Transition into Position: How to Win
Policy Memo by Nicholas Stone of the Drawnlines Blog
Given, that the Republican Party is in declining membership, with declining influence both in Washington and in the state governments, and with declining brand image across the nation.
Resolved, that a new strategy must be molded to regain momentum and again win elections.
One: Back to Basics
Two: Becoming a Majority Party
Three: Getting There from Here
Four: The Long View
Five: Simple Areas for Improvement
VI. Final Message
Without diving too deeply into specific policy, this memo is a basic foundation upon which to rebuild our party, the GOP. The following is a framework which is specifically nonspecific with regard to any one particular issue or policy. However, it will hopefully provide a basic conservative path to victory. The principles in this document are intended to be pertinent to the present as well as the distant future.
It is the author’s great hope that these principles and guiding ideas can be useful to empower the Republican Party and its members, to inspire future leaders of the party, and provide for a stronger, more cohesive Republican majority.
Back to Basics
The Republican Party stands for a few basic principles:
1) Small, effective, unobtrusive government
2) Personal freedom coupled with personal responsibility
3) Free, open economy and enterprise
4) Strong defense from foreign and domestic threats
The Founding Fathers envisioned a new nation which strayed from exactly the burdensome regulations and taxations imposed by the British Empire on the colonies. The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are all based on this central and uniquely American ideology. The Republican Party above all others has stood for a government which is no larger nor more powerful than it must be to effectively govern.
Our unique level and brand of freedom in America is the beacon of the world. It cannot and must not be separated from the great responsibility that comes with it, for we are a nation of laws every bit as much as we are a nation of freedom.
The heart of our free democracy is a free economy. Light and effective regulation over our industries and investments help level the playing field, but the great latitude of economic choice we enjoy in the USA is the abundant envy of the world.
To maintain our quality of life, it is of the utmost importance that we be able to defend ourselves against threats to our society. Because danger can arise from inside or outside our borders, a comprehensive and persuasive defense capability is necessary to keep us a few steps ahead of those who wish us harm. On this principle, there can be no compromise.
Becoming a Majority Party
A majority party should look, feel, and sound like a majority party
Meghan McCain wrote about Congressman Aaron Schock: (But) the most promising thing about the young congressman is his dual understanding of old-school conservative ideals and the GOP’s branding problem, if you will. When I asked him if he thought people like me (meaning more moderate Republicans) had a place in the party, Schock actually gave me an answer an average person could understand. �In order for us to be a majority party,� he said, �we need to be everywhere, with every demographic and every region of the country. We have to recognize Republican candidates in the Northeast are going to be different than candidates in the Midwest, who are going to look different than candidates on the West Coast. We have to first recognize the fundamental role of any representative, to represent his constituents, not a particular party. That doesn’t mean you take the party platform necessarily and throw it out the window, but also that you don’t become so exclusive to say ‘Well if this person doesn’t agree with me 100 percent, then they aren’t a true Republican.’� (http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2009-03-31/the-gops-house-hottie/)
Our message, our principles, and our outreach should not target a narrow demographic or geography. We must learn from the successes of Howard Dean’s 2006 controversial Fifty State Strategy and build momentum in all areas, however unlikely. Beating the opposition on their own turf is exactly how President Obama won the plurality of electoral votes in 2008. He and the Democrats competed in areas previously considered out of bounds for Democrats. The new message resounded with voters who had never been paid attention by The Left, and resulted in much better than average polling in those areas.
It is time to flip the script in 2010 and beyond.
Furthermore, our best way forward is to go back to Reagan’s big tent philosophy of majority building. A person who agrees with you 80 percent is a friend and an ally, not a 20 percent traitor. Why would we let the other 20 percent of difference between us and a friend drive him into the arms of the enemy?
Republican leaders, it could be argued, should basically agree with the fundamental principles of the Republican Party. Outside of that parameter however, it is to our grave detriment to exile our allies with a conservative litmus test.
Bottom line: It takes a big tent to cover a majority-governing body. If we force our friends out into the rain, we cannot be surprised when they wander over to somebody else’s tent to find open arms.
Getting There From Here
Put simply, we must attract new voters to the Republican Party if we are to become a majority party.
This means building upon our margins and consolidating our base coalitions, as well as building momentum in factions where we have historically underperformed. Some examples of past success would be the Bush re-election campaign targeting Hispanic voters in 2004 and losing that group to Kerry by only 55%-45%, a better margin than usual for a Republican. Another example would be John McCain’s more gay-friendly campaign in 2008, which resulted in 28% of GLBT voters coming over to support him. Targeting first time voters (especially immigrants and young voters) must be a priority.
I. Targeting voters
We stand to gain much ground with voters in key groups that could be vital to the long-term success of our party. These are groups which are gaining in number, or in which we have lost ground. Some of them are as follow:
1) Suburban and Exurban voters
2) Hispanic, Asian and Black minorities
3) Young voters (16-18, 18-25, 25-30, and 30-35)
5) Catholics and Jews
6) Gays and Lesbians
II. Talking with voters
Instead of keeping focus on tailoring a unified message and then targeting voters to receive that message, we might be well advised to also consider which core groups of people to target and speaking to them on their terms. At least, we ought to tweak our message in ways that will resonate with the groups we target. If we use the same language and tone with women as with men, with Latinos and Whites, old and young, our message will often get lost in translation.
III. Turning out voters
If we appear to be an authority on the issues that we represent, voters will tend to agree with us. However, that’s not enough to get them to the polls. They must also agree that our issues are crucial and feel compelled to act. Likewise, the opposition is likely to stay home if their issues do not meet these criteria.
The Long View
To become and remain a majority party, Republicans must be ever-mindful of the future.
Rather than succumbing to fads and wedge issues, our party has great strength in focusing on our core principles which are pertinent to all times and places.
However, if we are to lead this country as a majority party, it would become us to spot and prepare for long-term trends and concerns affecting the American electorate. By being proactive rather than reactive, we can consolidate our support and continue to improve the image of the party.
This is especially important in areas related to our core principles.
It is, for example, directly against the First Principle and Second Principle of Republicanism for the federal government to define marriage for her citizens. This party would stand to shed its negative, backward-thinking image as well as to attract the allegiance of many new voters if it were to get out ahead of the issue and support full marriage equality for all Americans.
To remain a majority party, it is fundamental that we not only gain but retain the trust of the people. That means that we must show that we have been accountable in our leadership. The American people will look for us to:
Keep the country safe (from threats domestic and foreign)
Improve quality of life (schools, roads, health, and environment)
Exercise financial and judicial restraint
Enhance America’s standing
In the voting booth, Americans will always ask themselves of the incumbent party: �Am I better off than I was four years ago?� Are my investments more or less safe? Are my children’s schools better or worse? Is it easier or harder to make purchases? Is my street safer or more dangerous? To retain power, the governing party would be well advised to make sure these questions are answered in the affirmative.
They will also ask themselves, �Will I be better off four years from now if we continue down this path?�
The latter is the most crucial question for the incumbent party to answer.
Simple Areas for Improvement
Redefine what �Republican� is
Show new, fresh leadership (e.g. “40 under 40” initiative)
Reintroduce the party to the people
Leadership by example
Sell the Brand
Clear, concise, comprehensible message
Embrace and utilize new media
Simply show up and ask voters for their vote (50 states, 435 districts)
Bring the Silent Majority out of the closet and into the light
Encourage people to proudly display their Republican affiliation
Enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm. People need to see the Republican party
Voter registration drives
GOTV drives and forums
Target voter outreach at cosponsored events
Personally engage every person possible
Find simple, personally interesting ways to get people involved
Be specific. Ask the public to get involved in simple, specific ways.
Tell potential volunteers exactly what is needed, outline specific attainable goals, and give a personal incentive to help you achieve them
Early voting drives and absentee ballot drives are critical
While there is definitely a debate to be had over whether Republicans lost our way over going astray from our principles or by being too conservative, this memo is designed to shape the way we frame our arguments and identify ourselves moving forward.
It could be argued that having a choir of voices is most beneficial, and no two Republican candidates will probably agree 100 percent of the time. This memo advocates that they should work together anyway. That is the fundamental message advocated herein.
Republicans in Maine and in Mississippi will look and sound different, and that is appropriate. This is because they represent different people with different needs and concerns. However, if their basic fundamental principles are the same, it is in their best interest to work together to achieve a coalition and champion progress.
Republicans must consciously make efforts to communicate with (and win over) those who do not already agree with them, rather than being trapped in the echo chambers. Using standard conservative messages is great to reign in soft supporters, but it is no way to reach out to those who might be accessible, but who are not predisposed to lean in our direction.
Swing voters care about bread and butter issues, or dinner table issues. We should take our focus away from labeling things and people from our lexicon of “bad words”. Liberal. Elite. Socialist. Bipartisan. Tax. We should not focus on turning people off. Instead, let us turn them on with our alternative.
We can build stark contrast, with respect and dignity.
We do, after all, have the winning principles for today and tomorrow.