November 9, 2008

It's the agenda stupid, no really. (or, On rebuilding the Republican party).

Does the Republican party need to be rebuilt? Probably not. I say that because conservatives tend to focus on the 'wrong" side of rebuilding. And by the wrong side, I mean they ignore the important side.

Having a strong, thriving Republican party in this day and age is different than it was in the Reagan era. It's different than it was in the Gingrich era. In those days having a clear political vision that translated into a simple message was enough. But times have changed. The conservative agenda might need some tweaking. It might not. That I'll save for another post. But the soul searching that will undoubtedly follow President-elect Obama's win, seems poised to focus on that side of the rebuilding effort. Questions will be asked about whether the moderate wing of the party should be purged. Whether the party has drifted too far right. Who is the best candidate for 2012? Should we adopt new platforms and policies? What's up with George Will and Peggy Noonan? Should we excommunicate them?

These are important questions. Well, at least some of them are. But they do nothing to prepare for the next battles in 2010 and 2012. There are far more important matters to consider. The reason for Obama's victory is not ideology. The U.S. is still a center-right country. Yes, he had what's being called a perfect storm of conditions for victory. But clearly his campaign outclassed McCain's strategically and that's what needs fixing.

McCain, like Hilary before him, found it difficult to control the conversation. He was at an enormous disadvantage - the media, the money, the ground game all were working in Obama's direction. Obama clearly knew how to use the playing field. And in 2010 and 2012 conservatives need to work on their playbook, to paraphrase Rush, or the next two election cycles will be a repeat of the last two.

Controlling the conversation

Keep in mind that I am seeing this from more than arms length (I'm in Canada), but I think there are 3 key areas that need attention desperately. These are areas that the Democrats have outworked Republicans time and again.
  • Money 
  • Messaging (not message) 
  • Maneuvering 
The RNC, and any individual candidates needs to think about centralizing some efforts. It might be anathema philosophically, but a Central Command approach to each of these areas would prevent a lot of poor coordination of effort and message. What's needed is a strong CentCom but a decentralized network that has the ability to disseminate an agenda and message rapidly, effectively and correctly. Setting that up is tricky and a discussion for another day, but using the >RNC infrastructure is probably a good jump-off point. It also requires strong local 'cells' with good local leaders.

Raising and allocating money

Obama $600+ million, McCain $84 million. Duh. We got owned on that one. And yes, McCain could have opted out of public financing, but I think him being able to match Obama dollar for dollar just wasn't a realistic possibility.

The RNC needs to get moving starting today on working for 2010. It's got to raise tons of cash and build a scary big war chest. Given the post-election timing, depressed Republican enthusiasm, and the slowed economy how can it expect to suddenly boost donations? It can't. What's a disconsolate and depressed party to do? Stand up, soldier on and borrow from our own talking points and embrace free markets. Continue to accept and solicit donations by all means, but what's wrong with selling? Being a Canadian, I'm not sure if there any laws that would prohibit the RNC from selling products and services, but if there aren't, why not sell, sell, sell? Conservatives are all about the entrepreneurial spirit an free market, let's use it! Sell t-shirts.

Make them funny t-shirts. "Stand up to the man." with a picture of Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Obama above it. Sell coffee mugs and newsletters like Rush does. Hell, why not open an RNC run version of Starbucks? In every city, especially New York and D.C. Get the far left to fund your efforts by buying your lattes. Sell books. Sell guest speaker appearances. Sell plate glass windows. In keeping with the free market spirit, perhaps the RNC could be joint-owners with private enterprises. That might be a more fuzzy legal area, I don't know.

This covers a lot of areas but it is vitally important. The liberals control the media. They control the schools, they control the means of getting their message out. Equally important is their ability to stay on message. How is it that all of a sudden gravitas enters the lexicon with such a ferocity. Somewhere behind the scenes is either a conscious or subconscious effort that ensures the message gets socialized in the minds of the public. It's like a machine.

So Republicans (conservatives) have to find ways to counter that. We need to do three main things;
  • Bypass or overcome the media 
  • Develop huge outreach efforts 
  • Find a common voice and hammer away the message
The air war. How do we bypass the media? We can develop our own. Why doesn't Fox have it's own version of 60 Minutes? For example, a weekly show called Beyond The Headlines featuring in-depth analysis of news topics that the MSM gloss over with stunning ineptitude or bias. Perhaps it could be hosted by someone like Michelle Malkin. Personally, I've got tons of ideas around that. But a strong MSM-level voice is a strategic imperative. If journalistic objectivity is gone, perhaps another network besides Fox is needed that goes right of fair and balanced. Or Fox can take that step itself.

Another way to bypass the media is finding alternative outlets. Blogs, newsletters, email, all have their place. What they do not have is a critical mass equal to that of the MSM. Yes, it's improving, but it still has a long way to go. Are there other alternatives out there? Stuff that really has a viral effect? Sure. And they are vitally important to discover and leverage too. Perhaps we can expand our radio presence (I'm sure the Fairness Doctrine will help us with that...). Perhaps we can engage in developing and finding employment for conservative professors and school teachers.

Outreach is something that relates to the ground game. Republicans in the past had a built in advantage with religious institutions which has waned over time. But that's no reason to give up on them. If you can talk to people, you can persuade people with a common sense approach that promotes a common purpose. Republicans seem to have conceded defeat in many groups that outreach opportunities have not been lost.
  • the poor 
  • the rich 
  • churches 
  • community groups (especially cultural ones like Hispanic ones for example) 
  • moderate and even liberal journalists 
  • consumer advocacy groups 
  • small business organizations 
  • local political events (all politics is local ring a bell?) 
  • lawyers (this would take some political ju-jitsu) 
  • unions. You might not chop off the head but whose to say you can't weaken the legs? 
  • I've mentioned it before - a massive local ground game at all times, not just when elections come. inning hearts and minds can take years. 
  • Use the Amway model or the Tupperware party model. Get a local discussion group going. 
An important part of owning the messaging is to control the conversation. Talk on offense. Playing defense is a death sentence in politics. When communicating, nationally, locally during outreach or wherever and whenever, find the hot button issue, know the conservative solution, and why it works better and push it. Keep the discussion moving in your direction.

Have common talking points as much as possible and stick to them when they need to be addressed. Be cohesive and tight. Conservative opinion strayed to and fro' this election. Yes they hit the same hot buttons but not in unison.

Simplify the message. It has to be easy to understand and it has to be relateable. If you're talking about marginal tax rates on offshore businesses based in non-treaty nations, no one is going to care, no matter how real the issue is.

Hire experts. We need the best media people - great branding people, great PR firms, great marketing people. Get the best. Keep them on retainer. Get good subject matter experts across the country for the ground game and for all the centralized media availability.

Know your subject inside and out. Be rigorous in your knowledge, but also be empathetic and inspiring in your delivery of the message.

Educate, Educate, Educate. Don't browbeat your audience. It's about getting that 'Aha!' moment, that realization and clarity. Believe me, it's a reward when you open someones eyes to a new way of viewing things. Take the slow approach. Start where you can find an opening on a topic the audience may be more open to listening on. You can work your way up to the harder sells later on, once you've got buy in to the no-brainer arguments. To do that you need to know their triggers that will allow you to engage them in conversation. Once you get buy in on one topic, build on your success. Do not let up.

Finally, be classy, respectful, polite and tactful in your approach. We might think we know better or are more informed than our liberal counterparts, but looking down your nose at someone is pugnacious and unmannerly. And everyone has their own experiences to share and to put a discussion into their own frame of reference. They are not wrong, they view things differently than you because they see things from a liberal or less conservative framework. You need to show them that the conservative framework is not so bad after all.


This last section I'm going to be shorter on for now. But there are key points to consider. We must know every angle of parliamentary procedure. We need to know every trick in the book and how and when to use them. We also need to know how to position every filibuster. And we must be ruthless in defense of our principles and ideas. We need to position our party away from PACs and towards grassroots movements.

We need good lawyers, I hate to say. We need to better vet our party members. no more Ted Stevens in our party. They need to be clean and pass some litmus test that the DC air won't be able to corrupt them. In essence we need pragmatic crusaders that can maneuver the debates they way we need to move them.

Lastly, we need to honour conservative achievers like Reagan and Goldwater and Gingrich and not fall prey to the liberal disparaging of their character or achievement. Reagan is to the conservative movement what MLK was to the civil rights movement. His ideas were inspirational and we must remember to always keep that spirit, that effort, and those accomplishments as inspiration for our own efforts in the movement as well.


  1. Well said, thank you! Especially about vetting. Please God, YES, let's root out the crappy guys. And let's defend the ones who get behind on "politically incorrect" offenses.

  2. Thanks for the feedback. I agree with your sentiments. Although 'crappy' will require some precision in defining, there are some obvious ones won't take much deliberation.

  3. In the past couple of days, I have told that I am not a true Conservative. That is fine with me that someone doesn't think that I belong with a cursory glance at what I believe philosophically. But, what are the standards for the moniker "Conservative?"

  4. Missed your comment Two-Dogs: that's a complicated question. How would you describe yourself?


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