September 27, 2010
How to Lose an ElectionBy Paul Shlichta
I always admired Thomas E. Dewey for publicly admitting that he had managed to "snatch defeat from the jaws of victory" in the 1948 election . Let us hope that we don't have to make the same confession this November.
This year, the omens are favorable, with voters and donations seeming to shift toward the Republicans. However, just in case the conservative-Tea Party-Republican majority of America wants two more years of Democratic domination, here is a well-proven formula for losing an election -- one that we seem to be following at the moment:
1. Divide and be conquered.
2. Let your opponent set the agenda.
3. Ignore your opponent's dirty tricks.
4. Don't bother to get out the vote.
5. After the election, overestimate your victory.
Let's consider these five easy steps and apply them to the current election.
1. Divide and be conquered.
Unity within a movement is almost always essential to political victory. One of the deftest features of Obama's 2008 campaign was the way in which he managed to hold together all of the voting factions he needed for victory by glossing over the differences among them. Just as egg yolk holds together the oil and vinegar in a Hollandaise sauce, Obama's lies, evasions, and double-talk held together centrist and left-wing factions that, if left to squabble among themselves, could have cost the Democrats the election.
Conservatives cannot afford the luxury of lying and evading the way Obama did. He had, and still has, an obedient mainstream media that ignores or hastily covers up his blunders while attacking the slightest misstep made by any conservative. Therefore, we can use only aboveboard methods for achieving unity at the polls.
Our fundamental problem at the moment is healing the rifts caused by pre-primary fighting. We should have heeded Chotiner's law and avoided mud-slinging and backbiting. Instead, to the delight of the Democrats, mainline Republican and Tea Party candidates have been slugging it out all summer. An example of the consequent disunity is incumbent Lisa Murkowski's attempt to start a write-in campaign against Palin-backed Republican nominee Joe Miller, thereby committing political hara-kiri while damaging Miller's chances .
We have only a month in which to heal this residual rancor. Both Palin and RNC chairman Steele have called for unity, but in view of the ongoing battle between the Republican Party and Tea Party leaders for control of the conservative movement, these calls sound a bit insincere, as the liberal media have hinted.
Neither faction is in a position to be arrogant. According to recent polls, the public is even more contemptuous of the Republican Party than of the widely despised Democrats -- as the latter have been quick to point out. Moreover, RNC's wobbly leadership and scandals have not enhanced their image. On the other side, the liberal media's relentless drive to discredit the Tea Party movement as crackpot and extremist has been somewhat successful -- in part because of the antics of some of its candidates.
Our biggest danger is the tendency of Tea Party groups, in the manner of libertarians and Ron-Paulists, to act (in Dan Kennedy's words) "like a child who's lost a game -- he takes his toys and goes home."
Our only hope is that the Republican and Tea Party leaderships will come to their senses and realize that the control of each contest is now in the hands of each Republican candidate -- that they must bury their hatchets and join in backing each candidate to the best of their combined abilities . Otherwise, the Democratic candidates will laugh all the way to Capitol Hill.
2. Let the Democrats set the agenda.
In accordance with Caesar's dictum about controlling the high ground, it is urgent that conservative candidates seize the initiative in setting the agenda. All too often, we have, to our detriment, allowed the Democrats to do so. This year, we must persistently emphasize our primary issues and resist attempts of the Democrats to divert debate to their pet issues.
Our key issues should reflect the current public mood. Therefore, they should be primarily "negative" (i.e., anti-administration) and few in number, and they should address maximum public concerns.
Liberal hacks have claimed that the Republican Party will lose by being the Party of No. Others have urged conservative candidates to come up with a positive program for restoring the nation's well-being. And as the McCollum-Scott race indicated, personal attacks don't always work.
Nonetheless, attacks against political effectiveness or competence are ethically valid and (as the Democrats proved in 2008) often effective. At present, almost all the TV ads for candidates of both parties are attacks on their opponents. The public is disgusted with Congress and politicians and is responsive to negative campaigning. A positive balance can be achieved by affirming general principles; consider the mileage that Obama got out of "hope" and "change."
There has been some debate as to whether individual candidates should localize their agendas or unite in a national slate of common issues. So far, the former strategy seems to have been more successful. Moreover, we don't have the unity to achieve the latter, except in a few core issues. Fortunately, polls indicate that these issues correspond to the primary public anxieties and discontents.
Therefore, we should confine ourselves to the issues that all conservatives and the majority of voters agree upon, such as:
Despite Obama's obvious role in these issues, he should not be a primary target this year. He's not up for election, he's still more popular than Congress or either political party, and attacks against him may boomerang. However, "the present administration" is a fair target and the focus of voter dissatisfaction.
Candidates' positions on controversial issues, such as abortion, immigration, and gay rights, should be briefly affirmed. Failure to do so could disaffect adherents and would gain few centrist or liberal votes. But the Democrats should not be allowed to dwell on these issues, or on red herrings such as corporate lobbyists, so as to divert attention from the core issues. Conservative candidates should counter by persistently redirecting discussion to the core issues that most interest the public, if need be by accusing the Democratic candidates of evasion.
The worst problem will be getting our candidates' messages to the public. The liberal media, such as its progressivist JournoList cadre, will do their best to slant the news leftward . This will force Republican candidates to "buy a voice" with TV ads, making their campaigns expensive uphill fights.
3. Ignore the Democrats' Dirty Tricks.
The Democrats will seek to "brand" the conservative coalition by claiming it is "just the hard-line big-business GOP in disguise" or (contradictorily) "crackpot extremists taking over the Republican Party." The liberal media will also make full use of innuendo and snide attacks, such as Roger Simon's recent screed in Politico . Democrats are also busily digging for dirt in the personal lives of Republican candidates. And what they can't find, they'll make up.
But this is only the visible part of the iceberg. The Democrats' commandos -- the "dirty tricks" part of their offensive -- are even more deadly. Let us not forget the onslaught of 2008, which included:
This year, the Democrats have been equally creative. They have so far attempted the registration of a phony "Tea Party" in Michigan. They have conspired to weaken scrutiny rules for voter registration and absentee ballots in Wisconsin so as to enable Acornic vote fraud. Their most recent ploy was the denunciation of Republican candidate Christine O'Donnell as a "criminal" by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). The media reported this as if CREW were (as they like to claim) a nonpartisan "watchdog" group. In fact, CREW is a liberal activist organization, funded by Soros' Open Society and other far-left groups.
Sad to say, conservative organizations such as the Republican Party and the Tea Party Express seem to be doing nothing to counter these dirty tricks. Our silence adds to the virulence of these poisonous attacks. Our failure to expose such tricks in 2008 may well have cost us the election.
And there may be more tricks to come. MoveOn has boasted about their plans for "creative tactics." Liberal task forces such as Fuse, MoveOn, and the SEIU have experimented with personalized videos aimed at stampeding gullible voters with fanciful threats.
To cap all this, the Democrats will almost certainly spring their usual October Surprise. We should prepare for it by proclaiming its advent and keeping the public watching for it. If it comes, it may be met with the suspicion it deserves; if it doesn't, so much the better.
4. Don't Bother to Get Out the Vote.
The combined effect of centrist-conservative apathy and a ferocious registration/voting drive was a crucial factor in Obama's victory. Out of desperation, the Democrats will fight even harder this time, and probably dirtier. MoveOn has already announced its plans:
MoveOn estimates that this will cost at least $1.1 million and require at least 100,000 volunteer hours. They will probably get both. And MoveOn is only a small part of the well-funded and well-oiled Democratic get-out-the-vote machinery.
In contrast, the Republican organization is a creaky contraption that still relies largely on nineteenth-century tactics such as ringing doorbells. The state and local organizations are underfunded and understaffed. Recruitment of volunteers has been disappointing. Apparently, conservative voters are sitting at home, complacently expecting a Republican victory to just happen.
This, dear readers, is where you come in -- hopefully. If you don't help to get out the conservative vote in November, you'll have no right to complain about the two years that follow.
5. After the Election, Overestimate Your Victory.
Aside from being a dress rehearsal for 2012, a decisive victory in November will accomplish relatively little. As Jeremy Meister has pointed out, even if we manage to wrest both houses of Congress from the Democrats, the Obamachine will still control the country.
We must avoid the sort of post-victory hubris that was the undoing of the Republicans under Gingrich in 1994-5. Their Contract with America, however well-intentioned and sincere, was overambitious and rightward-biased enough to become the butt of liberal criticism. Although the Republican-controlled House did try to enact it, much of it was stalled or deflected by Clinton.
In our current White House-dominated style of government, the president has the initiative. And this particular president has demonstrated ingenuity and audacity in usurping additional powers, as witnessed by his bypassing of Senate confirmation of the appointment of Elizabeth Warren.
The best a Republican-dominated Congress can do is (a) refuse to initiate legislation that Obama wants, (b) initiate and pass popular legislation that Obama will veto -- thus making the Democrats the "party of no," (c) generate budgets that exclude funding for Obama's pet projects, forcing him to endure them or veto-deadlock, and (d) vigilantly cut off pork and kickbacks to Acornic Trojan horses.
Whether successful or disappointing, we should regard this election and its aftermath primarily as a dress rehearsal for 2012 and an opportunity to reunite diverse factions, clarify issues, pre-publicize anti-Obama sentiment, and weed out or build up potential leaders.
The issue of whether the Republican Party, the Tea Party movement, or any single group or individual will be the focal point of the conservative movement will resolve itself in the light of the election results. In fact, the present election is a sort of test bed that will indicate the best structure for the 2012 campaign.
All of the above is what I think we should do. I don't see much of it being done.
 Lincoln's use of this phrase, after the Petersburg debacle, was an allusion to "snatching victory from the jaws of defeat," a phrase ascribed to James Seddon in 1850 about an exploit in the Mexican war. Both versions are becoming clichés.
 In contrast to this squabbling, the Democrats are enforcing unity with an iron hand. Fortunately for them, there have been few mavericks; establishment candidates have won virtually all primaries. Of these, the dissidents who dared criticize or vote against Obama's programs are being punished by denial of DNC funds and refusal of support by vote-getting organizations such as MoveOn.
 This may require a triage of funds, prioritizing the most winnable contests -- something the Democrats have already done.
 Sometimes it becomes ludicrous. In the course of the senatorial race in Washington, Murray ran a TV and accusing Rossi of being in the pay of Wall Street lobbyists. Rossi and the NRSC countered by airing Open Secrets data that Murray had received over a half million in donations from Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs. When a Tacoma newspaper attempted damage control by publishing a highly biased "political smell test," which interpreted Murray's involvement in the most favorable possible light, readers hooted in derision.
 Such attacks are reminiscent of Swift's yahoos, who assailed any intruder by pelting him with their own excrement.