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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Winning on Wishes, Losing on Silence

It never ceases to amaze me how Democrats can win elections on emotion alone – on symbolism without substance. In contrast, Republicans must advance real solutions to win. And, I wouldn't want it any other way.

What follows is my analysis of the factors that influenced this past election.

Republicans Lost More Than Democrats Won

Minnesota voter turnout is traditionally very high. Allowing for the expected differences between presidential and mid-term years, voter turnout increases each election year. The last mid-term election in 2002 drew 200,000 more voters then the one in 1998 – the year of Jesse and his feather boa.

This year was different. There were 90,000 fewer votes statewide than in 2002. Looking at individual races and adjusting for an increase in the voting population, Democrat voter turnout was consistent with 2002 numbers. But, Democrat turnout was NOT significantly higher. The difference was in the Republican numbers which fell dramatically.

What About GOTV?

There has been much press made about the Republican GOTV effort – those annoying get out the vote phone calls that volunteers make to remind Republicans to vote. Last I heard, Minnesota ranked 5th nationwide in the number of calls made. Considering that we have a mere 4 million voters, it is quite a feat to rank fifth in a field that includes California, Texas, Illinois, and New York.

But, GOTV alone cannot elect Republicans. Republican voters aren't that loyal. They aren't driven to vote by an emotional attachment to the team. They are driven by ideas, issues, and solutions – by a plan for tomorrow. They are also driven by the performance of Republican leaders – and failure to perform drives voters away from the polls. Based on the vote numbers and on what we heard from would-be voters that were contacted, many Republicans in Minnesota simply weren't motivated to vote. GOTV only works if the sale is made before the phones are dialed.

Democrat Loyalty

First, let's give credit where credit is due. Democrats were very good at capitalizing on Republican weaknesses. Further, they are very good at building their loyal following. From the perspective of a political power broker (no, not me), the loyalty of the Democrat base is enviable. There is no way that Republican voters would support candidates who consistently vote against ideas that their supporters hold dear. But, Democrat voters will support Democrats regardless of their voting record.

I have had numerous conversations with Democrat supporters (including close friends) on issues and found many areas of agreement. For example, several years ago I debated tax policy with one such loyal Democrat. I supported the flat tax, he supported a national sales tax. I have since changed my mind and believe that a national sales tax, a.k.a. the Fair Tax, is indeed the fairest way to generate government revenue. But, there is no way that today's Democratic Party will support the Fair Tax.

The DFL even used the Fair Tax – and the fact the most voters are ignorant to it – as a weapon of deceit against Michele Bachmann. Patty Wetterling and the DFL ran several ads that outright lied about this idea and about Bachmann's view of it. Still, I suspect my friend loyally voted the DFL ticket.

I can say with certainty that I support the Republican Party platform and everything in it. That is why I am active within the party to ensure that this platform continues to represent conservative principles. I suspect that there are very few Democrat voters who can say the same for the Democrat Platform. Still, Democrat loyalty is stronger than conviction to issues and ideology.

Emotional Winds Fill Void Of Ideas

Democrats are the Party of Emotions, Republicans are the Party of Ideas. When Republicans fail to advance ideas and issues, Democrats will win the day.

Example One: Democrats profited from the emotional reaction to Republican Rep. Mark Foley's disgusting instant messages to a page. The facts behind this story didn't matter. The page in question was 18 at the time, not 16 as initially reported. The page admitted to “leading” Foley on as a joke then saved the messages apparently for political advantage. Foley resigned and the issue resigned with him.

But, the emotional reaction lingered as candidates like Patty Wetterling exploited it. If this was a genuine issue about unethical behavior while in Congress, the discussion would have turned on the Democrat Party which repeatedly re-elected Democrat Rep. Gerry Studds after he was caught actually engaged in physical acts with an 17 year-old male page.

Example Two: In several states, Democrats paraded Micheal J. Fox to advocate against Republicans who allegedly seek to ban stem cell research. There was an emotional reaction to Fox, to his suffering from Parkinson's, and to the dream of miracle cures from stem cells. The fact that Fox was wrong, that Republicans do not seek to ban stem cell research, and that embryonic stem cell research in particular holds no promise for a cure to Parkinson's didn't matter. Further, amidst the emotion, there was an apparent attempt to project the promise of adult stem cell research to embryonic stem cell research which, in fact, has been plagued with failures. The wish for a cure ruled over the facts about the research – and about those who support it.

Example Three: Perhaps the biggest emotional element that favored Democrats was opposition to war. Nobody likes war. Not Democrats and not Republicans. But, sometimes wars must be fought for peace to prevail. When an enemy wants you dead, it is foolish to expect them to leave us alone if we surrender. But, when the debate is dominated with body counts and opposition to war itself, emotion can carry the day.

The PR Machine

Democrats have the best PR firms in the world advocating for their success. It is tough to beat the drumbeat from ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN. Along with most major papers, they unabashedly gave good press to Democrat candidates and ridiculed Republicans. The Foley story is case in point. ABC held this story for several months before reporting it just before the elections. The rest of the media kept it alive when the issue itself ended with Foley's immediate resignation. When Michael J. Fox embarrassed himself by advancing a lie about stem cell research, the media focused on Rush Limbaugh's reaction – not on the merits of what Limbaugh said, but how they characterized his gestures when he spoke. And when issues of national security arose, the media shunned any successes in Iraq then aired propaganda films made by al Qaeda. Further, they exposed intelligence gathering efforts on foreign terrorists and falsely described it as domestic eavesdropping.


Failure to Perform

Republican Congressional leaders failed to govern like a unified majority. Many succumbed to the idea that getting along is better than governing – an idea that was advanced for the purpose of derailing their agenda. When the Senate failed to send the filibuster brats packing, they lost support among voters and volunteers who worked for and advocated for their elections. Many Republican leaders were tempted by media lights and ego stroking pundits to turn against fellow Republicans. More supporters left the fold. Finally, when Republicans governed more for preservation of power than the restoration of limited government, supporters chose to preserve their vote.

Absence of Ideas

In American politics, Democrats own the loyalty factor, the emotion factor, and the PR giants. As frustrating as this can be, it isn't new. Republicans have won big elections and numerous elections despite this apparent disadvantage. But, they only win when they advance ideas and issues then drive the debate on their merits. Republicans failed to define the issues for this campaign.

On the whole, Iraq has been an enormous success. 25 million citizens were liberated from a tyrant whose brutality exceeded that of terrorists, if not in methods, then in numbers. In three short years, there have been three general elections and the formation of a new government. 8-12 million Iraqi's voted in each of these elections. By American standards, this is phenomenal. These voters risked torture and death simply by voting. Their devotion to their new found freedom must be regarded as a HUGE success in the War on Terror.

There is a lot of emotion that can be generated in telling the real story of success in Iraq, but Republicans and President Bush himself have failed to get the story out. I suspect they believed that the story would tell itself, but in this day and age of politically motivated media, such stories – and the issues that surround them – must be deliberately advanced to be heard.

Conservatism Trumps Liberalism, Democrats Trump Silence

Conservative ideas trump liberal ideas virtually every time they are advanced. Nationwide, 7 out of 8 state initiatives to protect marriage were victorious. The one that failed – the only failure to date – came in Arizona where it is believed to have been “poisoned” with added measures designed to kill the bill despite the issue it was raised to advance.

Democrats were successful in recruiting center-left – relatively conservative Democrats to compete against Republicans nationwide. They didn't try to sell their liberal ideas, instead they placated to the conservative nature of the electorate in these key races. A silver lining for conservatives is that many liberal Republicans were among the losses.

Conclusion

There is a huge difference between the parties – not only in ideology, but in motivation for support. Republican candidates cannot rely on loyalty alone to win elections. They must be active stewards for the conservative issues which motivates the base Republican voters. Further, conservative ideas and issues can be very appealing to voters not tied to either party.

When elected, Republicans must perform. It takes a lot of energy and time to volunteer for a candidate. When conventional wisdom is in left field, one often must go out on a limb to vocally advocate for the election of a given Republican. Republican candidates cannot take this for granted. Supporters simply will not waste their time for candidates who fail to advance the issues that drive the base.

In retrospect, I am encouraged by the opportunities that lie ahead. There is a real chance that conservative ideas can be advanced for their merits. Frankly, Republican leaders can't afford to play it safe any longer, they have to focus on winning the hearts and minds of the voters. When they do, I am confident that conservative ideas will win their support and I wouldn't want it any other way.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

poor poor small republican

11/09/2006 8:22 PM  
Blogger G-man said...

Symbolism without substance. Thank you for proving my point!

11/10/2006 12:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent analysis and plenty to build on.

11/10/2006 9:21 AM  

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