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Friday, November 9, 2012

Where do we go from here? The Road to 2016...

As I've said in my previous about having the courage to nominate a principled candidate, there should be some serious soul searching among the Republican party.  And not just with the establishment Republicans, this goes for the Tea Party and Libertarian parts as well.  The establishment has a serious base problem while the Tea Party and Libertarians lack effective diplomacy in their messaging.  There's things that, as Republicans, we should start working on now in preparation for 2014 and 2016.  Yes, now.  Not a few months before, but right now.  But first, we have to acknowledge something:

The GOP Brand is damaged

Blame the liberal leftists and their Alinsky like tactics until you're blue in the face.  Keep pointing to how historically it's been Republicans that have championed the good fight.  If this election is any indication, that tack is ineffective.   And while the leftist tactics are undherhanded and it doesn't seem fair that the Republican party, once the party formed to abolish slavery and the party that pushed the civil rights legislation, is now painted as the intolerant and bigoted racist, the bottom line is it's been effect and is costing us the ultimate result:  winning elections.

This isn't to say the leftists are solely to blame.  There's plenty of blame within our own party.  When a party struggles to define itself effectively to the general public, then it allows that public to fill that perceptual void with whatever anyone else (i.e. a leftist) tells them.  When we continuously shoot ourselves in the foot by not doing a better job of vetting our candidates who end up getting predictably ambushed by the social issues grenade, then it's no surprise many people think Republicans are what the leftists have been saying all along.

Again, we can outright deny this all we want, but the reality is the damage has been done.  And we need to repair it.  It's going to take a lot of time and continual effort to do this.   If there's one thing to admire about the left, it's their unending dedication and passion to their cause despite how wrong headed or misguided their cause might be.   If conservative Republicans want to repair the damage that's been sustained to the GOP brand, they'll need to be just as relentlessly dedicated and passionate.

A Third party?

The idea has been brought up that like what the Republicans did with the Whig party in 1854, that a new party should spring out of Republican party that represents the growing libertarian/conservative sentiment growing in the country.  And while the time table seems to be roughly close (the party formed in 1854 and elected its first president in 1860), the problem is unlike in 1854 where the charter members of party rallied around an abolitionist goal, we do not really  have such a prevailing issue these days to unite around.  While conservatives and libertarians share many common ideologies, they also differ on many too.  Libertarians and conservatives believe in smaller government and keeping the government out of peoples' lives.  They support the same constitutional principles, but differ heavily on social issues.   Libertarians are far more socially liberal than conservatives.  And while the libertarians can simply break off from the Republican party officially, this leaves a broken opposition to the Democrats.  While perhaps the Libertarian might pull some Democrats, it probably will not be enough to mount an effective opposition on their own.  I don't think it's a good idea.

I also am a firm believer that a two party political system is the only way to go.  The problem with a three party+ system is that one party will always be insurmountably larger than any one of the other two, making elections easier. And if somehow all three parties managed to be roughly the same size, then whomever won wouldn't have done so with the majority of the nation, if one party won with 34% of the vote (34 to 33 to 33), then that means 66% of the people did not support the winner.  Political ideology also isn't a 3d scale, there's a far left and a far right.  One's stances in various areas (fiscal and social being the biggest) determine where they fall within that 2d scale.  So while in a two party system someone may not get a candidate that perfectly meets their criteria, they have a better chance to elect someone that fits more closely with their views than they do electing the perfect candidate.

The perfect candidate

So no third party, what's left is repair.   Part of that is being to settle what the perfect candidate would be.  Yes, I just talked about there never being a perfect candidate along a 2 party system.  That's when it comes to defining their positions compared to one's own positions.  What I'm talking about in a perfect candidate are the meta requirements, which are far more universal.   The perfect candidate should:

  • Have a strong principled stance on whatever issues are part of the party's platform
  • Have a solid record demonstrating the conviction to those principles
  • Be excellent at articulating their stances in a way that doesn't turn off voters
That's it really.  But, as should be quite obvious, if we can't even get our platform or foundation in order, we'll never deliver a perfect candidate.  Which leads me to the repair work we need to get started on...

Establish a solid platform

This needs to happen first.  The platform doesn't have to be huge, but it needs to be something all Republicans need to agree upon.   This will be tough considering the give and take between the three and some may not consider one issue or another to be something that can be sacrificed without gutting what the party is about.   Establishmenters (new word) may have to be ok with becoming more rigid in standing up for principles.   Tea Partiers might have to give on some of the lesser social issues.  Libertarians may need to be ok with a slightly more constrained form of liberty.  Whatever it is, there needs to be consensus on these platform principles.  What each side will need to understand that even though some things they might find important is not on the platform, it doesn't mean they have to sacrifice those issues personally.   But, as a unified front, this is what the Republican party officially campaigns on.   Having that message without the infighting repairs the foundation.   The platform principles should be distinct from the liberal Democrat platform and are not necessarily required to be "popular" among liberal constituents.   This becomes the party's rallying base, which is important....

Educate educate educate

What can be done now, without waiting for a solidly established platform, is for people to educate themselves in order to effectively educate others.  One of the reasons the left has been so potent has been that they've been able to impregnate young impressionable minds with their view points virtually unchecked.  No, I'm not suggesting taking back the universities (that's more of a long term goal).   The point is that this indoctrination has lead to downstream success.  We can apply it on a micro (4 year) scale as well as a macro (generational) scale.  Since this post about the road to 2016, I'm focusing on the micro scale..

Thankfully, there's some excellent political literature out there.  These two books should be considered mandatory conservative reading:
  • The Road to Freedom  by Arthur Brooks.  This book makes a very important assertion that cannot be stressed enough: we have to make the moral argument in favor of capitalism and free markets.  We can spout numbers all day long, but it will not resonate.  Making the moral argument elicits a stronger response, more meaningful response.  While the book focuses on the economic viewpoint, which is indispensable, the need to make the moral argument should be expanded to every platform principle.  The moral argument for limited government, the moral argument for lower taxes via the Laffer Curve.  Reading this book, as its title suggests, can lead to understanding what it takes to achieve freedom.
  • Still the Best Hope by Dennis Prager.  Dennis Prager is a very prominent, very intelligent, very articulate champion of conservatism and what he dubs Americanism.  Many younger conservative minds have been inspired by him, including yours truly.  This book helps reiterate what it means to be American.  What American exceptionalism really is.  It relays a very powerful message:  That Americanism is the best hope for humanity in the world.  He explains how the other two primary competing ideologies, Islamism and Leftism, are ultimately corrupt.  If you ever needed affirmation that we are fighting the good fight and are truly on the right path to take, this book is amazing.  It also will arm you with the points you'll need in your educating of others.
The goal in reading these two books, and thus your education, is to:

Make the moral argument for Americanism

That's the goal.  Backing up the push for Americanism using the moral argument is our best shot at changing hearts and minds.  Reading these two books will give you an excellent reference.   

The right message packaging

With the right platform and the ability to make the right argument, there's one step left.  And that's putting that message in the right packaging.  All too often, conservatives fall into the trap of "if you don't believe this, then you suck".   That, obviously, to someone else, is probably not going to win over hearts and minds.  In fact, it'll back up that (false) imagery of the GOP being a party of hateful bigots.  It doesn't matter how true you believe it to be (for example, I have a hard time not calling out someone who supports abortion, or someone that even supports someone who supports abortion, as morally corrupt), this type of admonishment isn't effective.  You may feel frustrated with having to "coddle" people, but that's the reality and landscape we deal with.  

This is hard to do for conservatives simply because our basic notions of self reliance and accountability is almost always a half step away from admonishment.  It's all too easy to suggest that the situation a person finds themselves in is a result of their own poor decisions.  It's all too easy to suggest they take responsibility for their actions and find themselves a way out of it.  It's all too easy to take that ideological high road.  The problem is that not only can this response truly be callous, but even a non callous response will look uncaring and sneering to everyone watching.   

I want to reiterate this:  It doesn't matter how right you are.  This type of dialog isn't about showing how right you are.  It's about showing empathy and relaying how your way can truly help them more than the other.  There's a huge difference between the two.  A conservative that can do this without compromising their principles WILL win over the hearts and minds of those around them.  We have the right way.  We just have to be better at messaging in a more positive way.

Positive reinforcement will trump negative reinforcement every time.  This is a lesson many conservatives will need to learn.  And believe me, I'm right along in needing to learn it.  I have a nasty habit of wanting to crush a liberal's shallow, poorly thought out opinion into oblivion as soon as I encounter it.  Yet, any time I've done so, I've been labeled the hateful bigot which naturally destroys my chances of actually having them consider what they're believing may not be right.

Wrapping it all up

Basically put, if we want to have any success in the conservative cause over the next decade, let alone this next presidential election, we need to start making headway now.   We need to get out our message effectively.  We have to establish a solid base with a solid message.  We have to repair the damaged GOP brand or else we'll never convince an increasing Democratic electorate that our way is better.

Again, it starts now.  Let's not be the bitter losers.   We've had a couple days to feel sorry for ourselves.  Time's up.  We need to start getting the ball rolling and do it effectively.  If there's one thing we can learn from Romney during this election was how effective he was in the debates at keeping a positive, civil spin while simultaneously debunking, disagreeing, and deflecting heat that came his way.  Yeah, some times he came off as smug or condescending, but the point is he was better at the messaging in those debates than anyone ever has been.  It's a model to go by.  

So let's pick ourselves, realize that we do indeed have a lot of work to do and start now.  If you think this is too early, keep in mind that Obama's successful re-election campaign was already in motion in 2010.  And the head start proved worth it.  And we have a lot more to accomplish than what they did.

The road to 2016 starts with 2012.  Let's do it.