Lou Dobbs Drinks the Insider Kool-Aid

Lou Dobbs, business anchor, offers a lot of truly excellent and a little really atrocious advice to the Republican Party in his new book Upheaval, released on January 7, which he discussed in his January 6 broadcast "Steps to creating a winning election strategy for the Republican Party." 

Dobbs's new book is a must-read; overall, the GOP should elect Lou Dobbs as its next party chairman.  Though you may need to skip a few chapters.

The problem is that Dobbs insists that the Republican Party must abandon social issues.  He argues passionately that the Republican Party must not give up even a single voter to the Democrats.  Yet he then immediately recommends abandoning, alienating, and irritating the largest bloc of voters within the Republican Party: social conservatives, including socially conservative Hispanics and Catholics and Reagan Democrats.

Lou Dobbs has drunk the "Inside the Beltway Kool-Aid."  He wants the GOP to pander to voters with very low probabilities of ever being persuaded to vote Republican, while alienating voters with a very high probability of voting Republican.  This contradiction is a problem which business reporter Dobbs should be able to recognize.

A business-minded approach would follow the "80/20" rule, which teaches that 80 percent of a salesperson's sales come from 20 percent of his prospects.  So a salesperson needs to focus on his or her best chances for success.  (Note that "80/20" is not meant to be a precise measurement -- just a way of illustrating a point.)

A business-minded approach would be to prioritize where the GOP has its best chances of the most success, not chasing after prospects who are not interested in your product.  A bad salesperson wastes time talking to prospects who aren't interested.  A good salesperson fishes where the fish are biting.

Obviously a party wants to win as many voters as possible.  Yet a party cannot rationally damage its success with its strongest supporters in the unlikely hope of adding improbable voters.  No strategy is a good strategy if it trades the party's greatest chances for success for low-probability alternatives.  Of all people, Lou Dobbs should immediately recall the "New Coke" fiasco, in which Coca-Cola risked the loyalty of its core customer base in an attempt to gain new customers.

Yet the greatest error is that Republicans have already been following the "fiscal issues only" approach.  So politicos misdiagnosis the situation.  Republican insiders are so stuck on a broken record that they are not aware of events on the ground.  The party's challenge lies in its failure to handle the media and respond effectively to attacks and smears.

Whose campaign should we pick as an example?  Critics of the Tea Party and conservatives always highlight Christine O'Donnell as one prominent example of a mistake the Republican Party must not repeat.  Let's accept the challenge.  This is not assuming whom the reader might support, but simply digging deeper into the thinking offered by supposed experts.  It doesn't matter how you feel about any particular candidate.

I was Christine O'Donnell's campaign manager in her 2008 U.S. Senate campaign against Joe Biden, during the nomination contest.  I wrote for her approval a handout on her positions on policy issues.  Christine's family and volunteers distributed the document at the May 2-3, 2008 Delaware State Convention.  O'Donnell won a convention contest and thereby became the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate by acclimation, avoiding a primary.  I was up until 3:00 in the morning printing the flyers on a small computer printer attached to my laptop in the bathroom, so that Christine's father could sleep in the hotel room.

But in 2008, Christine O'Donnell ran on fiscal issues, because that is what was on the voters' minds.  She is a Ronald Reagan, across-the-board conservative.  And she was open and honest about who she is.  But Christine O'Donnell did not run on social issues, because voters in 2008 were very upset about the economy and afraid of losing their jobs.  If there was any one main issue in her 2008 campaign, it was drilling for oil in Alaska, up there with out-of-control government spending.  The 2008 campaign was controversy-free.

The first two issues -- chosen in order of persuasiveness -- involved taxes.  The next three were foreign policy, including waste in foreign aid.  Christine's next five issues involved the rising price of gasoline and energy independence.  The next item was stability in funding of public schools.  Next came tolls on highways, then securing the border and requiring employers to obey immigration laws.  Last was English as our official language.   In 2007, Christine published an op-ed on the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. 

In 2010, the issues were about Mike Castle's fiscal liberalism.  Republican voters in Delaware and conservative organizations were upset about Castle's big-spending, big-government, more-regulation votes and advocacy on fiscal issues.  Christine O'Donnell and conservative groups almost never attacked Castle on social issues. 

So who exactly is running on social issues?  The GOP has misdiagnosed the problem.  What is actually happening is that journalists and Democrats counter-attack Republicans by changing the subject -- namely, by bringing up social issues.  The voters wind up thinking that a Republican is obsessed with the social issues because that is all that journalists are reporting on.

The real problem is the GOP's failure to deal with a hostile media, handle attacks, and strike back.  Republican "strategists" (please stop laughing), campaign consultants, party insiders, and candidates don't know how to handle Democrat and media attacks.

A "fun" example illustrating this is Congresswoman Heather Wilson, who ran for U.S. Senate from New Mexico in 2012.  Christine O'Donnell's campaign manager from 2010, Matt Moran, helped mount a challenge by conservative Greg Sowards (joining the campaign sort of last-minute).  O'Donnell encouraged conservatives to support Sowards.

Yet the establishment candidate, Heather Wilson, a congresswoman, lost the general election after winning the primary.  The theory that Republicans are losing U.S. Senate races by nominating Tea Party conservatives doesn't pan out in real life.   Here, the establishment's choice got nominated...then lost anyway.

The Republican Party cannot get better results because its leadership and "strategists" fail to identify the real causes of what is happening.  When Democrats and reporters try to ridicule Republicans, including on social issues, Republicans need to figure out how to handle it and respond effectively.

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