Change the narrative if Republicans ever want to win an election again
By: David Coughlin
Republicans have lost their way in the political arena, out-marketed by Democrats who better understand what sells to the American voter. Democrat’s key to success was to divide the country loosely into a collective of voting blocks and target their message to each group, a reverse of E pluribus, unum. Republican’s reaction was to reject this divisive strategy and symbolically petition for their state to secede from the union. Americans are already seceding from one another: ethically, culturally, and politically, and voting with their feet moving to states that better reflect their culture. Conservatives must wrest control of the Republican Party if they want to win any future election. There are a number of things that must begin now for Republicans to return as a viable national party.
Bill Whittle summed up the biggest problem conservatives and Republicans have which is that the GOP does not really believe their own political philosophy. The core principles and values (healthy families, protecting innocent life, protecting marriage, freedom, equality of opportunity, the free market, fiscal responsibility, law and order, equal justice under law, respect for the U.S. Constitution, limited government, etc.) are a story that must be communicated early and often, and should be the basis of a new narrative highlighting the American exceptionalism message. Updating of the Republican Party Platform has become an academic exercise to be completed and shelved every four years, instead of a springboard for political messaging. There must be a clear vision and strategy that links individualism, hard work, and persistence with creation of personal wealth and prosperity – one that mainstream Americans can understand and embrace as a solution to their problems. The strategy and plans must include protection of current entitlements and returning ownership to individuals before the government spends these programs into bankruptcy. Republicans must offer serious and meaningful alternatives how they would do things differently in office, and more importantly articulate and communicate what the impact will be to each and every voter.
The most important thing that Republicans can do is to consciously change the media perception, which was set decades ago based on a mid-century reality that no longer exists. The new narrative must promote conservative values to a new American culture that feels good about voting conservative. The first step is to reject the class warfare construct as out-of-date and divisive, pitting group against group in a zero-sum game (rich vs. poor, women vs. men, blacks vs. whites, urban vs. suburban, etc.) Perhaps it is time for the GOP to declare victory in the War on Poverty and the War on Equality, both over 50 years old, both achieving their initial objectives, and both desperately trying to change metrics to appear needed. Changing the definition of poverty to an “escalator” that adjusts income thresholds automatically with inflation ensures a segment of the population will always be “poor.” Affirmative action long ago overcame the historical inequities and has instead morphed into institutionalized discrimination. Perhaps it is time to dismantle these out-of-date tools and move forward to solve the problems of the future. A better approach for Republicans is to appeal to all Americans as they progress through the phases of their lives: children (teenagers), young singles (entrepreneurs), new families (early career), parents (mid career), and retirement (seniors). The critical success factor for Republicans is to communicate key initiatives to voters and their impact on each phase of their lives to link to their personal issues. Conservatives must set their own narrative and leftist’s degrading stereotypes and gross exaggerations must be publicly rejected and ridiculed.
Conservatives need to change the face of the Republican Party by being visible, verbal, and articulate. Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, and Bobby Jindal (a Congressman, a Senator, and a Governor) are all trying to be the new face and the new spokesman of the new conservative Republican Party. These conservative leaders are trying to preemptively assume leadership of the Republican Party and begin the resurrection of the party. The TEA Party movement was a grassroots uprising that swept the GOP back into control in 2010, but Republicans kept the TEA Party at arms length during the election, so reconnecting is needed to expand the voter reach and enthusiasm. Another area to exploit is the 25 states that boast a Republican Governor, House and Senate as laboratories for new and innovative approaches to government. The combination of the updated conservative messages, the new populist narrative, the emphasis on core conservative principles and values, the visible national leadership, and a reinvigorated TEA Party movement should be leveraged to help elect at least six more Republican Senators in 2014 as a prelude for taking back the Presidency in 2016. Unfortunately this is not a four year problem, because it will take at least a generation of concerted effort to repair and recover from the century long socialist assault on our economy and governance.
Once the new conservative narrative is constructed and marketing messages crafted, communicating this new look and feel to the voting public is a huge uphill battle. The partisan mainstream media, even in its current weakened condition, is numerous, embedded in our culture, and continues to masquerade as objective to an oblivious audience. Conservatives need to find a way to bypass the liberal media and reach low-information voters who get their news from Comedy Central and the social networks. The mainstream media delights in finding any slight variation of the political messages, so coordination should minimize these marketing distractions. Much like the Democrats, Republican should consider the use of a daily call for message management and coordinated talking points between Republican leadership, Congressional leadership, the preferred media channel (Fox News), and the preferred alternative media channel (Drudge). Finally the Republican Party must learn from its experiences to reward those media outlets that provide objective coverage as preferred channels for press releases, interviews, position papers, and feedback on future plans, and punish those media outlets that slant and spin coverage with minimal or no access. The bottom line is that the Republican Party must treat the majority of the traditional media for the foreseeable future as an extension of the Democrat Party and therefore an adversary.
Conservative and Republicans must wake up to the new political world that has grown up around them. They can no longer afford to allow leftists to set the media narrative based on distorted stereotypes and gross distortions. Conservatives must lead the effort to redefine the core principles and values in terms that resonate with mainstream Americans. The United States is still perceived as exceptional and a magnet for immigrants. The new conservative narrative must emphasize freedom, family, opportunity, fiscal responsibility, limited government, and a safe and secure country. This new repackaged and reenergized Republican image must be actively and repeatedly communicated to re-educate the American voter about the “real” Republican Party that knows how to lead this country back to prosperity and leadership abroad.
David Coughlin is a political pundit, editor of the policy action planning web site “Return to Common Sense,” and an active member of the White Plains Tea Party. He retired from IBM after a short career in the U.S. Army. He currently resides with his wife of 40 years in Hawthorne, NY. He was educated at West Point (Bachelor of Science, 1971) and the University of Alabama in Huntsville (Masters, Administrative Science, 1976).