November 10, 2008

Process versus Principle

In an article in at Townhall today, Star Parker outlines her reasons for believing that the Republican party needs to focus on principle rather than process. She makes a reasoned argument about how the process focus killed the McCain campaign. Others have argued that re-branding is not what's needed for the party to rebuild itself into a vibrant and meaningful national force.

I disagree.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that the two key areas for the party in rebuilding are agenda and process. I think the party platforms (agenda) don't need an overhaul. In fact, any changes required are quite minor compared to the process of getting elected. And re-branding to me doesn't mean that we need to change the brand. It means we need to change the image of the brand.

Let's face it - McCain's image WAS erratic. Not only to Democrats. Think back to the Gang of 14. Think back to how often he was focused on tilting at his own windmills rather than playing for the team. From a Republican perspective, that is erratic. And while the Democrats saw George Bush as steadfastly evil, as a Republican, if you think about it, he was quite erratic too. Expanding entitlements, and Harriet Miers are just two examples of where he left the Republican 'plantation'. So did the erratic image do anything positive for McCain's campaign? At best it could be considered neutral.

But the point is this. We have an set of principles and guiding principles - an agenda. We don't need to re-invent them. I think that's where Star Parker and others and I agree. But where I diverge is that we need to sell that image far, far better than we have been doing. That's why I think process is so important. It's not whether it's Coke or Pepsi in the bottle, it's how you sell it. And judging by the 2006 and 2008 cycles, we are not selling it very well. How is it that Reagan could sell his ideas but Bush and McCain could not? True, they weren't as steadfast in their adherence to the core principles. But they were also abysmal in their sales jobs.

Policy just does not win elections. Image does, if that image is one of inspiration (Reagan), hope and change (Obama) or even empathy (Clinton). There is no question that we have the better cures for the country's ills. But can we convince people that is the truth? Yes, we need leaders who believe in the agenda. That is a given though. What we really need is a leader who can sell it, embodies it, and communicate it. We need someone who can wade the through the figurative swamp of misinformation and come out the other side with a legion of new believers.

Ideally you want someone who has the core principles and the unparalleled ability to drive the message home. We can talk about what the principles are until we are (forgive the unintended pun) blue in the face, but it won't win us any more votes. Besides, if we codify the core believes and polled the Republican base, I'm sure you'd see an average buy-in of at least 90% to each of the principles. Yes moderates would likely agree with less. But do we want to fight them over 10% or 20% of the difference, or do we want to focus on the 5% to 10% of the voting public we lost because our message is unclear? The latter is where the victories are.

All that said, I don't want to see another soft Republican ticket. I think the best brand to sell is a strong conservative agenda. I just want to see a far, far better sales job.

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