costing them. They figure out that college tuition rates increase when government lets them borrow more to pay for their education. Of course, there’s also the shock they get when they receive their first paychecks and see how much the government takes before they even see a dime.

As Mitt Romney pointed out, there will always be a percentage of the population that will never buy freedom, simply because they’ve internalized a dependence on government. They are utterly dependent on the state, and will never even conceive of a situation other than what they have now. We don’t need to try to sell anything to them, because they are incapable of buying. We can, however, sell the concept of freedom to young voters as well as Obama has sold “Hope and Change” to them. It’s not going to happen by playing nice though.

We need to stop taking the bait offered by liberals. Instead of screaming about social issues, we need to just simply say, “I have my right to believe what I choose, and you do not have the right to force me to change.” No more debating the fine points. We need to focus on what really matters, and that list is very long. The people are getting squeezed with increasing costs for just about everything. If we can’t sell the public on real solutions to those problems, we suck. Our nation hasn’t had a solid energy policy in my lifetime, even though it should have been addressed immediately after the Carter Administration. That’s our fault, as much as it is the fault of Democrats. Instead of taking the bait on climate change, point out that electric cars aren’t selling, and that Keystone XL would actually lessen damage to the environment — no more trains carrying oil to derail and spill. Coal power plants are bad? What happened to the oil-producing algae that needs carbon to grow? Why aren’t we feeding tanks of that, instead of it going out of smoke stacks? Liberals claim they’re for protecting the environment, but that’s not true. Why are we letting them perpetuate their lies?

Finally, when someone does it right, we need to examine what they did, and apply it to other issues. Want an example? Learn from Bill O’Reilly — and, more importantly, from Monica Crowley — here:

There are 13 comments.

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  1. HeartofAmerica Inactive

    I totally agree. Most days I am just down right dumbfounded at the ineptitude I see and honestly, even embarrassed.
    I was a Democrat until the early 90’s and changed parties based upon not only my changing beliefs but through Newt’s “Contract With America.” It resonated with me and I formally changed parties.
    I remember those days as a Democrat and felt so deeply angry about how the Republicans would legislate this way or that and push their agenda more and more.
    These days all I see is an agenda to control members within the party. I see no leadership and no efforts to change that. I don’t even hear a lot of congressional members standing up with new ideas or pushing back at Obama in the media. I suppose some of that is due to the liberal media controlling the news but if it weren’t for Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee…you’d never even know we had Republicans in Congress. Get off your duffs and start fighting, regardless of whether you might lose your seat or not. Quit playing it safe or we ALL lose!

    • #1
  2. user_517406 Inactive

    I think conservatives should be pushing a message of federalism and local control.  A nation of 300 million needs that.  It’s the only way to respect, and tap into the strength of, our great diversity.  Obama has done all in his power to squash and stifle this, much as he likes to drone on about diversity.

    • #2
  3. user_517406 Inactive

    This is an especially thoughtful piece I read this morning about the importance of ideas in attracting voters and formulating political courses of action.  That’s the tricky line we have to walk.  It’s not about winning at any price, though we do want and need to win.  Our current advantage is that a really bad president like Obama  serves to crystallize the vapidity of leftism and highlight how it contradicts what America stands for.  Polls show that voters understand how awful Obama is and how bad he has been for our country, and of course conservatives understand why.  But we have to find ways to help others understand this.  It’s the stories, stupid.  We need to tell the stories of the failures of leftism and why conservatism, federalism, mediating communities and localism are the secret of American success.

    • #3
  4. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H

    I think what happened was social media, which allows both parties, but Democrats are especially good, to harness the power of dumb low-information voters to turn anything their opponents say into an instant media firestorm backed by populous fervor. Twitter and Facebook democratized politics and the news more than ever, and the more democratic the country becomes the more politics becomes unthinking popular socialism.

    • #4
  5. Mendel Inactive

    I can’t help but notice that all three of the Republican presidents in the last half century who used “strong-arm” tactics to win office (Nixon, H.W. Bush, and W. Bush) ended up being big-government supporters.

    Obviously the sample size is so small that it may be a coincidence, but I think there may be another link: Karl Rove-style campaigns focus on getting into power above all else. But power as its own end is anathema to limiting government.

    And since successful presidential candidates usually take their campaign leadership into the West Wing with them, the spirit of a campaign is likely to spill over into the spirit of the presidency – as evidenced by the Karl Rove-style “compassionate conservatism” giveaways of the first G.W. Bush term.

    • #5
  6. user_86050 Inactive

    Liz Harrison:

    Republicans can’t sell freedom and liberty because we’re too busy jumping through hoops created by the opposition. 

    No. I profoundly disagree.

    The military makes a distinction between the ground war and the air war.  The Democrats have a natural advantage on the ground because they offer things that are tangible. Sure, they don’t pay for it themselves, but their targets don’t know that or care. The Democrats have tangible things they can point to as proof they’re “doing something.”

    Republicans don’t have that. The one thing the GOP can sell is jobs, and how to promote jobs. But, sadly, the GOP has abandoned the ground war. The GOP (foolishly) has fallen for the consultant-driven (and consultant-profiting) strategy of going full time into an air war. Public relations. Ads. Messaging. Optics. 

    How’s that working out? (Pssst … it’s probably because the Democrats own the media. You don’t fight the devil at his own game.) 

    Consultants want conservatives to stop opposing social issues because consultants think it makes for a less attractive “message.”  They want to fight an air war. 

    The mistake is conceding the ground to the Democrats.

    • #6
  7. Liz Harrison Contributor
    Liz Harrison

    Mike H:

    I think what happened was social media, which allows both parties, but Democrats are especially good, to harness the power of dumb low-information voters to turn anything their opponents say into an instant media firestorm backed by populous fervor. Twitter and Facebook democratized politics and the news more than ever, and the more democratic the country becomes the more politics becomes unthinking popular socialism.

     I’m not sure I agree that Democrats are doing it better. Seems conservatives are very good at hijacking their social media initiatives.

    • #7
  8. Austin Blair Inactive
    Austin Blair

    You had me with these two lines:

    “No more debating the fine points. We need to focus on what really matters, and that list is very long.”

    Politicians like the process – or in other words the fine points.  We don’t have enough fire breathing leaders talking about the stuff that really matters.

    • #8
  9. Palaeologus Inactive

    Meh. This isn’t rocket science people.

    In 2000 there was no incumbent. In 2004 Dubya was the incumbent. In both instances he ran his campaigns accordingly. Obama’s 2012 campaign was a mirror image of Bush’s in 2004.

    That is, Barry designed it to make sure that his base saw his opponent as the Debbil (to guarantee that his base bothered to vote and didn’t look around for a newer, better prog) and he relied on the default presumption that as the incumbent he would be favored by largely clueless swing voters.

    It is counterproductive to run a campaign based on personal attacks against the POTUS. Carter didn’t do it in 1976, Reagan didn’t do it in 1980, and Clinton didn’t do it in 1992. Challengers aren’t so fortunate. Plenty of the ignorati are willing to believe all sorts of horribles about those who run for office.

    Those three elections all had another thing in common, the incumbents all faced primary challenges.

    Rule #1 in American two-party electoral politics: incumbents with similar districts who are fully backed by their own party are awfully tough to defeat in general elections.

    • #9
  10. Fricosis Guy Listener
    Fricosis Guy

    My theory is that the GOP simply isn’t clear enough about the ruthlessness of its opposition. These fights aren’t simply fights about ideas: the Republicans are contending against a Democrat party that has organized itself on Leninist lines

    It is explicitly a vanguard party dedicated to creating “a society based on social justice and a radical redistribution of wealth“. Do I need to detail this further?
    It is organized according to the principles of democratic centralism, where discussion and dissent are OK until it is time for action. Once the agreed-upon course is set, then there must be unity in action.
    A great example of the latter is the ability of Democrat elected officials in red states to advocate, and even vote for, conservative policies. This gives an appearance of dissent and independence from boogeymen like Reid and Obama. However, do those elected officials ever stray on a critical vote? Or do they always find a way to vote for Harry Reid as Majority Leader, for Obamacare, or for any issue where their vote is really needed?

    Now some of this is just politics, so you need to contrast the two parties. For example, the Hastert Rule — no vote will be allowed unless the majority of the majority supports it — could be viewed as a crude attempt to inject a bit of democratic centralism into the GOP. However, there is often open GOP dissent about the compromises and armtwisting this approach drives. Unity of action escapes the party.

    On the other hand, Nancy Pelosi was able to decorously dispense with the Hastert Rule, because Democrats follow such democratic centralist rules as a matter of course. And dissent after a decision? Democrats follow the first and second rules of Fight Club.

    If you believe the Democrats don’t plan in advance which votes they will allow, which votes will allow dissent, which voters will be allowed to dissent, and which votes require absolute unity of action, I have a voter list in Mississippi to sell you.

    • #10
  11. Liz Harrison Contributor
    Liz Harrison

    It is true that it is not a “winning” choice to run a purely negative campaign, even when dealing with a situation like we have now. If Republicans do not run someone that not only points out the problems that the Obama administration has created, but also offers concrete solutions, it will be difficult if not impossible to win. The left has been doing a very good job of fanning the fires of arguments within the GOP. The problem is that we’re letting them. We need to focus on what we agree on, and leave the rest on a pile of things we agree to disagree. Social issues are generally the largest part of that. And if we’re brutally honest with ourselves, they are just hot button issues that lack any substance. If we don’t fix the economic and geopolitical problems, the social issues won’t matter anyway.

    • #11
  12. user_517406 Inactive

    Sorry, Liz.  Social issues are not just hot button issues that lack substance.  The truth is that if we lose the understanding that children should be raised as often as possible by the mother and father who made them, or the understanding that life is precious and should not be thrown away THEN nothing matters.  The strength and stability of the nation comes from the family.  When families are not stable, people grow up to need large amounts of assistance from the state.  You have it exactly backwards.

    • #12
  13. user_86050 Inactive

    Gotta agree with Merina. I’ll happily agree that contraception may not be a big deal, but the slaughter of millions of fetuses every year is a lot more important than two bucks in the minimum wage. Forgive me for quoting JFK: “Yeah, who gives a f*** about the minimum wage?”

    • #13

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