Of GOP Slogans and Strategy

We all know about the power of words and the effectiveness of a snappy slogan, so how do Republican primary slogans rate so far? Not very well. Not one has hit the sweet spot. Are we such inept communicators that not one candidate has managed to craft a slogan that stands out?  Maybe it’s because we are so tethered to our left brain that we don’t give the right brain much room to maneuver.

Before any campaign devises a slogan, it must first decide what it wants to convey -- a message. A direction, a feeling, a fact, a quality -- and then trim it down to a few words. This is no easy feat. A slogan should be concise, easy to follow and remember, it should easily roll off the tongue, and have a rhythm or catch or pizzazz to it.  It should not single out the candidate or the voter.  And, it should not focus on the past, but rather the future.

Change We Can Believe In. Yes We Can! Hope and Change. Fired up -- Ready to Go! Each rolled off the tongue effortlessly, was highly effective, resonated with millions, and had a certain zing.

These slogans from Obama’s 2008 campaign had a little sumpin’ sumpin’ others lack -- the subtle, but powerful quality of being inclusive. Instead of spotlighting the candidate -- I, Me, Obama -- he was lumped together with the crowd: change WE can believe in; yes WE can; WE’RE (implied) all fired up, etc. This had the effect of placing the candidate and voter on equal footing and uniting them in purpose. The campaign and ultimately, the presidency, would be a team effort.    

It is this unique quality Republican candidates have yet to cultivate. 

What else are we doing wrong?  It would be ideal if one slogan could be used for the nomination process and the general election, but since that is not likely, it is critical that candidates think beyond the primary and devise primary slogans that are consistent with their messaging in the general election and are not incongruous with the distinct persona of the candidate. Any lapses will be fodder for the opposition.    

For example, Jeb Can Fix It! conjures images of Mr. Fix-it handymen that just don’t jibe with the Jeb Bush persona. Maybe he can fix it, but he’s more of a scalpel guy than a circular saw guy. This is precisely the kind of incongruity that voters instinctively pick up on and opponents will use to their advantage. 

I’m sure Ted Cruz and his supporters love his Courageous Conservatives motto and, while it appeals to principled conservatives, it repels 50% of the electorate. Moreover, it gives Hillary plenty of ammunition to fire back -- conservatives don’t believe in change or progress or improvement. They want the status quo. Where’s the courage in that? Even an extremist like Obama avoided slogans that boxed him in. Better Cruz should refine his slogan now -- something he could use in the general -- and preemptively limit Hillary’s ability to exploit any discrepancies between his Courageous Conservative primary slogan and something less circumscribed in the general. 

(This is similar to George W. Bush’s Compassionate Conservative slogan in 2000.  It never really caught on with conservatives but did arm the opposition with the firepower to criticize conservative policies as being anything but compassionate. In the end, the election was a real squeaker. Why give them that advantage?)

I know many of you are saying that the Dems will criticize anything we do or say and that’s true. But we don’t have to hand it to them on a silver platter with a slogan that does little to boost the messaging of our candidates.     

Good slogans must reach out to today’s voters. 

Trump’s Make America Great Again is a retread from Reagan’s 1980 campaign and is out of step with the times. This resonated with a populace beaten down by the Carter presidency and appealed to Blue Dog Democrats -- many of whom were working class union members who lived through the Great Depression, WWII, and the Red Menace, and knew something precious and unique was dying in America. While this slogan might be comfort food for diminishing numbers of conservatives and older voters hungry for Old Glory, it fails to connect with baby boomers, millennials, and Gen-Xers who don’t have a similar frame of reference.

Good slogans should not use words like “again” or those containing the prefix “re.” You and I might like a return to the way things were -- to restore, reclaim, revive, reignite, or to do something again -- but a campaign calling for a return to the past, is not a campaign that is listening. 

For baby boomers and younger voters, this suggests a return to the uptight and stuffy days of the postwar 50s -- when intact, nuclear families with a mom and dad and well-behaved, neatly-dressed children lived in the ‘burbs, went to Church, and attended schools with discipline -- anathema to contemporary Americans. When men in grey flannel suits commuted to cities, worked in skyscrapers, and constructed the corporate America so many despise today. A decade that oppressed and segregated minorities, kept gays closeted, and women barefoot and pregnant because of strict anti-abortion laws. It was a time we bore the guilt and shame of having dropped two nukes and interned thousands of Japanese Americans.  Why on Earth would anyone but old, white, males -- subjugating females and oppressing minorities -- ever want to go back to that? 

If we intimate that the past was all grand and the present stinks when, in fact, there are legitimate wrongs in our past and good developments in the present, then we get into a tangle of gnarled weeds that Hillary will not hesitate to capitalize on. Why feed the beast?

Donald Trump’s Make America Great AGAIN makes this mistake despite his current success. If he gets the nod and sticks with this slogan, it will intensify Hillary’s mantra about big, rich, fat, country club white men trying to go back to an oppressive past that was bad for women and minorities. She will appeal to justice and compassion and set the Donald up as a tyrant. This could all be avoided if he opted for something like Let’s Make America Greater. This way he doesn’t hand Hillary the keys to his own destruction, and get to pays homage to Reagan, look forward, and come off sounding like a team player.

Heal. Inspire. Revive. Dr. Carson clearly wants to make a connection between what he did as a doctor and what he could do as president. While succinct, catchy and easy to remember, it unfortunately sounds more like an ad for a spa, retreat or rehab clinic -- a bit too New Age-y. Moreover, it looks backward with “revive” -- a poor choice of words for Carson whose opposition, will characterize him as a slow, sleepy country doctor in desperate need of revival. Carson the Zombie will be another urban myth created by Democrat-Media complex just like Bush’s stupidity and Ford’s klutziness. Why set the narrative for them? 

Our candidates must be brutally honest with themselves. They must study their screen appearances and acknowledge how they come off -- warts and all -- then carefully construct slogans around those qualities or liabilities.  

Ted Cruz’s Courageous Conservatives has a second part: Reigniting the Promise of America. He also yearns for the good old days and, while conservatives yearn with him, average voters are thinking: Why would anyone want to reignite the promise of slavery, Jim Crow, oppression and economic injustice? Reignite the promise? Only if we could set it all on fire.

The Carson and Cruz slogans concern me because I don’t see much thinking beyond the primary -- a strategic blunder if they are both serious about going all the way.

Finally, slogans should not single out the candidate by using his/her name, I, me or mine.  Nor should they set apart the voter by using you or your.

Telling It Like It Is does a great job of highlighting who Chris Christie is and how he thinks he can help, but it’s all about Chris and comes across as paternalistic: You will hear what I think you should know, and that’s that. If he is certain this is the correct approach, then he has to sell it more like: Facing the Facts to Move America Forward or Facing the Facts for a Better America. You get my drift.  

Look, I know I’m being tough. I realize it’s challenging for candidates to distinguish themselves and compress their distinctiveness into a few words that will make the voter feel like he is a part of an effort. Still, Yes We Can managed to accomplish all of that. Not only did it succeed it getting an inexperienced, partisan with a dangerous agenda elected twice, but the legend endures. Our candidates need to think less about the end they seek and more about the journey. We can do it!

But not with slogans like Kasich’s For Us! Like Christie’s, it’s all about Governor Kasich. This entire 3-word slogan segregates the voter from the candidate and suggests we should be so grateful to Kasich for being “for us” when, isn’t that how it’s supposed to be in the first place?

And then there is Jeb’s Right to Rise slogan -- cringeworthy from the get-go. It conjured up images both of Viagra commercials and Workers World Party rallies with fists in the air chanting “Rise Up!”  It was a huge relief when he switched to Jeb Can Fix It only… he didn’t fix it. Jeb forgot that “team” is not spelled with Jeb. He could have opted for We Can Fix It but “fix it” is just a bad choice of words for reasons previously stated. 

Here are some comments regarding the shortcomings of other slogans, that don’t fit neatly into the above categories:

Huckabee is talented enough that he should have concocted something more savvy than From Hope to Higher Ground. This implies that Obama’s Hope campaign was successful. If we are running against the Obama administration and Hillary as its successor, do we really want to credit them with any achievement? Polls show that Americans aren’t hopeful about the future. Feeding them a line of bull about Hope is out of step with the electorate. 

Carly’s New Possibilities. Real Leadership quip isn’t bad but sounds like they just stuck two ideas together. There’s no pizzazz, no left brain, no we/team factor in this slogan. Carly did some non-profit work dubbed Unlocking Potential. Maybe something like Unlocking Potential. Unlocking the Dream.

Rand Paul’s Defeat the Washington Machine. Unleash the American Dream connects with the voters he is trying to attract. My only criticism would be to cut it back to Defeat the Machine. Unleash the Dream

A New American Century touted by Marco Rubio is forward thinking but sounds like a think tank report.  Like Carly’s slogan, he points to an exciting future but is equally snoozeworthy. Moreover, he doesn’t give voters a stake in this new century. Marco is young and might benefit from something a bit more “with it.” Off the top of my head, maybe something like The 21st Century -- Bring it On! Or USA21 -- Bring it on!

The Democrats aren’t faring any better with Bernie Sanders’ A Political Revolution is Coming. As far as I’m concerned, Bernie surrounded by Occupy Wall Street types in their black balaclavas holding Eat the Rich signs is a guarantee that Daffy Duck could be our nominee and win. And Hillary’s Ready For HILLARY, It’s YOUR Time (which is the slogan for a 50+ online dating website), and This Starts With YOU reinforce the public’s perception that she sets herself apart from the rest of us (is above the law) and any suggestion that she is putting voters first just rings hollow.

Cultivating a feeling of political camaraderie is what made Obama’s campaign so remarkable. He had a way of making voters believe they were vested in the process. In creating highly-effective Republican slogans, we must treat voters as stakeholders in whatever future a Republican victory might bring. 

And what is that Republican future? What does the party stand for? What does it oppose? What does it promise? I don’t think anyone knows. 

The GOP candidates should make sure their sloganeering and messaging comports with the overall strategy of the GOP. Since I cannot recite what that strategy is, I’m guessing they can’t either. If there is one, it’s clearly America’s best kept secret. So, let me suggest one -- at least as a starting point for discussion and maybe a slogan or two will emerge after some brainstorming.

Perhaps the GOP’s overriding theme for the 2016 race should be something as bold as:

Trickle-Down Government Has Failed the Middle Class -- -But We Can Do Better!  We can have a thriving middle class in the 21st century. States with Republican governors and legislatures have fared better than states governed by Democrats. Eight years of trickle-down government under Obama has permanently eliminated jobs, ruined our educational system, devastated our healthcare system, wiped out savings and home ownership, driven up costs while suppressing income, hurt women and minorities the most, made us more insecure at home and abroad, and lessened our leadership role in the world as a force for good.  Hillary promises more of the same.  We can do better!

We all know about the power of words and the effectiveness of a snappy slogan, so how do Republican primary slogans rate so far? Not very well. Not one has hit the sweet spot. Are we such inept communicators that not one candidate has managed to craft a slogan that stands out?  Maybe it’s because we are so tethered to our left brain that we don’t give the right brain much room to maneuver.

Before any campaign devises a slogan, it must first decide what it wants to convey -- a message. A direction, a feeling, a fact, a quality -- and then trim it down to a few words. This is no easy feat. A slogan should be concise, easy to follow and remember, it should easily roll off the tongue, and have a rhythm or catch or pizzazz to it.  It should not single out the candidate or the voter.  And, it should not focus on the past, but rather the future.

Change We Can Believe In. Yes We Can! Hope and Change. Fired up -- Ready to Go! Each rolled off the tongue effortlessly, was highly effective, resonated with millions, and had a certain zing.

These slogans from Obama’s 2008 campaign had a little sumpin’ sumpin’ others lack -- the subtle, but powerful quality of being inclusive. Instead of spotlighting the candidate -- I, Me, Obama -- he was lumped together with the crowd: change WE can believe in; yes WE can; WE’RE (implied) all fired up, etc. This had the effect of placing the candidate and voter on equal footing and uniting them in purpose. The campaign and ultimately, the presidency, would be a team effort.    

It is this unique quality Republican candidates have yet to cultivate. 

What else are we doing wrong?  It would be ideal if one slogan could be used for the nomination process and the general election, but since that is not likely, it is critical that candidates think beyond the primary and devise primary slogans that are consistent with their messaging in the general election and are not incongruous with the distinct persona of the candidate. Any lapses will be fodder for the opposition.    

For example, Jeb Can Fix It! conjures images of Mr. Fix-it handymen that just don’t jibe with the Jeb Bush persona. Maybe he can fix it, but he’s more of a scalpel guy than a circular saw guy. This is precisely the kind of incongruity that voters instinctively pick up on and opponents will use to their advantage. 

I’m sure Ted Cruz and his supporters love his Courageous Conservatives motto and, while it appeals to principled conservatives, it repels 50% of the electorate. Moreover, it gives Hillary plenty of ammunition to fire back -- conservatives don’t believe in change or progress or improvement. They want the status quo. Where’s the courage in that? Even an extremist like Obama avoided slogans that boxed him in. Better Cruz should refine his slogan now -- something he could use in the general -- and preemptively limit Hillary’s ability to exploit any discrepancies between his Courageous Conservative primary slogan and something less circumscribed in the general. 

(This is similar to George W. Bush’s Compassionate Conservative slogan in 2000.  It never really caught on with conservatives but did arm the opposition with the firepower to criticize conservative policies as being anything but compassionate. In the end, the election was a real squeaker. Why give them that advantage?)

I know many of you are saying that the Dems will criticize anything we do or say and that’s true. But we don’t have to hand it to them on a silver platter with a slogan that does little to boost the messaging of our candidates.     

Good slogans must reach out to today’s voters. 

Trump’s Make America Great Again is a retread from Reagan’s 1980 campaign and is out of step with the times. This resonated with a populace beaten down by the Carter presidency and appealed to Blue Dog Democrats -- many of whom were working class union members who lived through the Great Depression, WWII, and the Red Menace, and knew something precious and unique was dying in America. While this slogan might be comfort food for diminishing numbers of conservatives and older voters hungry for Old Glory, it fails to connect with baby boomers, millennials, and Gen-Xers who don’t have a similar frame of reference.

Good slogans should not use words like “again” or those containing the prefix “re.” You and I might like a return to the way things were -- to restore, reclaim, revive, reignite, or to do something again -- but a campaign calling for a return to the past, is not a campaign that is listening. 

For baby boomers and younger voters, this suggests a return to the uptight and stuffy days of the postwar 50s -- when intact, nuclear families with a mom and dad and well-behaved, neatly-dressed children lived in the ‘burbs, went to Church, and attended schools with discipline -- anathema to contemporary Americans. When men in grey flannel suits commuted to cities, worked in skyscrapers, and constructed the corporate America so many despise today. A decade that oppressed and segregated minorities, kept gays closeted, and women barefoot and pregnant because of strict anti-abortion laws. It was a time we bore the guilt and shame of having dropped two nukes and interned thousands of Japanese Americans.  Why on Earth would anyone but old, white, males -- subjugating females and oppressing minorities -- ever want to go back to that? 

If we intimate that the past was all grand and the present stinks when, in fact, there are legitimate wrongs in our past and good developments in the present, then we get into a tangle of gnarled weeds that Hillary will not hesitate to capitalize on. Why feed the beast?

Donald Trump’s Make America Great AGAIN makes this mistake despite his current success. If he gets the nod and sticks with this slogan, it will intensify Hillary’s mantra about big, rich, fat, country club white men trying to go back to an oppressive past that was bad for women and minorities. She will appeal to justice and compassion and set the Donald up as a tyrant. This could all be avoided if he opted for something like Let’s Make America Greater. This way he doesn’t hand Hillary the keys to his own destruction, and get to pays homage to Reagan, look forward, and come off sounding like a team player.

Heal. Inspire. Revive. Dr. Carson clearly wants to make a connection between what he did as a doctor and what he could do as president. While succinct, catchy and easy to remember, it unfortunately sounds more like an ad for a spa, retreat or rehab clinic -- a bit too New Age-y. Moreover, it looks backward with “revive” -- a poor choice of words for Carson whose opposition, will characterize him as a slow, sleepy country doctor in desperate need of revival. Carson the Zombie will be another urban myth created by Democrat-Media complex just like Bush’s stupidity and Ford’s klutziness. Why set the narrative for them? 

Our candidates must be brutally honest with themselves. They must study their screen appearances and acknowledge how they come off -- warts and all -- then carefully construct slogans around those qualities or liabilities.  

Ted Cruz’s Courageous Conservatives has a second part: Reigniting the Promise of America. He also yearns for the good old days and, while conservatives yearn with him, average voters are thinking: Why would anyone want to reignite the promise of slavery, Jim Crow, oppression and economic injustice? Reignite the promise? Only if we could set it all on fire.

The Carson and Cruz slogans concern me because I don’t see much thinking beyond the primary -- a strategic blunder if they are both serious about going all the way.

Finally, slogans should not single out the candidate by using his/her name, I, me or mine.  Nor should they set apart the voter by using you or your.

Telling It Like It Is does a great job of highlighting who Chris Christie is and how he thinks he can help, but it’s all about Chris and comes across as paternalistic: You will hear what I think you should know, and that’s that. If he is certain this is the correct approach, then he has to sell it more like: Facing the Facts to Move America Forward or Facing the Facts for a Better America. You get my drift.  

Look, I know I’m being tough. I realize it’s challenging for candidates to distinguish themselves and compress their distinctiveness into a few words that will make the voter feel like he is a part of an effort. Still, Yes We Can managed to accomplish all of that. Not only did it succeed it getting an inexperienced, partisan with a dangerous agenda elected twice, but the legend endures. Our candidates need to think less about the end they seek and more about the journey. We can do it!

But not with slogans like Kasich’s For Us! Like Christie’s, it’s all about Governor Kasich. This entire 3-word slogan segregates the voter from the candidate and suggests we should be so grateful to Kasich for being “for us” when, isn’t that how it’s supposed to be in the first place?

And then there is Jeb’s Right to Rise slogan -- cringeworthy from the get-go. It conjured up images both of Viagra commercials and Workers World Party rallies with fists in the air chanting “Rise Up!”  It was a huge relief when he switched to Jeb Can Fix It only… he didn’t fix it. Jeb forgot that “team” is not spelled with Jeb. He could have opted for We Can Fix It but “fix it” is just a bad choice of words for reasons previously stated. 

Here are some comments regarding the shortcomings of other slogans, that don’t fit neatly into the above categories:

Huckabee is talented enough that he should have concocted something more savvy than From Hope to Higher Ground. This implies that Obama’s Hope campaign was successful. If we are running against the Obama administration and Hillary as its successor, do we really want to credit them with any achievement? Polls show that Americans aren’t hopeful about the future. Feeding them a line of bull about Hope is out of step with the electorate. 

Carly’s New Possibilities. Real Leadership quip isn’t bad but sounds like they just stuck two ideas together. There’s no pizzazz, no left brain, no we/team factor in this slogan. Carly did some non-profit work dubbed Unlocking Potential. Maybe something like Unlocking Potential. Unlocking the Dream.

Rand Paul’s Defeat the Washington Machine. Unleash the American Dream connects with the voters he is trying to attract. My only criticism would be to cut it back to Defeat the Machine. Unleash the Dream

A New American Century touted by Marco Rubio is forward thinking but sounds like a think tank report.  Like Carly’s slogan, he points to an exciting future but is equally snoozeworthy. Moreover, he doesn’t give voters a stake in this new century. Marco is young and might benefit from something a bit more “with it.” Off the top of my head, maybe something like The 21st Century -- Bring it On! Or USA21 -- Bring it on!

The Democrats aren’t faring any better with Bernie Sanders’ A Political Revolution is Coming. As far as I’m concerned, Bernie surrounded by Occupy Wall Street types in their black balaclavas holding Eat the Rich signs is a guarantee that Daffy Duck could be our nominee and win. And Hillary’s Ready For HILLARY, It’s YOUR Time (which is the slogan for a 50+ online dating website), and This Starts With YOU reinforce the public’s perception that she sets herself apart from the rest of us (is above the law) and any suggestion that she is putting voters first just rings hollow.

Cultivating a feeling of political camaraderie is what made Obama’s campaign so remarkable. He had a way of making voters believe they were vested in the process. In creating highly-effective Republican slogans, we must treat voters as stakeholders in whatever future a Republican victory might bring. 

And what is that Republican future? What does the party stand for? What does it oppose? What does it promise? I don’t think anyone knows. 

The GOP candidates should make sure their sloganeering and messaging comports with the overall strategy of the GOP. Since I cannot recite what that strategy is, I’m guessing they can’t either. If there is one, it’s clearly America’s best kept secret. So, let me suggest one -- at least as a starting point for discussion and maybe a slogan or two will emerge after some brainstorming.

Perhaps the GOP’s overriding theme for the 2016 race should be something as bold as:

Trickle-Down Government Has Failed the Middle Class -- -But We Can Do Better!  We can have a thriving middle class in the 21st century. States with Republican governors and legislatures have fared better than states governed by Democrats. Eight years of trickle-down government under Obama has permanently eliminated jobs, ruined our educational system, devastated our healthcare system, wiped out savings and home ownership, driven up costs while suppressing income, hurt women and minorities the most, made us more insecure at home and abroad, and lessened our leadership role in the world as a force for good.  Hillary promises more of the same.  We can do better!