Friday, February 8, 2013

How Republicans Can Win

We recently took a look at why 'Republicans are losing' (from one perspective, anyway). Here's a look at three suggested strategies for how Republicans might win.

Go For The Heart
David Horowitz has a lengthy, fascinating piece on how Republicans can win: Go For The Heart! Here's what he says (boiled down a lot--it's actually surprisingly meandering and poorly put together--for example, he gives three strategy bullet points and then never follows any of them up explicitly):
  1. Democrats are zealots. They are true-believer religious missionaries of big government. They hate conservatives because conservatives believe in limited government. By contrast, conservatives are even-tempered pragmatists who reach for facts and reasoned arguments and are wary of "impossible dreams." Unfortunately, voters have already been told that Democrats are enemies of women, children, minorities, and the middle class. Republicans try to reason past this and can't.
  2. There are two basic weapons in politics: Hope and Fear. Fear is much stronger but hope can work. Republicans almost never use either very well. They won't do well with fear because it is mean and they aren't very effective with hope since it's usually empty promises. Basically Republicans are all brain and intellect and Democrats are all emotional about being oppressed (war on women, etc.) and blaming the Republicans. The Republicans felt Obama was likable and hard to hit--but man did the Democrats hit Romney.
  3. Democrats destroyed lots of jobs by giving African Americans houses they shouldn't have owned--so the mortgage crisis hit! Where was the talk of 'job destroyers' by the Republicans? They just talked about Job Creators (the rich). And what about vouchers--Think of the Children!
  4. Republicans must show they care about minorities by defending them from their oppressors and exploiters which are Democrats with their welfare systems and public education.
What Universe Is He Living In?
I'm a--what's the word?--oh, yeah: gobsmacked--by this. Did he not watch a primary where fellow Republican Newt Gingrich unleashed When Mitt Romney Came To Town (a 25 minute questionably accurate and impassioned attack on Romney as a vulture capitalist?) or Rick Santorum ran the attack ad Obamaville which shows a literal nightmare future where Ahmadinejad morphs into Obama for a second on a TV? What about where Donald Trump rode to front-runner status on the Birth Certificate issue (which, alone, should be enough to discredit his thesis were he to acknowledge it).

What about a general election where millions of dollars worth of amateur-hour DVDs were mailed to people claiming that Obama was born to a communist radical and his mother was floozy? Where a major 2012 documentary suggests that the only thing that could explain Obama's actions was a hatred of the west (explained by arm-chair pop-psychology)? You can try to argue these things are true (they are not)--but to suggest that they are the work of coldly reasoned pragmatist with no intended emotional payload is ludicrous. 

Horowitz, who would like to sell you a printed version of his essay for $3.00 in pamphlet form, or maybe a copy of his book The NEW Leviathan for $16.99, thinks the Republicans need to fight back. They need to put victims of the Democrats (minorities and women) in front of every argument the way Democrats do. Well, I don't know about him, but I did see the Republican convention speaking line-up. I'd say women and minorities were pretty much "right up front."

I'd like to suggest Horowitz try an experiment on his approach: go into a black suburban neighborhood and get a few families together who are in the process of losing their homes. Explain to them that (a) they should never have had those houses in the first place--the Republicans would make sure that'd never happen and (b) it's Clinton's fault and Jimmy Carter's and Barney Frank's. He might discover an innate problem with that messaging (he may also wish to read about these things called Ratings Agencies and the way sub-prime mortgages were turned into Mortgage Backed Securities making them uber-valuable to Wall Street--but that's a lot of work--I'm sure guy is busy).

What Do I Think?
Horowitz is generally better than this.

Get A Strategy!
Dr. Timothy Daughtry has an essay at Calling For A True Conservative Strategy. He too thinks the Republicans are in trouble and need an overarching strategy to oppose the left. Here's the Left's path to victory:
In contrast, the left has successfully carried out a two-pronged strategy for decades, and it can be summarized during the proverbial elevator ride: first, dominate the cultural institutions so that the electorate is immersed in leftist thinking without ever realizing it. Second, minimize resistance to the statist agenda by increasing the power and scope of government in small increments over a long time.
It's dastardly and it was effective. Was it ever--now when someone says there's a War on Women those women, bless their simple little hearts, they eat it up.  He's not the only guy to say this: What if the GOP were to buy some women's magazines, for example? You'd just have to do what they do today but blend in the right-wing message (Glenn Reynolds):
For $150 million, you could buy or start a lot of women’s Web sites. And I’d hardly change a thing in the formula. The nine articles on sex, shopping and exercise could stay the same. The 10th would just be the reverse of what’s there now.
What Universe Is He Living In?
This one. It's true: government power has increased over time--in fact the 17th Amendment which gave the people the right to vote in a Senator rather than state bodies--was put in place almost 100 years ago today! It's also true that almost every "cultural institution" is dominated by "the liberals." Every major cable news outlet other than FOX. Hollywood. Most of the music personalities. HBO. Almost all colleges, right? The list goes on.

What Do I Think?
The problem with this game-plan is that it confuses the cause with the effect: It takes a vast array of individual effects, events, and actions and ascribes a grand plan and centralized strategy to them. It forcibly ignores batteries of individual  drivers (what were those 17th Amendment people thinking anyway?) and papers them over with a simplified view of history.

Worse yet, it's utterly defeatist: If you claim you need the equivalent of a 100-year strategy across the full spectrum of American life and politics and nothing else will do you are saying you have lost the war. This "strategy" here is really a slow evolution of a storm if different ideas and changing ideologies. Republican ideas need to out-compete other ideas not "out maneuver" them.

I saw a blog the day after the 2012 election saying "Forget about the loss--we need to start making Hollywood movies that show Republicans as the good guys today." I actually don't disagree in theory--but in practice I can't imagine that working too well as a mission statement. What happens when you try is something like Glenn Reynold's article. 

Imagine an experiment: Glenn sits down with a bunch of single moms working two jobs and explains to them that their politics will be controlled by a 10% solution of women's magazines where the other 90% of their reading is sex, shopping, and exercise. They'll all go "Heck yes, Mr. Reynolds--you sure do know us women! Respect!"

The results would, I am certain, be educational.

Get Smart!
Professor Jacobson of Legal Insurrection has a great article: Do not underestimate BuzzFeed Politics. BuzzFeed is a media company that is designed to get stories to go viral. They are left-wing and savvy. They have a politics department that has its own White House correspondent and they follow candidates on the trail. They're a real deal ... and they're good: millions of page views per day.

What Jacobson notes is that the left (in the case of BuzzFeed) is running rings around Republicans in the realm of online  media. It's subtle and effective--their content is snappy, funny, and varied. If you are on their twitter feed you'll see picture flashbacks to the 80's, cool animal stories, and funny memes. Their pages have slick interaction voting buttons, and so on. It's funny and it's cool ... unless you are a Republican:
My sense of the BuzzFeed Politics formula is: “Look at the goofy cat, look at the goofy celeb, look at the goofy Republican.” It’s very effective, relatively subtle, and very dangerous to us.
It has been noted several places that Team Romney had a much worse time getting Facebook followers and using social media than Obama did. He also lost the youth vote? Related? Maybe.

What Universe Is He Living In?
Well, this one--he's right--but he's not looking at everything. While Twitchy  isn't nearly as big as BuzzFeed it  sure is conservative electronic media. PajamasMedia is probably the only real online alternative media outlet that covers a spectrum larger than sound-bites or a magazine format. Republicans may have a slight disadvantage in the digital space but it doesn't seem to be structural. BuzzFeed could just as easily be Republican (or could it--if it mixes in pop-culture which conservatives definitionally loathe? But really, are cute kittens Democratic--if so, we've all lost!).

What Do I Think?
Of all of these, the idea that Republicans need to shore up their digital flank is one of the things that might actually be a good idea. Certainly the Republicans have a respectable presence: the conservative blogosphere is, IMO, well ahead of the liberal one in consistency of message and thought leadership. The problem is, of course, in content and diversity. The echo-chamber effect was nowhere more apparent than in the Polls-Are-Skewed narrative that left a lot of readers, rightfully, feeling hoodwinked and even more baffled, caught off guard, and claiming . It also amplifies the worst instincts* of the base (Benghazi wharrgarble, for example).

BuzzFeed is exactly the kind of sophisticated product that Conservatives should learn from (contrast to the ultra-naive, not to mention insulting plan of buying a woman's magazine for 150 million so that you can put in a 1-in-10 story about Clinton's sex scandal in order to win women's votes).

* If I could go back in time and wanted to ruin Che Guevera I would crush his spirit by telling him that his only enduring legacy was as an image on rich white college kid's t-shirts--and that they wore it without having any real idea who he was. If I wanted to delight Saul Alinsky (for some reason) I would tell him that what conservatives learned from misunderstanding Rules for Radicals was that mocking their enemies meant posting snarky image macros and ALL CAPS on Facebook.

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