An End to Defensive Republicanism

Halloween is almost here, and for some Americans the very term “Republican” can be as scary as Ebola or ISIS. While both political parties score low in the polls, the GOP continues to be the bottom feeder. If the party is going to gain traction in this and future elections, we need to find out what is behind this consistent unpopularity.

A large part of the negativity is based on ignorance. Yet the prevailing unflattering image of Republicans is enough to put one on the defensive. I find myself, for example, reminding others that folks like Ben Carson are conservatives. And I don’t hesitate to mention to my Democrat acquaintances that I separate recyclables from the rest of my trash; keep my thermostat turned down to 75 degrees; have gay friends; and often take the bus instead of driving my -- by the way -- small, fuel-efficient car. 

In other words, I spend a lot of time trying to disgorge myths about Republicans that others have swallowed hook, line, and sinker.  Many of those who find Republicans anathema have never met one, nor care to. Most of those who vociferously “hate” Fox News have obviously never watched it, cannot name a single commentator, and express skepticism that liberals appear regularly as contributors. As for the term “tea party,” it probably conjures up pots of human blood served with parchment-like crumpets. 

Republicans are depicted in most media outlets as unfeeling, negative, homophobic, wealthy, prejudiced, women-hating, gun-toting undesirables, who refuse to believe that the climate is changing and so are the times. A recent unconscionable political ad insinuated that the outbreak of Ebola in the United States was due to penny-pinching Republican congressmen slashing the budget to fight communicable diseases.  It was an expensive ad that presumed some viewers would jump at the bait.   

If there is a secret weapon employed by the DNC, it is this uncanny ability to make outrageous charges against Republicans that stick and are hard to remove. No matter how many punches below the belt it requires, liberals have somehow managed to pin conservatives to the political ropes and force them to battle their way out. 

Part of this scenario may be that we live in a highly polarized society. Among minority groups, for instance, there is a high concentration of uninformed Democrats who tend to congregate in their own communities. They likely encounter few Republicans in their daily lives-- or if they do, they don’t know it. This provides the perfect political environment in which to plant and nurture seeds of negativity that bloom into a flat rejection of the GOP. 

For many of these same Americans, their sole knowledge of the ‘other party” is a menacing one provided by Democratic operatives, whose purpose is to scare them into voting the straight party line. 

For thoughtful members of these tight-knit communities, the challenges of breaking away to support conservatives can come at punishing social cost.  It takes courage of convictions to buck the liberal tide.

Such insularity can occur in other areas of society as well. To my continual surprise, I observe that many “educated” liberals simply assume I am of like political mind.  And why not, as my son once asked me, since I had graduated from an Ivy League woman’s college?  I have been among groups of Democrats where the whine of anti-Republican rhetoric flowed freely around me, almost as though I were a person of color passing for white. At a recent book group, a reader extrapolated that the Nazi brutality of Jews was mirrored in Republican attempts to disenfranchise voters! 

Presumption of identify may be partly at play, but the real problem that Republicans face is living down the degrading image by which our political adversaries have managed to define us. Unlike Ebola, this image is communicated not by direct contact, but by being airborne, carried across the communications grid by nasty campaign ads, a left-leaning mainstream media, and the harangues of professorial wind-bags. In a society where education and communication are largely controlled by liberals, one doesn’t have to know a single Republican to hate them all! It is sobering to think that most young Americans get their political opinions from the comedy on Jon Stewart’s "Daily Show".

So how do we break this cycle of voter dependence on those who disdain Republicans and distort who they are and what they stand for? We hear a lot about “reaching out,” and “widening the tent.” Admittedly, it is not easy to woo those who have already been conditioned to dislike us. 

The Democrats have long perfected the get-out-the-vote ground game, but Republicans are making significant strides in that direction. Voter ID laws are being enacted by more and more states, despite venal and unsubstantiated charges by Democrats.

Of course, it is not enough to depend on election season to gain visibility and articulate principles. One of the big guns that Democrats use against the GOP is that it has no positive ideas, only negative criticism. As a party out of power and without a clear leader, it is apparent that we are not getting through to many Americans.       

As a result, our mission is to find creative and meaningful ways to promote party goals. Some suggestions:  Become informed on local issues, then hold community forums and invite concerned people to attend. Encourage younger conservatives to get involved by scheduling meetings at more convenient times. Encourage and donate to campus Republican groups. Urge conservatives to write letters to the editor. (Yes, some will be published.)  Identify yourself proudly as a Republican, as I do.  Challenge what Democrats say. Talk politics (or try!) with non-Republicans, even if it is uncomfortable. Hang tough and fight back. These are things that should not become the province of any single segment of the GOP. Republicans have enough beliefs in common to present a unified front. Try out on others the arguing skills we use on ourselves!  

If the Republican Party does not dispel its negative image, we won’t have a ghost of a chance to reverse the scary direction in which America is headed.