Fights Worth HavingBy J. Robert Smith
Speaker John Boehner feels regret -- or so we learned last week from The Hill. The speaker now believes he should have taken a different approach to the fiscal cliff dealings. The speaker has cause for regret. A legislative strategy that is reactive -- that lacks initiative and confidence -- will do little to advance GOP election fortunes in 2014. But it's still early enough for House Republicans to make important course corrections.
The speaker said this at a closed door session of the Ripon Society:
"Looking back, what I should have done the day after the election was to make it clear the House has passed a bill to extend all of the current tax rates, the House has passed a bill to replace the sequester with cuts in mandatory spending, and the Senate ought to do its work," Boehner said. "We're ready, able and willing to work with the Senate as soon as they produce a bill. It should have been what I said. You know, again, hindsight is 20-20."
Throwing the fiscal ball to Senate Democrats would have been the better move by House Republicans. An immediate post-election concession by the speaker that taxes would be on the table before getting to the real problems of federal spending and debt gave the president an unmerited victory. The speaker deserves credit for acknowledging his mistake. But the key question is will the speaker and Republicans make adjustments in strategy, tactics, and operations that protect core principles, advance an agenda that energizes the GOP's conservative base, and positions the party as the clear alternative to the Democrats?
This from a January 26 report in The Hill:
That's [raising the debt ceiling through May 18] part of a new strategy from House Republicans to embrace a minority posture in the face of Obama's reelection. Rather than trying to force measures through the Democratic-led Senate, House GOP leaders are looking to achieve modest victories while serving as a check on Obama's agenda.
So, which is it? Are House Republicans -- inexplicably -- wed to a "minority posture" strategy or will they attempt to force Senate Democrats to engage, thereby flushing out Democrats on a wide range of issues? Both Hill reports -- the speaker's mea culpa and remarks by Paul Ryan bolstering the "minority posture" gambit -- appeared on the same day. Wither tends the Republicans?
The fatal error with a "minority posture" strategy is that it's unhitched from fact. Self-perception can become reality. If House Republicans think themselves a minority they will act like one (and, in fact, are acting so); it's a self-defeating proposition. The U.S. House is controlled by Republicans, lest anyone forget, and as Peter Ferrara wrote at The American Spectator:
Moreover, Republicans and conservatives only lost the 2012 election because millions of conservative voters stayed home, uninspired by the Northeast liberal Romney. This column tried to alert the public about that problem, in an offering entitled "RINO Romney Is the Least Electable." But the Republicans still held the House majority, and hold complete control in 25 states with both the Governor and majorities in the legislature to only 14 for the Democrats.
The GOP controls thirty governorships, the highest total in over ten years for either party. 2012 was a Republican shellacking in perception only. House Republicans being more assertive on issues and in legislative fights would align more closely with reality than with the reactive approach happening now among Republicans on fiscal matters, immigration, and gun-control. The president sets the agenda only if Republicans cooperate rather than confront. And confrontation doesn't mean sledge-hammering every issue.
Ferrara, an old Reagan hand, offers superior strategic advice (see the hyperlink above) for House Republicans. Conservative backbenchers should push to make Ferrara's advice their caucus' game plan.
Granted, the president enjoys the bully pulpit; he has the fawning support of the mainstream media. The Democrats have long been masters of "humanizing" issues, while Republicans tend to spout numbers. Slate reports how Democrats plan to counter any GOP effort to put the budget onus on Senate Democrats:
In her introductory statement as chair Friday morning, [Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty] Murray said she plans "to bring the voices of the American people into a budget process and conversation that is too often limited to bureaucrats and politicians."
Her predecessor, [Kent] Conrad, was for better or worse an incredibly earnest believer in both the budget process and an unusually sincere deficit hawk. In a different era, he'd have been an ideal person to draw up a wonky compromise between moderate senators of both parties. But in our polarized era, those traits tended to leave Conrad undercutting Democratic negotiating stances and still not making a deal. Murray's more human-centered approach is about laying down a marker and winning a political argument. Meeting House Republicans' goal of balancing the budget within 10 years without higher taxes or defense cuts would require a 17 percent cut in all other spending. Democrats are going to want to counter that with an alternative that's more balanced but also less austere overall. [Italics added]
Putting human faces on key issues should be a no-brainer; it's a question of mindset and practice. Why Republicans often cede this simple, but highly effective, tactic to Democrats is a puzzle. Nonetheless, if House Republicans intend to fight Senate Democrats on the budget, they need to smartly frame their initiatives and hone their counters -- make issues human, from a conservative perspective, in other words.
And for the umpteenth time, Republicans need to better communicate. This isn't climbing Everest, either. It takes determination and some smarts. As mentioned, the president holds the megaphone and the mainstream media broadcasts his palaver, but rather than intimidating House Republicans, they should welcome the challenge of overcoming these obstacles.
Peter Wilson, writing in American Thinker, presents alternatives to the GOP being stymied by the mainstream media in terms of messaging, outreach, and engagement:
Romney spent millions on television ads, robocalls and the disastrous Orca, a "traditional corporate IT project gone bad," while Obama for America microtargeted voters through Facebook (34 million friends), Twitter, email (16 million on their email list compared to Romney's 2-3 million). OFA constantly tested new strategies -- "drunk donating," a "Quick Donate" app that processed donations through Amazon, and "upselling" donations (would you like to supersize that order?)
No shortage of alternative media exists for Republicans to exploit in arguing against Mr. Obama and for a pro-liberty agenda. Alternative media avenues are operational challenges. Using those avenues creatively to reach target audiences means getting beyond the knot of Beltway consultants who are invested in the paid media one-trick pony -- a pony that's moving issues less successfully day by day.
Then there's outreach: micro-targeting and penetrating niche communities with messaging to mobilize voters or gain support for issues. In 2012, the Obama campaign was ridiculed by many on the right for its highly sophisticated grassroots programs. But those programs were quite useful in bringing out casual or low-information voters. Democrats stole the practice from Karl Rove, who used micro-targeting during George W. Bush's presidency. Democrats have taken Rove's practice to higher levels. The GOP needs to steal it back.
Mostly, though, Republican success in 2014 hinges on turning out conservative voters. It shouldn't be taken for granted that conservatives will vote in next year's congressional elections. Absent compelling reasons -- and that's more than Mr. Obama's failures and outrages -- conservative turnout in 2014 isn't a given.
House Republicans need to adopt a "majority posture." It'll do wonders for their morale, reinvigorate conservatives, and better position Republicans to win congressional seats in 2014.
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