First, a plug urging you to preorder The Happiest Life. After this week, you need it.
Next a note on the title of the post: That’s called messaging. Worked, didn’t it?
Now the ritual but sincere and friendly scolding of the mute GOP.
On Friday Congressman John Campbell joined me live in my radio studio for a two hour “town hall” where the only questions allowed by the screener were about the three weeks just passed or the three months ahead in the Congress.
The calls avalanched in and we blew through forty or more –a lot for any talk show in two hours– but we could easily have done hours and hours more, so intense is the audience interest in what just happened.
Ask yourself: Did you see or hear any Republican from the House or Senate on air and talking about their Dunkirk yesterday?
Earlier in the day, I had teamed with the Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Moore to debate Michael Lind and former California Governor Gray Davis on the proposition “For a Better Future, Live in a Red State” for NPR’s Intelligence Squared program, which will air next week. The debate was ably moderated by ABC’s John Donvan before the audience of the Philanthropy Roundtable’s annual meeting. By the rules of the debate, which involve pre-and post-debate polling of the audience on the proposition, Moore and I crushed the blue state team, and that certainly reflects both abilities of Moore and the obviousness of the proposition.
But if the proposition is so obvious, why can’t the GOP make it –last week or in last year’s presidential election?
This subject came up from callers many times in my radio town hall with Congressman Campbell, and the GOP’s epic fail to communicate was the subject of a key Daniel Henninger column earlier in the week that ricocheted around the web, and rightly so. Henninger was in full Paul Revere mode, warning the GOP that they are being overwhelmed on the communications side. The column isn’t perfect, for it blasts Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) who at least tried to break through the president’s near-monopoly of the MSM’s communication channels, and did for a time. Henninger is rightly concerned, however, that the GOP just doesn’t get it. The other side has surrounded them on the communications side and never quits firing.
The GOP by contrast usually just shoot at each other.
The week’s failure was guaranteed, I argued to Congressman Campbell, when the House leaders who met with the president on Thursday night October 10, walked out a White House side door after the meeting without talking to the press. They had no message. None.
Congressman Campbell defended the Speaker et al as just living up to the bargain they had struck with the president to negotiate in good faith –which apparently included a gag order– a deal the president undid the next day when he met with GOP senators and which he never honored online in a Twitter feed that the GOP apparently doesn’t even bother to monitor. The shock troops of Team Obama and their allies in the MSM kept pounding away, the GOP Senate walked into the trap, and the House kept their commitment to…silence.
Apparently that commitment is still in place for we have not seen the Speaker or the House Majority Leader or the Whip attempting to explain events and rally their base. Some of the Speaker’s staff are chatting away with their pals at Politico —it is alleged, btw, that during the showdown one of his former chief of staff Barry Jackson went House of Cards and either intentionally or accidentally leaked the Speaker’s strategy to the White House in the midst of negotiations— but the GOP’s senior most D.C. leaders are running silent and deep except for Mitch McConnell who gave the remarkable Costa an extended interview. (Another of the many reasons why McConnell must stay in the Senate: He is actually one of the few who get how to communicate with the base, and does so at length and via many avenues.)
What was the only thing Churchill could do after Great Britain’s Dunkirk? Give speeches and broadcasts and promise everyone to fight forever. When the transcript of my conversation yesterday with Hillsdale President Larry Arnn is posted, be sure to read about Churchill in May of 1940. Of course the GOP is not in such dire circumstances, nor is a domestic political dust-up “war” in any serious sense, but the GOP suffered a massive political defeat and the country is in an accelerating crisis. The GOP leaders should be giving speeches and broadcasting. They aren’t.
In such circumstances, the GOP leadership must at least try to communicate and must accept that it won’t get a fair shake from MSM, and must stop enabling MSM to cherry pick the facts and disparage the GOP while empowering the president. CNN, for example, has gone 90% MSNBC, and is in reality the Begala network with a few public service announcements for the truth, mostly on Tapper hosted shows. (Understand, I don’t mind Begala. He is brass knuckled super smart brawler but when you put him on a panel with, say Gloria Borger who channels Valerie Jarrett and David Gergen representing Harvard and Alex Castellanos who is GOP skim milk and glutton free cake, well, the “pretend” debate is going to go for the president, even if Tapper is hosting. Add in the absolutely fake “Debt Crisis Countdown Clock” which was a travesty as the Jack Lew date of October 17 was wholly contrived –as Pimco’s Bill gross told CNN– and you get one of the many networks in the tank for POTUS.)
The GOP cannot win the public to its side if it doesn’t argue its case even as the president and his many allies outside and inside the MSM make theirs 24/7. The GOP cannot walk past microphones, any microphones. It must demand its elected reps show up, all day, every day, and into the night to make the west coast drive time shows. (Incredibly over Thursday and Friday my booking producer asked a dozen GOP members to appear. None would save Campbell, who is a regular. “Tired.” “Traveling.” “With his family.” The Speaker did an interview with Cincy host Bill Cunningham on Thursday, which is good, but then went to ground. And did his office push out the audio? Tweet the specifics? Post a transcript? Of course not. They never do.)
Ted Cruz, btw, keeps the Facebook posts rolling and shows no sign of fatigue or loss of purpose despite a near unanimous assault on him by the Manhattan-Beltway media elite that acts with the uniformity, predictability and utter ruthlessness of the mean girls in junior high, and with the same degree of intellectual sophistication. Say what they will, it was Cruz who broke through POTUS’ MSM screen three weeks back, and Rand Paul before him. Bash his lack of planing an end game if you must, though there are great defenses of the idea that he punched a whole that the GOP failed to take advantage of even for limited aims —see Andrew McCarthy’s this morning for instance— but don’t miss the crucial fact that Cruz showed the GOP how to do what Henninger rightly demands they must do: Fight everywhere and always, online and on air. I repeat my chaellnge to any reporter of last week. Add up Cruz appearances on the top ten radio talk shows in 2013. The add up all the appearances of the Speaker, Leader Cantor and Whip McCarthy on the same ten shows. Cruz will have lapped the three of them single-handedly. Probably twice or three or four times.
Changing this GOP communication paralysis takes a huge and almost-impossible-to-conceive attitude shift among GOP elites who hate the MSM and don’t understand the new media while fearing their many of their natural allies on talk radio and who don’t understand that while FNC is a great place to appear, it isn’t nearly enough. The “leadership” is stand-offish from everything from Twitter to Reddit and savvy folk like Larry O’Connor and Kurt Schlichter are barely known to the electeds over 50, and not so well known even to the Twitter invested, and thus are not consulted as they should be.
Three very different questions to illustrate the comprehensive failure of the GOP to message:
1. Where is the room in which are gathered the best Beltway brains of the GOP figuring out the unified message on the massive Obamacare fail unfolding at an accelerating, cumulative pace? Is Yuval Levin there telling them what to emphasize? Does it exist at all?
2. Mark Levin sold a gazillion copies of The Liberty Amendments. That’s a fact. It says something. How many MOC have actually read the book that their base has embraced and tried to call Levin to chat –off the record– about what vein he is tapping into?
3. How many GOP senior electeds run their own Twitter feeds and post, say, a half dozen Tweets a day like every member of the serious MSM does for a variety of reasons.
I could pose a hundred questions to illustrate the thousand ways the GOP fails to message. It isn’t debatable. Reread Henninger. The Party of Mutes who very wrongly think of themselves as combos of Zechariah and the Oracle at Delphi when in fact they are the Keystone Kops, with an emphasis on “silent” in silent movie, need to change, ASAP.
So, what to do?
A few conservatives have triumphed at systems development when it comes to center-right messaging, the foremost among them Roger Ailes, but there are many others. The electeds have to genuinely ask for advice and genuinely listen to it, and to people like Henniger and Levin and yours truly. Really listen. A lot of smart Beltway folks reach out and touch base and chat and try to export messages, but how many really and truly look for advice from the vast world beyond the Beltway? The Beltway destroys messaging creativity among Republicans. Going inside the 495 acts like Red Kryptonite on the GOP’s ability to communicate, and only a very few overcome the impact and stay effective.
Ted Cruz is among those who seem to be immune to this effect, and the locals have turned on him as a consequence. Bad move. In fact, the first “mainstream” GOPer who boldly makes a show of friendship with the Texas senator is going to score some serious points with the base. Just saying.
Even if a rethink on messaging gets underway –or during it if miracles of miracles the Leadership embarks upon it– the GOP press people have to be instructed by their bosses right now that the electeds will message everywhere and with everything —Churchill’s “butt ends of broken beer bottles”— beginning Monday and through the January 15 and February 7 deadlines.
Watch and see if anyone is reading or listening. Watch and see if instead of upping the effort, the GOP takes November and December off.
And do note that GOPers plunging on to the Sunday shows: Three are of great interest to the base and the future GOP –Senators Cruz and Rubio and former Florida Governor Bush.
No one from the House. No one.
And no governors.
Who should be on? The Speaker and Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan, of course, plus Rubio, Cruz and Bush, and John Thune, Scott Walker, John Kasich, Bobby Jindal –and all of them should be saying pretty much the same thing, and none of them should be throwing bricks at each other.
The same group should be everywhere next week, especially on talk radio, and they should have the same set of key facts on the Obamacare fail on the coming budget negotiations.
We can dream, can’t we?
Here’s the good news. As yesterday’s debate between Moore-Hewitt and Davis-Lind showed me and will show the NPR audience next week, the conservatives have the right message which is freedom and growth, which in turn means human flourishing and happiness. We are selling happiness –not just me, but everyone. It takes near genius levels of incompetence to screw this up. The key members of D.C.’s GOP elite have, but they can also change. Pray that it happens.