Monday, March 25, 2013

What Should The Republican Party Do?

We have seen the 97pg GOP Autopsy which the RNC put out saying the party had a lot of problems and it's appeal to women was definitely one. Other pundits have not been shy about putting forth their own suggestions--which brings us to the topic what ought the GOP do?

Here are some suggestions:

Anti-Obamacare 2014
By the time 2014 rolls around Obamacare will be in full swing--and it won't be good:
Even on election day 2012, a majority favored repealing the health law. But they cared more about other issues or didn’t care for Mitt Romney. The 2012 election was not a referendum on Obamacare.
November 2014 will be different.
In this model the winning issue of 2010 will rise again and as Americans feel the pain which was held off (cannily) before the 2012 elections it'll be Round 3--this time for keeps.

The Attack
Obamacare has a problem built into it: it helps key constituencies differently. Unlike Medicare which helps "everyone the same" (whether or not that is technically true it is close enough to true) Obamacare does things like give insurance to people who didn't have it but, probably, cost people who already have it more money (this, again, may not wind up being true across the board--but stay with me). This creates a natural wedge which can be driven by the Republicans against vulnerable Democratic incumbents. Ultimately this could result in either repeal or reform. In the interim it may result in Republicans winning seats.

The Problem
The problem with the all-Obamacare attack is two-fold (a) what if Obamacare, like the sequester, lands and isn't all that bad? Sure, there'll be time to re-tool but at least some Democrats think the issue is used up:
Democrats welcome renewed attacks on the law, confident they will win against a party trying to regurgitate a stale issue. An attack that went bust in 2012, when the GOP spent tens of millions of dollars linking Democrats to Obamacare but still lost just a net of two Senate seats, won't suddenly return to bite them two years later. And that was before a plethora of high-profile Republican governors, like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, approved the dramatic expansion of Medicaid in their home states.
Secondly, (b), the GOP has a deeper problem: they aren't offering a better solution.
And Republicans risk alienating voters with a blunt message of repeal when they gloss over the fact doing so would mean tens of millions of people losing health insurance. Avoiding that pitfall might not be easy, either, with a conservative base that still thirsts for outright repeal.
As one GOP strategist, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, suggested, the party needs to offer ideas explaining how to provide them insurance.
Using Obamacare as one arrow in a quiver is fine--but if Republicans are counting on it to be the tip-of-the-spear (to mix weapon metaphors) that's dangerous. As one pundit said, the real question is going to be how the press covers Obamacare. If they focus on seniors suffering in massive queues outside of hospitals ... in the rain ... that's one thing. If the camera shows new mothers getting health care for the first time ... that's another.

Ask a conservative how the press covers Obama <anything> ...

It's The Message
While some of the GOP Autopsy boiled down to 'the method' (data and technology use, get-out-the-vote ground game, etc.) a lot of it boiled down to a political version of The Tone Argument.The link is to a wiki on feminism but I think the thinking applies--to an uncomfortable extent--to Republican political arguments. In The Tone Argument a speaker offers "concern" that what the (feminist) person is saying is correct--but that their tone won't win them any friends. This is used by the person advancing the argument to de-rail the conversation or maybe to try to shame the (feminist) speaker.

In this formulation the GOP candidates can consider saying the same--or almost the same--things they were saying (more on that in a minute) but need to exercise message discipline around any topic that create problems. For example:

  • Use Undocumented Worker instead of Illegal Alien.
  • Say nothing about rape save for that it is a terrible, violent crime. If asked? The woman is never at fault.
  • Go to State's Rights on everything that is controversial (abortion, same-sex-marriage, contraception). Note, a congressional candidate can, correctly, say that abortion has been decided by the courts and is not a congressional issue today.

The Attack
In this case the attack is structured around providing a "smooth glass face" which the Democrats try to get a foothold in when sticking charges of racism, sexism, or other discrimination on the GOP. The candidates run on their policies but are careful not to use any loaded language or make other mistakes when talking. That should be worth at least two more congressional seats, right!?

The Problem
Outside of the fact that 'the base' is clamoring for the use of this language and considers its use to be  part of what makes a candidate legitimate the real problem is that if you change the message as above there is a big problem in that you aren't really standing for social conservativism. I acknowledge that the State's Rights approach is (a) the winning approach and (b) legitimate in its way--but if the candidate claims to have no opinion on the matter the press will smell blood.

The final problem is that all any prospective voter who is feeling excluded needs to do is go to a conservative blog and read the messages: to be sure these posters are a very, very small percentage of the GOP--but they do represent the base and their language and positions are very clear.

Whether or not this solves the problem, it needs to happen to a degree. If the GOP can combine this with some moves around immigration and, say, gay marriage that'll go a long way to looking less like the So-Con party first and everything-else-second. My feeling is that, as I've said, the emotional engine driving the GOP base won't allow for this.

It's The Messenger / Method
The final problem is that maybe it's the Messenger (Romney? McCain!) and / or the method of selecting candidates. In this case, the GOP just needs the "right guy" (Dr. Carson) and we're good! This has two parts:
  1. Fix the primary system (both for presidential candidates) and, maybe, to stop Akin types from getting in
  2. Pick a presidential candidate with Real Charisma (TM).
The modern history of the Republican party has been a bargain: the party selects a mainstream moderate who adopts conservative values during the primary and then promises to keep those values if elected. That has, arguably, been the case since Bush II and with McCain and Romney. What happens if you break that mold?

The Attack
In this case the party needs to recruit (a) a real conservative with (b) real charisma. This would mean Carson or Huckabee. Santorum is not uncharismatic but he is not Huckabee. Dr. Carson may well be a presidential contender some day as well (I do not think he will be ready by 2016). The idea is that this person--this candidate--can both rally the base and bring the moderates. If you start with that as your goal you find them rapidly.

Changing the primary system is a must: fewer debates are a no-brainer. Winnowing out the field rapidly is probably a good idea too (why let Bachmann share a stage any longer than absolutely necessary). Getting rid of the caucuses will create massive backlash but: the drama in 2012 was whether Santorum would beat Romney and then go on to win, in the words of a Democratic strategist, "A Dakota" (presumably not both). Anyone who thinks Santorum would've won the election is kidding themselves. Yes, the system worked, but also (yes) the caucuses brought the party closer to utter defeat than it should've.

One thing that might be interesting is to change the states that go first during the primaries. If you started with, say, the swing states or, say, the "most Republican" states you would get very different candidates coming out of the gates with momentum. These kinds of changes have unforeseen consequences and any change will create complaints--but we might see something interesting if some brilliant political game-theory guys get in there.

The Problem
The problem with "The Messenger" is that it makes people think you don't need to change the message or the policy. That might be true--but what if you make all these changes and the chosen one still doesn't win? Also, if your current choices look like Huckabee and Carson you already have a problem in the making (where was Huckabee in 2012 and Carson, again, has no political experience). If you think [your favorite guy] (I know, I know: Rand Paul) fits the bill, think again. It won't be your guy--it'll be someone else. What will you do then? Yeah, I already heard: the constitution party.

Just how far can the GOP bend before it breaks?

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