I’ve long been arguing that conservatives are generally right on principle, but tend not to be that smart when it comes to politics. Conversely, I believe that liberals are generally wrong on (or lacking in) principle, but tend to be pretty shrewd politicians.
One doesn’t have to look hard to find proof of this.
We live in a country in which nearly twice as many people describe themselves as conservatives as do liberals, and conservatives outnumber liberals in 47 of our 50 states. Yet, arguably the most liberal president in United States history won re-election after doubling our national debt, giving us a highly unpopular healthcare law, and leaving us with the weakest economic recovery since the Great Depression.
Even after having been exposed as lying repeatedly to the American public about consequential, core tenets of the increasingly unfavorable Affordable Care Act, some national polls are actually beginning to show Obama’s job performance numbers on the rise. Additionally, the Democratic Party that gave us Obamacare is starting to regain the advantage in the 2014 Generic Congressional Ballot.
Even though some polls are showing that Democratic Senate candidates are in trouble in red states, the Republican Party just can’t seem to gain a foothold with the electorate on the national level.
I don’t think anyone can deny that the GOP brand is still in trouble.
A lot of the public’s negative perception of the Republican Party can be attributed, of course, to a national media that routinely promotes the Democrats. They lend credence to goofy, anti-GOP narratives like the War on Women, they purposely misrepresent the conservative viewpoint on important issues, and they hold Republican politicians to a far different standard of scrutiny than they do Democratic politicians.
That being said, the Republicans also have an undeniable knack for stringing themselves up like pinatas and handing over beating-sticks to the Democrats and the media to use on them. They make careless comments that can easily be taken out of context or misinterpreted, they pursue no-win political strategies, and they continue to subscribe to the false notion that the electorate interprets things logically. That’s not what today’s electorate does.
Today’s electorate acts largely on emotion because there just isn’t an appetite to research issues and use critical thinking to determine which approach makes sense. There’s an intellectual laziness in today’s culture that keeps people from wading through all of the propaganda and bumper-sticker slogans to discover what is real and what isn’t.
Republicans need to accept this, and learn to appeal to people’s emotions rather than relying on their ability to recognize the big picture. Defending the merits of a free market, low taxes, small government, the rule of law, and individual freedoms unfortunately doesn’t resonate with people the way it used to.
While those doctrines should continue to be promoted, and hot topic issues like Obamacare should keep being addressed, the GOP should also begin applying their conservative principles to narrow, emotionally-charged issues that they can run on. I’m talking about ones that resonate with people by evoking an impulsive reaction.
The Democrats used this tactic when they concocted the War on Women campaign, painting an inaccurate yet effective picture of Republicans trying to steal women’s contraceptives.
The Republicans should follow suit, but in the context of legitimate issues – not fabricated ones.
Charles Krauthammer recently wrote a column in which he suggests that Republicans should take a loud and firm stance on outlawing late-term abortion. Narrowing the pro-life argument down to “late-term” abortion puts forth an issue that Democrats would have a hard time arguing against, even in a country that is pretty evenly split when it comes to the general view of abortion. When the conversation changes to third- or late-second trimester abortions, how can even the most liberal of individuals deny that two human beings are involved? Thus, how could Democratic politicians possibly defend the practice (which their liberal base will expect them to do) and not face overwhelming public resistance?
Krauthammer’s idea showcases a bite-sized, easy-to-understand, consensus-driven snippet of a broader conservative belief. It appeals to people’s reflexive sense of right and wrong. It’s also the kind of issue (of which there are many) that can give the Republican party the foothold they need to expand to a larger narrative – in this case, the sanctity of life.
Such a tactic shouldn’t be limited to social issues. It should be applied to fiscal issues, foreign policy, and domestic policy such as immigration.
If the Republicans can use a little creativity as the Democrats have, and design their messaging to evoke an emotional reaction and not just a logical one, they’ll undoubtedly do themselves a lot of good.