Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Party Without a Message

The last couple of days we have been discussing the reconstruction of the Republican Party here in Iowa. Before we delve into the topic again today, I want to thank all of you who have taken this topic seriously. I really hope that the powers that be read some of your thoughts and ideas and use them to rebuild our Party. Today I want to focus on the message. First I want to discuss how on earth we became a party without one, and secondly what should our message be moving forward.

Wikipedia defines a political party as a political organization that seeks to attain and maintain power within government, usually by participating in electoral campaigns. Parties often espouse an expressed ideology or vision bolstered by a written platform with specific goals.

So we have a Party, we have a platform, so why don’t we have a message? I think it’s a pretty simple answer actually. Our party cedes its message to the candidate on top of the ticket every two years. So in Iowa that means our gubernatorial candidates set the agenda half the time, and the presidential nominee sets it the other 50% of the time. There is no continuity and there is no long term vision we are working towards.

On the other hand, ask any Democrat activist what their agenda is and they will spout the same ideals as their local and national elected officials. They want nationalized health care, special rights for gay, lesbian and transgendered people, tax policy that stifle investment and job creation (higher taxes), and a reduced role for America around the globe.

The difference between Republicans and Democrats is that their message doesn’t depend on who the candidate is. It didn’t matter if Becky Greenwald or Selden Spencer runs against congressman Latham, the issues are always the same. On the Republican side since we don’t have a message it all depends on who the candidate is. John McCain ran on different issues than Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee would have. Sure for the most part we know what we are opposed to, but we don’t know what we are for, and more importantly why.

Let’s look at the biggest issue on the horizon, health care. Now every Republican I know is against socialized medicine, but many can’t state why, and most can’t articulate what the Republican solution to the problem is. Why? Because Newt has his solution, McCain had his plan, Romney had his, and Huckabee promoted prevention.

Our Party must have a common message if we ever want to win elections in the future. While some issues might take precedence due to the current political environment, there are also core principles that we should never waver from. For instance I think it is absolutely obnoxious to suggest that the Republican Party should walk away from their support of traditional marriage and the right of the unborn. Now does that mean you have to be an avid social conservative to belong to the Party? No, because there are plenty of other issues that one can be involved in through the Republican Party. Don’t think for one second that the Democrats all agree on every single issue, to expect that of Republicans is simply unfair.

What I think people are worked up about is what issues we are going to wage our campaigns on. Quite frankly I don’t know if we should be worried about that right now. Instead I think we need to take our experts in different fields and create issue work groups to create solutions to the problems facing our state and country. Face it folks, we are losing the battle of ideas yet we have leading tax experts, medical professionals, and social conservatives already in our party, let’s use them!

We can’t afford to shift our stances on specific issues every elections cycle. We need to build our party and the only way we can do that is if we stand for something. Otherwise we will continue to watch our supporters erode away because the Republican Party doesn’t stand for anything.


  1. Democrats also have a message of sending us back to the 19th century--no electricity, no gas-spewing autos, no coal, no nukes, no wind (might kill a bird), no fossil fuels, no carbon footprints. Heck, they don't even want us to heat our homes with wood.

    These people are delusional and they're in charge of the whole thing now.

    The American people are fools and we're worrying about a Republican message.

    The American people are going to get what they deserve.

  2. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness...That would be a good place to start.

  3. 5 principles for republicans

    1) Less government in our lives

    2) Lower taxes and eliminate some taxes all together

    3) Pro-family (this includes new tax cuts for families)

    4) Pro-life

    5) Strong national defense willing to protect our allies

  4. add personal responsibility to the less gov't. It is not the President's job to make sure my kids go to college. It is my job.

  5. I could use less government in my bedroom.

    I think the Republican Party needs to be more concerned with the things that your typical suburban family is concerned about, and it's not abortion or gay marriage.

    It's whether or not they'll have a job, how much government takes of their paychecks, and how good their schools are.

    The rest of this stuff should be solved in church, not in a political party.

  6. Honestly, I dont give two craps about gay marriage, or abortion, I just dont give a crap. What does it matter to me? Im not gay, Im not going to have an abortion.
    And after 12 years in the military, I must say that I don't scare easy either. Im not going to be scared into an economic recession just because Bush feels he needs to provide security for another country!

    I don't want government in every facet of my life, and I dont want to pay for another countries troubles. That's why I am a conservative and not a Republican.

    Anon 8:47 is a true Republican, offering ABSOLUTELY NOTHING and simply bashing the other party.

  7. Well my nature those in the GOP have a decentralized mindset which carries over to the party, and that's why we don't tend to have a lockstep message like the Democrats.

    But, we do I think need a message and promote that, and use that message to both recruit candidates and energize the party, but keep the party and candidates going in the right direction.

    The thing is, we need to ARTICULATE. No offense to the above poster, but slogans, buzzwords, and Clintonian wordsmithing aren't going to get it. Saying something like 'pro-life' or 'pro-family' doesn't resonate anymore. It has to be articulated beyond a boilerplate slogan.

    That means alot of butt-busting research, getting more informed on issues down to a policy level, candidates that can get wonkish and detailed on issues. But we Republicans are going to have to get a great deal smarter if we're going to take our message and win the back-and-forth debate with our Democrat opponents.

  8. I like 11:35's 5 principles plus the personal responsibility as pointed out by 11:38.

    Thats a good place to start, but Matt in Lee was right about being articulate. We need good messengers and he/she has to believe and have a record of upholding those values. Then when elected has to put them into practice.

    To me it seems pretty selfish and short-sighted for people to say that abortion doesn't matter because "I'm not having an abortion". The abortion issue is not about you, it's about the innocent babies being murdered. It's about the long term affects it will have on our society and its morals. It's about preserving the constitutional rights of every American.

    What does anything we stand for matter if we can sit by and watch willing, legal murder in our own nation? How can we stand for liberty or justice when we can't even stand up for the rights of the unborn?!

  9. An effective way of articulating an idea is to point to examples that already work--ie programs already in place in state/local gov'ts.
    Voucher programs that work. Nuclear power in France, etc.
    The challenge often is Dems want gobs of programs, and we want less gov't, so it often turns out we support doing less, and the dems want to do more--that position is often hard to defend when the public is expecting Gov't to "do" things for them.
    Or else the most effective option is considered "heartless" such as the quickest way to get someone off of unemployment is to cut off their unemployment benefits....if you are motivated by hunger/poverty, you'll find a job real quick. yet the dems want to extend benefits forever, and thus it will take longer to come out of this slump as people are not as motivated to find a job simply by human nature.
    Thought vs. Emotion and emotion tends to win out.

  10. Alright, "jpred"... I'll bite.

    So how are we going to prevent abortion?

    Overturn Roe vs. Wade?

    We have had 5 Republican Presidents, who have made aboslutely no attempt whatsoever to get it overturned since it's 1973 inception. Not Nixon, Ford, Reagan, or either Bush. They have done nothing.

    All Republican's do is give it lip service. But lets say we are able to overturn Roe vs. Wade. By some miracle we make it illegal for women to have abortions.

    You think that will stop people? Because making things illegal has worked SO well in the war on drugs, prohibition, maybe?

    By making abortion illegal you will one of two things, first you will have more and more women eating pills, drinking and physically causing harm to themselves or you will have a massive amount of undernurished, welfare babies whose mother's are on dope and fathers are in prison.

    So you go on and on about not giving out handouts and yet you want to create this world where there are a simply overwhelming amount of starving children,

    THAT seems a bit short sighted to me.

  11. Here is the basic problem with your idea Matt. We cant become wonkish on the campaign trail because you’ll be speaking over the head of the average voter. Have you ever gone door knocking? Less than 1 in 10 doors you hit are able to talk about policy at an informed level. You can come up to them and talk about a nuts and bolts tax policy or healthcare policy but they will simply stare at you blankly and try their best to get you off their doorstep so they can go back to watching “Flavor of Love 3.” We have to keep our message simple and relevant to the average voter. I’m not saying we should be ignorant but we live in a society where even 30 second spots have a hard time holding the attention of the audience. When we campaign, we need to have simple bullet points that voters may actually read before their throw the lit piece you give them away or in sound bites that they may remember before they flip the radio station or TV channel.

    On life and marriage, just because they aren’t your issue doesn’t mean that they aren’t important. Marriage especially needs to be an iatrical part of our message. Why? Because not only is it a part of our core principals, but because it’s a winning issue. Look at what happened in California and Florida in the last election. Even with Obama driving turnout Marriage amendments passed. It isn’t because people hate gay people, its because people want to preserve the fundamental definition of marriage. More importantly, it’s a winning issue among minority voters.

    However, we cannot be a party that only talks about marriage, we’ve got to have a comprehensive message on health care, education, energy independence and taxes. Those issues are the keys to winning again. The problem isn’t that we are a pro-life, pro-marriage party, its that we some times forget that we are also a pro-energy, pro-parental controlled education, pro-personal controlled healthcare, pro-tax reform party. In my view, those issues need to be at the front of our platform, not at the back. Those are the issues that will help us win again. If you drop life and marriage, you’re going to drive out the people who will actually sit down and make phone calls, or knock on doors. Worst case scenario, they actually leave the party, field their own candidate in the general election and take 40% of the Republican base vote with them.

    Here is the deal, some Republicans are pro choice and some don’t care about marriage but anon 1:55 puts it best when he says “I don’t give 2 craps about gay marriage or abortion.” Pro-Choice/Gay Marriage Republicans don’t consider those issue important enough to worry about, but a large number of social Republicans consider them “do or die” issues. Just because you don’t care about them dosent mean that a large percentage of our base wont walk out on the party if we abandon those issues. So what do we do?

    We remain a pro-life, pro-marriage party, but we focus our electoral strategy on the 70% of issues that bring us together. The Republican party is no longer in a position to drive ANYONE out and EVERYONE needs to have a seat at the table as we rebuild.

  12. We have to revamp what our party promotes as less government.

    1. Repealing Roe v. Wade. Only other federal law I can think of giving stamp of approval to termination of life is the death penalty for Treason. This is a state's rights issue.

    2. Scale down Iraq. GWB did the right thing in not withdrawing and focusing on finding a strategy to succeed. We've done it. We've done it so well that the Iraqi government is now asking for a timetable to leave. We need people to understand we only support war when it is necessary. I think Democrats have successfully labeled us as complete war hawks. We need to change that.

    3. Less wasteful spending. Did a GOP administration really enact Medicare prescription funding? Did our GOP President really request 700 billion dollars for....well we haven't even figured that out yet. What happened to being fiscal conservatives?

    4. More investment spending. Not investment in banks and auto companies. Investment in education. Cut NCLB, it isn't working. Admirable intent, little results. We have to start at the top. For a tiny, tiny fraction of that corporate giveaway we could reorganize the FSLA program into a Student Grant Allocation program. $5000 a semester to any eligible student who remains in good academic standing, for up to 5 years toward a degree.

    If you want better results in elementary in high school, you need better teachers. We're not graduating them. Intelligence knows no income boundary, and many kids are either unable to afford college at all or are being scared off by the mountain of debt they'll face if they go.

    This is our rallying cause. Especially in Iowa, where many of our most-populated cities surround higher education institutions.

    The Democrats identified the growing income gap and used tax warfare as their solution. We didn't have a solution. There is one primary indicator to what your income level will be in this country. Education level.

    The answer is getting behind our citizens and pushing them out of the mud, not pushing the tow truck (Business, wealthy) into the mud. The Democrats have the wrong solution. We know it, but we need to provide the right one to win.

  13. Hate to disagree but I've worked alot of doors the last few elections and the bullet point thing isn't working anymore. It has to be a little more engaging than that. I realize people have short attention spans, but you need at least to explain beyond a bullet point.

    I mean you can start with that, but you have to spoon feed people over a long period, and as they grasp the old information give them more and more detailed. There are no silver bullets.

    That's alot of what I think is the problem, we try to give them a brochure with bullet points and then walk away hoping we're going to get their vote. It really needs to be a longer term, more engaging and informative discussion.

  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. iowasf - $5000 a person a semester to goto school?? I goto a private school and the only thing it wouldnt cover would be room and board...hell I already get $2K a year back on my taxes, as you said we need to reign in spending and giving $5K a student a semester isnt a good way to preach fiscal conservatism...what we need to do is preach about returning power to the people - we need to showcase what is happening in California and point out it is Dems who are fighting the will of the people...I say when the people vote and decide that is it, I understand we are becoming Marxist but for the time being we are still a democracy.

    We also have to find a way to sex up what we stand for - we have the Dems saying they are going to give the poor tons of money - how so, they dont say - we need to figure out how to deflect the women's right to her body argument effectively - we need to figure out how to hammer home that tax cuts for the wealthy are good for the poor - we need to hammer that we are about getting the government the hell out of your way. It is never what you say it is how you say it - so yes we need to wordsmith - we need to have slogans and rally crys - Obama got elected by doing this. Basically politics is sales - and in sales what do you do - you highlight your strong points with flowery language and you downplay your weak points with flowery language.

    Dont get me wrong - we need to develop good policy so when we regain power we use it effectively and we get done what we want but in order to get to the top you have to sex up your image. We need to look at Reagan and 94 and not just say that, "Hey I am a Reagan Conservative, vote for me." we need to apply the lessons of those elections to today. We also need to know what we are talking about so we can break it down for ANYONE to understand - and for everyone to memorize easily. Think "Yes we can."

  16. Matt, where are you knocking on doors? As I said before, in my areas about 1 in 10 can talk in depth about policy and of that 1 in 10 that can, less than 25% of them actually want to. It feels like almost every door I knock on the person on the other side is looking for a way to end the conversation and get rid of me.

    I hate to sound down but I think we've got to come up with some creative way of getting people to pay attention again. As it stands, in Central Iowa, they either have no ability to engage or simply no interest.

  17. apathy is huge.
    I am a big fan of it.

    And the bible thumping neo-cons really turn people off.

  18. Um ... I’m not bible thumping. I was talking about unexplored private solutions to the bailout this last election. We were also talking about tax reform and still no one wants to talk, they just seem to want you to go away. The apathy isn’t restricted to "bible-thumping neo-cons." People could care less about Ron Paul too (most don’t even know who he is) so don’t make assumptions.

  19. Fiscal Conservatism is about spending where needed. It isn't about not spending.

    Our country can't continue to import quality talent (see I.T.) because we're not graduating it here. The foreign nationals simply turn around and ship that money back out of the country to their families.

    The ROI is that graduates enter the workforce making more money and therefore paying more in taxes. More tax revenue. More young people with the business management training to be able to be entrepreneurs and open new businesses.

    Education is the engine that is going to determine if we remain a superpower or fall behind countries like China and India.

    IMO, this is the Homestead Act of the 21st century. We need our young people to be the next wave of scientists, engineers, teachers, doctors, etc. We need to offer them the chance to get there.

    As for the $5000 per semester, that is a maximum. Obviously nobody would receive more than tuition costs incurred after other scholarships.

    Think about the impact of a whole wave of American students graduating college without the burden of huge student loans. The ability to invest in home ownership sooner. To buy that new car sooner.

    It's the trickle-down theory applied evenly across the board.

  20. Tim Pawlenty had some things to say about your dilemma:

    “We cannot be a majority governing party when we essentially cannot compete in the Northeast, we are losing our ability to compete in Great Lakes States, we cannot compete on the West Coast, we are increasingly in danger of competing in the Mid-Atlantic States, and the Democrats are now winning some of the Western States,” he said. “That is not a formula for being a majority governing party in this nation.”

    “And similarly we cannot compete, and prevail, as a majority governing party if we have a significant deficit, as we do, with women, where we have a large deficit with Hispanics, where we have a large deficit with African-American voters, where we have a large deficit with people of modest incomes and modest financial circumstances,” he said. “Those are not factors that make up a formula for success going forward.”

    “There will be calls, and voices across the country for Republicans to return to traditional conservative approaches in almost all respects,” he said, adding that there would also be calls to modernize the party.

    “The good news is both are true, and both can be harmonized in my view,” Mr. Pawlenty said. “We can be both conservative and we can be modern at the same time.”

    I'm not sure he's right about that last bit of advice, but he's certainly right about the demographics. The GOP is older,and less diverse than the Dems, and it has gone out of its way to alienate subgroups such as women and hispanics who are important to electoral success.

    In the last couple of elections, the demagoguing of the immigration issue has turned off Hispanics, where the GOP had previously made some headway. And how should an African American voter, or a Muslim, or a Sudanese American, who wanders onto this site feel about the decorations on the left side? They're offensive, pure and simple.

    The Democrats' message was not what Mr. 8:47 said, and he knows it. If they had run on such foolery, Obama would have lost. Instead we are waiting to find out whether the Senate will be filibuster-proof. The GOP has to abandon its own self-delusions. Even Alan Greenspan now says he was wrong. Henry Paulson clearly isn't getting anywhere with his ideologically-driven rescue plan. Running on demonization and smears did not work for Sarah Palin.

    Where are the ideas for the future? Where is the reason to hope for a better life for yourself, your family, and your country? Where is the willingness to try new approaches to intractable problems? Capital gains tax cuts are not the cure for everything that ails the economy. Personally, I've been experiencing capital losses. Where is the commitment to science, and research, and creating new technologies and industries? We have just had eight years of the most anti-science administration in history, and it's not good for business, let alone for coastal cities all over the world.

    OK, time to go back to wrangling over abortion and gay marriage...

  21. 9:08 PM: Lee county. We had a tougher time this year because the presidential election started so early that people were burnt out by July.

    Still, through persistence we were able to engage people in things like the state budget fiasco.

  22. 11/14 9:25 AM. You really believe that liberal mantra don't you? We lost for two reasons: 1)GW Bush, and 2) we are no longer the party of fiscal responsibility.

    The Bush thing was mainly due to the fact that Bush didn't fight back. There are legit criticisms of W but alot of what the leftist propaganda machine, including your post, spouts was pure lies and distortions. But Bush never said a word to counter any of it, and you see the result.

    You go ahead and keep pontificating in your priestly robes at the temple mount. If the Democrats try and push their leftist dogma they're going to smack into the brick wall of the American public.

    Obama won because the people were tired of the GOP and wanted to give the DNC their shot. When they see the result of DNC governing I assure you they'll want something different real fast.

  23. Wow, I have to say that I’m impressed. Here is a brief synapses of what it was like door knocking in Central Iowa: I was in a town the Friday before the election, I walked up to a woman sitting outside on her porch while her kids played in the yard. I walked up to her and said “Hi I’m out knocking on doors for Kim Schmett. Kim wants to go to Washington D.C. because he believes that our government is out of control. Kim is a former member of Governor Banstad’s cabinet and he works with economically disadvantage children. I believe he would be a fine representative for Iowans in Congress and I want to give you this brochure so you can learn more about him.” The woman didn’t respond, she sort of stared at me with a mixture of confusion and disgust. She looked down at the brochure I had handed her, shook her head, folded it back up, turned her head away from me and said shortly “We don’t care much for politicians around here, all a bunch of liars if you ask me.” As the day wore on I continued to attempt to engage everyone who actually answered their door only to find that most of them “weren’t the home owner and lived elsewhere so they couldn’t vote.” I even encountered a man raking leaves who claimed that the house belonged to “his brother” … right … If it had been only 1 person saying this to me I would have bought it but when 6 in 10 doors tell me that in a town with a population no bigger than 500 I start to doubt it. The next day I was in another town and I actually saw a woman come to her window when I was standing on the porch, look at me and then leave the room … She never answered her door. I also came across a man in my travels who was sitting I front of his house with a fiddle. When I came up to him, he didn’t stop fiddling but he stared at me with a smile the whole time almost as if to say “Yes, I see you, no I don’t care what you have to say.” These incidents played themselves out many times over in the course of the last 5 days of this election cycle. In Colfax, one of the few people I could actually get to talk to me spent nearly 20 minutes telling me how the immigration problem was all the Republicans fault because they broke the meat-packing unions and allowed “all these Mexicans” (his words, not mine) to come in an take all the jobs … never mind the fact that it was the meat packing unions who went after illegal immigrants to join and never mind that it’s the union stewards in many packing plants that give illegal immigrants tips on how to avoid detection by immigration and naturalization services. This guy didn’t want to hear any of it. He just wanted to tell me how we messed everything up and he wasn’t interested in facts.

  24. Holy crap, it sounds like your area is as Democrat as Lee co!

  25. A side note regarding your narrow-minded characterization of the Democratic agenda: the glbt community doesn't want "special" rights; they want the same rights as heterosexual citizens. What's so special about being given something that everyone else already has? (not that you care about the rights of non-Republicans anyway, apparently)

  26. climb off your high horseNovember 16, 2008 at 8:52 PM

    Just as you don’t care about the rights of non-liberals. Tell me anon, are you one of the thugs that goes around and takes republican yard signs in the night or vandalizes the property of anyone who displays their Republican leanings in public? You may disagree with us philosophically but you are a bunch of thugs. You also have a superiority complex believing that everyone who doesn’t think like you is an idiot, then you wonder why no one will listen to you.

    We'll see how long your coalition holds together when the extreme left runs up against the blue-dog Democrats. Obama will break with the lefties and you’ll be hamstrung outside of New York and California. Just watch.