I’m a conservative and proud of it. But I’m also a realist who understands there’s a difference between how I want the world to be and how the world is. Disliking the current state of affairs is not enough. Change requires winning elections. That’s the reality Republicans and conservative groups need to grasp if they want to take advantage of the advantageous electoral position in which they currently find themselves.
That advantage is narrow, but it’s growing, and it exists on every issue voters care about. And it marks a significant turnaround since mid-October when Republicans trailed in all these polls.
But this new support is not earned – an important point that escapes a lot of people. It was nothing the Republicans did or said or advanced that made the difference.
What changed? Obamacare, of course.
It was the lies – indeed the lie of the year, according to PolitiFact, was “If you like your insurance, you can keep it.” It was the massive failures in implementation and the realization, as Obamacare changed from the abstract to the concrete for millions of Americans, that this was not a good deal at all.
In other words, voters haven’t move toward Republicans; they’ve moved away from Democrats. Yet many Republicans and conservative groups would like to have their supporters believe they’ve won some sort of argument. In fact, they haven’t won anything yet.
It is true that, in issue-by-issue surveys, a plurality, if not a majority, of Americans (depending on the issue), leans to the right. This is a conservative nation – by instinct and individual, but not necessarily at the ballot box.
The nation elected and re-elected Barack Obama as president, it elected and re-elected Democrats to the Senate from red states. So how can a conservative, or at least right-leaning, nation believe one way and elect people who believe and govern the exact opposite way? Because Republicans and conservatives are more effective at squandering trust, blowing opportunities and forming circular firing squads than they are at reaching even people whose instinct is to agree with them.
People don’t associate Democrats with the unpopular laws, taxes, regulations, intrusions and restrictions they advocate, or else they’d throw them out. They also don’t associate Republicans with the converse of those things, even though they support those ideals. In short: Republicans have a messaging problem.
Have you heard anyone in Republican leadership speak? They’re Ambien with legs, reciting textbook-quality speeches and talking points coupled with statistics. It’s the worst class you ever had taught by the most boring teacher the world has ever known. I’d rather practice self-dentistry than be stuck on an elevator with John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy or Mitch McConnell. The same goes for leaders of outside conservative groups.
This isn’t personal; this is professional. Being a nice person, which I’m sure they are, does not a good leader make. They aren’t visionaries. They aren’t inspirational. They’re just there. Most Americans wouldn’t follow them into a mall, let alone an ideological battle.
The problem arises because congressional leaders are elected by other Members of Congress, and Congress is populated by 535 people who believe they’re the smartest person in whatever room they happen to be in at any given moment and thus always should be the center of attention. As such, they aren’t likely to vote someone into a leadership position who is a good communicator or charismatic and inspirational leader because that would shift whatever little focus they have off of them.
This applies to both parties – Republican leaders seem downright vibrant compared to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. So you end up with ineffective communicators who have their every word reported as gospel for the party. Democrats have the White House, which trumps Congress, so they have a different problem at the moment.
That leaves messaging for Republicans up to individual members, who are horrible at it, and outside groups, who are almost as bad.
We see ads on the Internet that reach out to voters and explain the issues in a conservative way. But not on TV. And most people don’t take the time to watch Internet ads. Indeed, most don’t come to information at all – they’re too busy living their lives.
Progressives understand this. They understand they must take the information to the people. I’ve seen ads for Obamacare, amnesty and countless other left-wing causes couched in a friendly, full-of-it way all over TV. Where’s the counter?
Sadly the counter-message is being passed around Twitter and Facebook from one choir member to another, and that’s about it. Worse, it’s drowned out by Republican and conservative group in-fighting.
And too often reality is drowned out by people simply not telling the truth.
Groups and members of Congress who told people there could have been a conservative budget signed into law are not being honest. Democrats would never go along with that and, like it or not, you need their votes in the Senate and President Obama to sign it. And for that to happen, Democrats would have to care about the country more than their agenda, and they, quite simply, don’t.
There was no great conservative victory to be had in the budget battle. We can dislike that, but it doesn’t make it not so.
Without significant changes in strategy, Republicans and conservative groups are poised to spend a lot of time, money and energy fighting amongst themselves and not reaching any new voters.
If you want a conservative/Republican budget, a conservative/Republican government, elect more conservatives/Republicans. Don’t waste your time fighting people who will vote with you if the numbers were there. Get the numbers.
Most members of Congress like to think of themselves as leaders, but they’re followers. They will vote with their party, whether it is conservative of “establishment,” as long as it is in the majority. If you want to primary a squish, fine. But if you win and hold the seat, the number of Republican votes increases by zero.
That zero will be the number of new right-leaning voters Republicans, be they conservative or “establishment,” will attract if the only thing Republicans have to offer is circular firing squads, in-fighting and conservative groups that preach only to the choir.
As Democrats’ poll numbers have fallen dramatically, Republicans’ poll numbers have increased only slightly. Americans aren’t running to Republicans; they’re running from Democrats. If an alternative vision and better plans, in a unified voice, aren’t offered to attract those running, those voters will not run to Republicans. They’ll simply end up running away from the voting booth next November.
Derek Hunter is Washington, DC based writer, radio host and political strategist. You can also stalk his thoughts 140 characters at a time on Twitter.