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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Election Analysis--Issues--GOP Strategy part 2

--posted by Tony Garcia on 11/15/2006
Note: this is a continuation of my election analysis. The majority of it was written Wednesday morning after the elections. With very few exceptions these are the thoughts and analysis as originally conceived that morning.

A bout with the flu has delayed my posting these and also prevented me from my venue for writing, which is on the bus to and from work.

Terror is everything

The GOP tried to make War on Terror the issue of campaign. Why not? It worked 2 years ago and REALLY worked in 2000. The problem is not that Terror is not an important issue. The problem is the electorate has a short memory and a short attention span. Really, the fact that there have been no attacks lately, I think, has hurt the GOP.


Because it has allowed the populace to become complacent and disinterested. By not being in the front of people's minds the Terror issue was too difficult to "nationalize"

Yes, this has gone on longer than WWII. Yes, it is extremely important to our very existence. But it has been allowed to slip in its priorities in the minds of the average person. Proof of that is seeing how things like Brittany Spears divorce capture headlines DURING the election reporting.

They say hindsight is 20/20 but conservatives knew it at the time the War on Terror started. America has a short attention span and is highly impatient. Liberals knew that too and have been banking their return to power on the attention span finally moving Terror out of the front of the public's mind.

Conservative candidates should not have run from Terror and Iraq. They should have been spending the past several years connecting the dots. Instead they made the issue of Terror a series of talking points thus politicizing an issue. And it seems that my working theory on politicizing important issues gets another topic to support it. Essentially, once an important issue is seized by one party as politically advantageous the issue loses its place of importance by the perception of the public.

Issues used

Running from Issues
Mark Kennedy's campaign was the classical example for us. Kennedy's record in Congress was a smaller government, local-control, hard conservative. Democrats routinely turned these records into the false charge of being Bush's minion. Kennedy feared that charge for some reason and ran as far from it is possible.

It does not make sense why he feared the charged if he believed he was doing the right thing before. It is better to lose for who you are than to win for who you are not. This is transparent to the voters and led him to the worst scenario: he lost for who he was not.

He is not the only one, but he was the most clear example in front of the voters.

In Kennedy's case this type of strategy gives the base some signals of problems to come. "Is he just saying what he has to just to win?" "Will he abandon us like the current set of incumbents?" Running towards the opposition does not gain ground either as they already have their choice. In other words, becoming a Nationalist will not win over Democrats since they already have their Nationalist candidate. So stay close to you Federalist base.

Republicans also had a problem with running on the issues. How could they run on a platform of solving issues when they have not solved any since gaining power? "We will end the nanny-state" rings hollow when one of the last laws they passed were expanding the nanny-state (online gambling ban). "We will fix the porous borders" has no merit when the last effort proposed by the Republicans offered the wall for 1/3 of the border.

Being in the position of having no issues put the Republicans in the unenviable and self-defeating position of running away from their own issues. It also rendered their position on Terror without merit as they had spent years explaining how everything was tied to fighting terrorism, yet did little to actually fix "everything".

Running from their record, running from their issues…this was one of the few options that were left to the Republicans. (A "See, I Told You So" moment--I was trying to let the conservatives know in November 2005 that the following few months were the last chance they had to seize their issues back and have a record to run on. I was told I was paranoid.)

Race about "personalities" and "liberal vs conservative"
The final option the Republicans had in their campaigns was to make their race about personalities. "They are (gasp) liberals" and similarly thoughtful comments. Frankly, these are disgusting campaigns and most of the non-politicos I talked to were as disdainful towards these campaigns as I was.

A race about personalities is a big gamble. When you take on these kinds of themes you are betting heavily that (1) the personality trait you are attacking is viewed as a negative and not treated by the public with positivity or ambivalence, (2) there are solid, obvious and justifiable links from "evidence" to the charge of the attacked trait, and (3) that you are not perceived with a negative trait for engaging in the personality attacks.

The "flip-flop" tag is the best example. In 2004 "flip-flop" was used as the main charge against Kerry's personality. The success was that Kerry literally would flip-flop from one day to the next and then back to the first. These were so obvious that explanations by the attackers were not needed…and the public agreed that this was not acceptable.

Since then the "flip-flop" has been distorted to the point that the public disregards the charge and views the charge as hostile, negative and irrelevant. For 2006 a flip-flop was any nuanced change in position found over the past 20 years, any change in position regardless of explanation or justification, any support for a major theme while not supporting certain subordinate details…the list continues and also provides an impossible burden to avoid by anyone.

Using "flip-flop" as an attack on someone no longer has the support from the public and puts the attacker in a worse light than before. In some cases it also creates a sympathy for the attacked.

And this is the major danger of engaging in campaigns about personalities.

Coming next: DEM Strategy--Same Thing, Different Results part 1



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