I apologize for the length of the below essay, I guess. I started off with an idea and as I continued it expanded and the next thing I knew I had written a term paper. Hopefully those of you who read and respond will give thought the ideas I posted and provide your own. This isn't meant to be a partisan hit job, and I don't beleive anyone will come to that conclusion, but it is my thoughts the GOP and how that party moves forward following this election. So naturally I spend the vast majority of time critically looking at Republican party. Finally, I hope there is some discussion to tease out of this and its not just a thread of insults, trolling, and off topic false equivilances. Maybe we get something out of this or maybe one person responds and the thread quickly fades into the ether of the interwebnets.
In the days following the election the country has settled into a post mortem analysis of the results; why did the election play out the way it did, what do the metrics from the election tell us about both parties, and most crucially how can that information be exploited to either continue winning elections or reverse the momentum of the losing party and put it back on the winning track. Elections to a great extent, are the final and most important poll of any electoral cycle. The data from the election will be mined, analyzed, and conclusions will be drawn based on the data and thosee results will, to some degree, have an effect on the next election cycle in two years. Electoral strategies will be designed based on this data, and those designs will be implemented with hope that the assumptions made based on the 2012 data will be instructive in formulating a winning game plan the next time out.
For Republicans this cycle of analysis is familiar as the party is faced, yet again, with determining its shortfalls, missteps, and bad assumptions going into election day. But it is critical to note that there are two schools of thought that drive this process and the process for each is different, their conclusions may differ, but ultimately one wins the idea war and plays a heavy role in how the public perceives the party. The first group includes the inside the beltway types, the think tanks, public policy professionals, and to a large extent the GOP party leadership. For my purposes I will refer to this group as the Establishment. The second group includes the media elite, the Op Ed writers, political pundits in print, web, radio, and TV. I will simply refer to this group as the Media. These two groups are distinctly different for reasons I will detail shortly, and they each have different capabilities in terms of messaging and creating the party brand. How the GOP reconciles these two elements will have a great influence on the party going forward.
The Establishment is for lack of a better term the “inside baseball” types. They will crunch the numbers to analyze electoral outcomes in an attempt to divine the details that will better allow them to formulate policy, create strategic blueprints, and craft the message that becomes party platform, overall strategy, and even useful information foridentifying the best potential candidates to run for office. This group is not particularly transparent as their interests rely on some degree of secrecy, if only to maintain the advantage of not broadcasting intent and providing the opposition with an advantage to counter their plans before those plans are ready to be rolled out.
The Media is, to continue the baseball metaphor, the sports talk radio hosts. Their interest range from serious news reporting to the more sensational. Because of the proliferation of the internet the media has expanded beyond the traditional newspaper, magazine and evening news to include highly influential websites of all types, cable news, and even social media. Faster communication has allowed for instantaneous sharing of ideas and an ability to directly target the public based on individual preference. This group is highly transparent as its bottom line interests is often based on the number of page views generated, viewers gained, or listeners maintained. In addition many in the Media wear as a badge of honor their political affiliation.
The two institutions and their goals are not mutually exclusive. The Establishment relies on the Media to articulate its findings and to gauge public reaction to those findings, among other things. The Media alternatively relies on the Establishment for access to insider knowledge and access to the information that is then provided to the public as news. Actors from either side can be very influential on the other and often times Establishment and Media types occupy both spaces at the same time. (For example, Karl Rove is an insider who also has a significant media presence, as are many of the most influential talk show hosts, writers, etc). However, this blending of the two distinct institutions can make for messy and sometimes ruinous results. Quite simply the Establishment and Media can coexist because of the symbiotic nature of the relationship is mutually beneficial, but that same dynamic requires that the interests of one do not harm the interests of the other. For example, sensational news reporting may drive ratings, but the content of that reporting could harm the electoral prospects of the Establishment if that content is deemed irresponsible, too partisan, or fringe.
In 2012 the GOP Establishment and Media again worked to drive a message, to boost candidates, and delivery a strategy to win elections. However, the Media has achieved a curious distinction within the GOP. The Media rather than facilitating and reporting the Establishment goals, seems to be driving the Establishment priorities. Take, for example, the perceived vacuum in GOP leadership following the 2008 election. Democrats quickly sought to define the GOP party leadership as Rush Limbaugh. Rush while incredibly successful at his craft was not then, nor ever was an elected leader. He was simultaneously part of the Establishment and Media, but his primary interest was ratings and to achieve ratings he employed the same methods he always has, namely, being a bombast bordering on the hysterical. Rush made for a particularly juicy target as many Establishment types seemed to reinforce this view of him as a party leader by apologizing to him after either denouncing him publically, or committing gaffes that Rush then blasted on the airwaves. Glenn Beck would soon follow in these footsteps and would quickly become a phenom on the TV and radio airwaves. The idea that the leadership of the GOP was largely in form of entertainers such as Rush or Beck, reinforced a highly corrosive image of the GOP as a whole, particularly because they, and those like them, can say or do whatever they please without the type of filter that Establishment types would prefer from their rank and file. What Rush, Beck and others like them said on the airwaves was quickly touted as actual GOP policy and thinking. When Rush declared he hoped that Obama failed, it was the GOP that was branded as a party that hoped Obama failed, not Rush. Rush's image in the short term was boosted and the GOP's was diminished.
In order for the GOP to create a sound, thoughtful, and victorious strategy the two houses; the Establishment and the Media must be reconciled. Lets look at the Establishment in detail first.
Inside the beltway types, the policy wonks, leaders, aides, lobbyists, etc live and breath electoral politics and much like any discipline there is a tremendous amount of knowledge contained in their collective. Of course, the trick is always teasing out what is meaningful and verifiable from what is merely rhetorical, emotional, and conventional. To put it a different way, the policy experts must understand the root causes of problems from an analytical stand point, isolate the areas of concern, and sort out a methodology to tweak, overhaul, or somehow manipulate the issue in a way that bends in their favor. A real world example would be overcoming the Democratic Coalition. Naturally the Establishment and Media will develop their own theories on how to accomplish this but it is the Establishment that must define the theory, support the conclusions of the theory, and propagate it through the party and into the media. To do this, at a macro level, there must be consensus on what the Democratic Coalition means; how was it created, how can it be diminished, and how it can be co opted to work in favor in the GOP. We’ve seen this discussion start to take place in the past, and one of the more successful national actors to carve out a portion of the Democratic Coalition was George W Bush.
Consider that in 2004 George W Bush won 40% of the latino vote, 21% of the black vote, and 40% of the asian vote. These numbers are statistically significant because they were enough to increase of raw vote total and swing critical states into the GOP column. By contrast Mitt Romney underperformed relative to the 2004 in each of those demographics by 10 or more percent for EACH. And his performance continued a downward trend from the 2008 McCain campaign.
Here is where the synthesis of Establishment and Media comes into play. While the Establishment recognizes the gap in support amongst non whites, they have not been able to peel away those voters since 2004 and they are losing ground each day. The recipe for Bush’s success was a coordinated attempt to reach each demographic on the issues that mattered to them to some extent, while the media in turn echoed the message of the establishment more or less harmoniously. But perhaps most critical to the Bush strategy was very obvious attempt not to say or do things that would alienate those voters. Since 2008 and the arrival of Obama, the Media and Establishment have failed to account for how a hard push to the right of the political spectrum would decimate their support in these demographics. Rhetoric on immigration returned to a highly tense and heated format often times allowing the loudest members of the party to define the entire GOP. The same can be said of the attempts to delegitimize Obama’s win, where tactics often involved attacking Democratic voters in ways that ranged from classic dog whistle race baiting to outright and unabashed racism. Again the loudest voices were positioned by opportunistic Democrats as being representative of the party as a whole. What followed was also an unintended consequence. Asian voters, who have a large immigrant community similar to Latinos, began to flee the party has the perceived hostility to Latinos was felt also by Asians.
The effect of the push to the right, and to a large extent the rise of the Tea Party, created a perception, that Democrats were more than happy to promote, that the GOP was not only hostile to policies that Asians, Latinos, and Blacks care about, but hostile to Asians, Latinos, and Blacks period. In absolute terms that idea is, of course ludicrous, but again when the most vocal elements of the GOP are also the ones making the most racially insentive, racist, or fringe comments they end up speaking for the party. A small town poltician that no one has ever heard of can easily become a national laughingstock for saying something offensive that ends up youtube and when that happens the GOP brand takes a beating. This is why there was a tremendous interest following Obama’s 2008 win to anoint and define Rush (and others like him) as party leaders. Where they went controversey followed, and that controversey was quickly attributed to the party, not the individual.
So how does the GOP fix this? For one, an immediate decision has to made by the Establishment to retreat from the idea that the election for the White House was lost because the party and candidate were not “conservative enough”. The idea that ideological purity is the sweet spot for gaining the White House has been proven to be antiquated and false for two national election cycles and is one driven by the Media. And while that type of rhetoric and candidates may still be an effective strategy for winning local and some state elections (and keeping Media ratings high), the reality is, the GOP doesn’t need that type of discourse to hold the line where it is strongest. In other words, the GOP isn’t going to lose seats in congress in the South, for example, or lose governorshipsof solid red states, etc by creating a better and more inclusive brand. The push to the right has brought with it unsuitable candidates who appear to be willing to say anything to get elected, who promise no compromise, and who dabble on the fringe to an extent that their very presence damages other republicans and has done so to disastrous effect. Recall Christine O’Donnell who defeated a viable establishment GOP candidate who was polling well ahead of the Democrat who ran in the general election. O’Donnell won the primary and went on to lose the general election in spectacular fashion. Examples of that same dynamic from this cycle would have to include Todd Akin and Mourdock who cost the GOP two Senate seats because they articulated comments that even the party had to run away from. They also allowed to the Democrats to brand others running elsewhere as either being complicit with them simply because of party affiliation (as Scott Brown was) or a vehicle that would only hasten the creation of laws that would empower people like Akin and Mourdock to have a dramatic effect on women’s reproductive rights (as Mitt Romney was).
Secondly, the Establishment has to pull away and deny support to candidates whose sole purpose is throwing bombs. Allen West gained a measure of fame not because of his military service or accomplishments in the house. He became a household name because of the highly charged comments that he made while in Washington, some of which were so absurd they were literally the stuff of Prison Planet type outlets. Michelle Bachmann, would be another good example of the bomb thrower. These people are so detrimental to the GOP cause because they, like the Rush’s and Beck’s of the world, are quickly made the posterboy/girl for the GOP and their sheer aggressiveness and oftentimes factually challenged comments drag down the quality of the entire party. This is not to say the party can’t have attack dogs. This is to say candidates whose only real purpose is to stir the pot are not suitable for the serious business of governance. There has to be some quality control and willingness to leave irresponsible and poor candidates to their own devices.
Third, and perhaps most crucially, the Establishment has to wrest control of party back from the fringe. The Tea Party is not totally irrelevant, but its influence remains viable in pockets which is problematic for two reasons; it is unaccountable to the Establishment and often times is the center for controversy. A decision has to made whether tactically it makes sense to embrace a movement whose only real accomplishment was delivering seats that the GOP would have won anyway in 2010 at the expense of the broader party credibility. Again, if all the Tea Party and its candidates and office holders bring to the table are things the GOP can do without them, and with less drama, where is the upside? The Establishment absolutely must sever ties with the Tea Party. It was a useful tool for a short term gain in 2010 that the GOP would have done anyway, give or take or few seats, but the legacy of the movement is so harmful to the GOP brand that taking votes away from the Democratic Coalition will be impossible while they remain in play, even if only as a largely regional and local force. Again, the GOP is in no danger of losing its stongholds where the Tea Party is the most influential, but the party is in danger of never making inroads elsewhere in places where the Tea Party is marginalized, like the east and west coasts.
Consider, while it is unlikely that we will see huge GOP delegations from Mass, Oregon, Washington state, and other solid blue areas the GOP can certainly win the occasional seat in these states where districts may lean republican, and the GOP may be able to win Governors seats in those places as well. Massachusetts hired a string of GOP governors, New Jersey brought in Christie, etc. The map may not yield giant returns, but it can be exploited to yield the types of returns that puts a Scott Brown in office. With the Tea Party in play, the ability to flip seats in blue states is harmed tremendously. And the GOP ability to build its bench of suitable candidates for higher office is impacted as well.
As for the Media, the Establishment has a different beast to contend with. Again, the motivation and interests of the Media is measured in dollars and cents and to the extent that media interests can help accomplish Establishment goals there seems to be a corresponding correlation in the decline of objectivity and quality. This is by no means a problem exclusive to the right. Both Democrats and Republicans have retreated to the comfort of news organizations that, at best, reinforce existing opinions and, at worse, refuse to question the usefulness of upcoming and emerging opinion from the party they most identify with. And again, because members of the Establishment and Media can operate on both sides, the problem is more pronounced and difficult to solve.
The easiest way to do this is for the Establishment to protect its image, its brand, if you will in the same way a large company would. Strict adherence to the message must be encouraged and maintained. This can only be enforced by the Establishment on members who are accountable to it, so talk show hosts, pundits, etc who may not be intimately familiar with the Establishment will not be able to be controlled, and nor should they be. Politicos do have tools at their disposal to rebuke Media elements that represent dangerous distractions to the core mission of creating a disciplined and on message strategy. The Establishment can deny those Media elements access. If elected officials are involved Establishment leadership in the party can apply leverage to deny officials appointments if they, for example, go on TV and declare the other party is harboring terrorist elements within government. This is not meant to be an exercise in censorship, far from it. What I am suggesting is that the Establishment control what it can control and distance itself from entities who could damage its core mission. Let the entertainers entertain, and let the policy makers make policy in other words. Messaging need not take the form of sensationalism and as a result the party will distill a clearer message, one free of the distractions that have allowed Democrats to paint the GOP as a party waging a war on women, for example.
Clearly, I am not a republican. I am quite satisfied with the outcome of the election and I feel the outcome is just. However, in a society so heavily polarized that facts that are not disputable are often times disputed for political gain the losers will always be the public. Governance has always been an exercise in intellectual sparring, critical thinking, and problem solving. The inability to even engage in debate in a meaningful way means that solutions will be missed, opportunities to help the average American will go unnoticed, and the general population will continue to be encouraged to lash out at friends and neighbors simply because they cast a ballot for a particular candidate. The republic is in danger, but not because Barack Obama won an election, not because George W Bush won an election, but because the people are being played as puppets, manipulated by emotional appeals for support rather than persuaded by analysis and thoughtful debate. To be sure, we face hard choices and to address those choices sacrifices will need to be made. Taxes may need to be changed. Entitlements may need to be changed. Defense spending may need to be changed. But if the elected leadership of the country can only demonize the opposition for their preferred path, if the leaders themselves are caricaturized as soulless technocrats who are actively working to destroy the country then we will be reduced to a nation of buck passers who can only deal in short term stop gap measures whose ineffectiveness will, eventually, actually destroy this country.
Anyway, that’s what I think.