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Saturday, November 11, 2006

Election Analysis--Issues--GOP Strategy part 1

--posted by Tony Garcia on 11/11/2006
Back between late 2005 and early 2006 I noticed the themes that were beginning to percolate from the GOP. After a few months the election themes came out in full view. "Vote/support us because, as bad as we have been we are still better than the other guys" and "we need change in Washington, so vote for us so we can make change happen." The first is a bad strategy, even if it is true, because it is a campaign about the opposition, not about you or your positions. The second is a great strategy…if you are in the minority.
We're better than the other guys

In the local blogosphere a banner picture quickly made the rounds. Basically, "Yes, we failed on cutting the budget. Yes we failed on illegal immigration. Yes, we failed on many things. But if you don't help us win election you will get: Speaker Pelosi". This is not a strategy of issues. This is a strategy of fear. The strange part of this strategy is the target of the fear: their own base. "Scare our people out of rational analysis."

Deeper trouble than the target of this "fear mongering" theme is the subject of the theme. A well run campaign is one about oneself and, though somewhat utopian I see, a campaign about actual Issues. This theme is about the opposition and their platform. As responsible voters (and I know, that is not all voters--it does not include the uninformed or the partisans) we want to hear you talk about you.

By saying, "I'm going to be better than the alternative" forces the voters to look harder at the alternative. It gives the alternative a chance to give whatever positions on whatever issues they want to give. Control of the Issues belongs now to the opposition.

What is worse about this strategy is the loss of legitimate claim to refute. Look at the order of the discourse.
1. "We're better than the alternative"
2. Alternative chooses topics and how they package their positions
3. "Those are not really their positions" OR "Well, here is my position on that"

At this point the public is feeling, "You gave up your chance to give us your position." Worse is the assumption that follows: "You're only saying that is your position as a defense. We can't believe that's your position."

The damage from this strategy is even deeper. The discourse continues:

4. Alternative determines which issues to discuss
5. "That is not important. THIS issue is important"

"Really?" is the Electorate's response. "If it is THAT important then why didn't you tell us that to begin with?
"Why should you vote for us? If you don't, you will get Speaker Pelosi."

Who thought this was a good strategy? Why? What was the premise? How did that thought process go?

"Hmm, What are we going to run on? Small government! Nope, we didn't deliver that. Border security? Nope, passed that off 'til next year. What will our theme be?

"Well, we have to win or 'they' will be in power. What will 'they' do? Well, raise spending, increase government, poor support of Iraq. Oh, wait, we've raised spending, grown government and are starting to get weak on Iraq.

"I have got it! They're just worse than us. That's it."

The problem with this theme is, well there is no problem…there are problemS with this slogan. It is running a campaign based on fear mongering. It is designed simply to scare your base into compliance. It is an ad hominem attack. It is a claim that offers no merit and provides no real distinction from the opponent…afterall, "worse than us" is a purely subjective description. Those are the surface problems.

Dig deeper and you will see this theme is self-destructive as well. It move the center of discussion on the opponent. You are now spending more time talking about your opponent than your positions. You also will not be given the opportunity to "frame the issues" The quick response from the opponent is, "What is so bad about wanting (insert feel-good policy in general terms)?" Now you are left on the defensive. Not only do you have to defend the implication that you are against that general plan (against feeding children, etc.) Now you also have to begin to articulate how you position is different, but the real question becomes, "if this is so important to you why did you not say so FIRST. In the meantime the opposition gets a free pass for uttering a vaguery.

This was the theme from the GOP starting this spring and I explained how that theme is a losing strategy all around.
We will bring change to Washington

The person who decided this was a good theme for the GOP both nationally and in Minnesota should be disowned from the GOP. This theme came out around November of 2005…while the GOP held the entire Legislative and Executive branches nationally. It came out while the Minnesota held a majority in half of the legislative branch and the executive could have used his Veto stamp with no hope of overrides.

Re-elect us so we can make changes. You mean the changes we were promised in 1994. I'm still waiting for small government or shrinking budgets. I'm looking for that shift from national control to state control. Why was illegal immigration so important in 1996…and then not again until 2006? Even with that we got from the Republican House, Senate and White House a fence on 1/3 of the border and nothing to remove the incentive for illegals to come here. Nanny-state…grew in power as well as scope. Tax cuts…temporary. Oh, yes, the Democrats will not even have to 'face the music' for raising them. The Republicans gave them a "care package" in making the cuts "sunset".

The timing of the "re-elect us so we can make changes" theme was self-defeating. This theme came out before the final session of the election cycle. In other words, there was still time to actually make changes, fulfill supporter's expectations and follow through with their campaign positions. Instead, both in Minnesota and nationally, the GOP played dead and began beating the drum of "fixing" things if elected.

Case in point: immigration.

Nearly a year after the theme started (back in 2005) the GOP in Congress closed the session with a half-hearted legislation, but they said they would complete the job when the next session begins in January. In other words, at that time the message was, "if you want illegal immigration fixed you have to re-elect us." Nevermind the fact that it could have been addressed in that very day.

It is very difficult to convince people that you intend to make changes or even do what you originally campaigned on in the future when you failed to do so in the past and are failing to do so in the present.
"Sir, you hired me to fix your water heater last year. My contract is up next week and I'm asking for your renewal of my contract. I know, I have not yet fixed your water heater. But rehire me and I will fix your water heater. I did not do it yesterday because it is too important to do this month. Next month I can do it.

Sounds stupid, doesn't it. Sounds like something that only a true idiot could buy. What is scary about that is I am not a smart person and I recognized this angle from the GOP last October…over 13 months before the election. I described how foolish this theme is. Only a few allies in the Minnesota Organization of Bloggers agreed…quietly. The rest denied it was happening, and besides, it is better than the alternative. I wrote that the GOP in Minnesota and in Congress had better get everything done that the base sent them to office to do…or they will have nothing to run on and they will lose.

By February those that quietly agreed decided to play the role of the wallflower cheerleader wannabe that fellates the star quarterback but the star never knows who the wallflower is. They swallowed their own beliefs, their own principles and their own independent thinking all for the sake of defending those who spat on them already. They denied ever stating they believed the GOP's chosen themes were losing ones. They jumped onto the doomed wagon and whipped the horses to pull the wagon faster towards the cliff. Some even deleted from their websites the evidence that they 'dared' to criticize the GOP. Online they trashed ME for calling the strategy for what it is…and pointing out their hypocrisy for suddenly embracing it. "Tony, if you are not with us on this strategy then you are a liberal…and we are of the mindset to destroy the lives of those against us." And they did try to do so.

Now they are coming around and admitting their stupidity…though they blame the party for the theme and avoid blaming themselves for perpetuating the failed theme. They admit the failure of the campaign slogan and how inept the candidates were by holding true to that slogan. But they will not admit their role in tossing out their own beliefs, being the GOP's performing monkey, personally attacking and denigrating me and those who continued to say the GOP was on the wrong course.

The ironic justice is that one of those very people is now speaking up…kind of…and is of the opinion that he will be the next target of the GOP's destruction machine. Ironic because he claimed no such thing happens and specifically attacked me for providing the evidence of this destruction machine. Andy, you get what you deserve in that regard…hopefully you feel the brunt over the coming months of all you tried to hide since June, and all that you denied to contradict me since March.

The reality is this was a losing tactic and everyone knew it. But the GOP was hoping to literally intimidate people into compliance with the hope that the façade of unity would convince non-Republicans to support the "unified behind a cause" Republicans. The problem was there was no unity…and it showed. The problem was the strong armed tactics were not able to be kept secret…and it showed an ugly truth. The problem was there was no cause…so what was there to join. The problem was a lack of credibility…how can someone believe your support of something when you are known to have done a 180 in your opinion of that something…and never be able to explain what the turning moment was?

All of this combined with the business as usual corruption and the protect-our-own defending of those corrupt politicians led the public to realize that, not only did you fail to do what you claim you believe while in power, but you made it worse. Yes, the Left and the Right wanted change. There is only one person that can deliver "change" and it is not the person currently in power. It is the newcomer or challenger.

Coming next: Issues--GOP Strategy, A Tough Sell part 2



Blogger Denny said...

Wow. Tony, that was a really long, articulate discource. I have great empathy for you and consider your analysis to be superior to any that I have seen thus far.

Job well done.

I hope the powers that be in DC understand the meaning of the 2006 election results. The GOP's stupid and rather bizarre form of "campaigning" in 2006 was fascinating to re-live through your post.

It seems as though they need to demote Karl Rove again and fire the rest of the GOP strategists. Then, they need to hire more reality driven, pragmatic strategists. By the way, I wrote to the GOP about 2 years ago stating that they needed to get new stategists. They really DO have tin ears.

November 13, 2006  

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