The weekly column from Clark Judge
Obamacare, Ted Cruz, Mitch McConnell and Ken Cucchinelli: Lessons in Political Communications
By Clark S. Judge: managing director, White House Writers Group, Inc.; chairman, Pacific Research Institute
The government is up and running full tilt again. It can borrow as much as it wishes until next February. But before moving on entirely, I wanted to share three notes on three men whose roles tell us something about what happened and what’s next:
Senator Cruz addressed the American Spectator annual dinner last night. The magazine’s big yearly fundraiser, the gala draws conservatives, in particular conservative writers, from throughout the country. The Wall Street Journal editorial board regularly buys a table. So does the White House Writers Group.
Mr. Cruz spoke directly to the charge that he and House Republicans had no strategy or endgame in the Obamacare-budget showdown.
We had a four-step strategy, he told the crowd.
Step 1: Mobilize the country. He and others spent the summer traveling the nation, speaking on Obamacare. By the end of their tour, two million voters had signed an online petition calling for the program’s repeal.
Step 2: House Acts: Come September, the House GOP was primed to pass a budget that defunded the Affordable Care Act (which, as you know, is Obamacare’s official title) while keeping the government going. They did so.
Step 3: Senate Republicans unite: With the country mobilized and GOP House having acted, the idea was that the Senate GOP would united behind their House colleagues and present a solid Republican wall of opposition to letting the medical insurance legislation go into effect. It was understood that the administration and Senate majority leader Harry Reid would stonewall the House budget and that a government shutdown would follow.
Step 4: Split the Democrats: The stage would then be set to start picking off Democrats from states where opposition to the Obama administration’s takeover of the healthcare sector is most unpopular.
Cruz blames his Senate GOP colleagues for not delivering on Step 3, which made it impossible to win over gettable Democrats.
I sat there thinking, well, yes, he is right. He did have a strategy. But the problem wasn’t Step 3. It was thinking that a small bunch of senators flying around the United States, giving a speech here and there – which is what the summer tour amounted to – counts as “mobilizing” the country. I alluded to this in last week’s column.
Where were the TV, radio and print ads? Where was the summertime blitz of talk radio? Where was the coordination with conservative bloggers — and the reaching out to friendly editorial pages? Where was the broad social media campaign?
Two million signatures? That’s 1.5% of the number who showed up at the polls last year. Lady Gaga has 88 million views on her current online video.
Cruz is a brilliant, articulate and principled man. But at the dinner he displayed a communications cluelessness that has been all too much a feature of the Tea Party and general congressional GOP over the last few months.
As I watched Cruz, I found myself reflecting that the Senate minority leader has been getting a raw deal from the GOP Right of late. In 2009, he succeeded in uniting Senate Republicans 100 percent against Obamacare, and – with the exceptions of Snowe, Collins and Brown – did so on Dodd-Frank, too. The party would have minimal credibility today in opposing these displays of left liberal hubris without that McConnell success, which powerfully communicated GOP dedication to principle. In Senate annals, his achievements as minority leader have been – and continue to be — extraordinary, perhaps unparalleled, both in chalking up against-the-odds wins and, as he did at the end of the shutdown, in cutting the best deals a weak hand allowed.
If, as expected, Terry McAuliffe wins the governorship of Virginia next month, national Democrats are poised to claim the outcome as a victory for Obamacare. It will, of course, actually be a victory for the sleaziest campaigning imaginable, possible only because of the spending advantage that McAuliffe, a former king of Clinton fundraisers, enjoys. But it will be the first good news for the pro-Obamacare crowd since the much heralded website failed and the program’s launch turned into a fiasco. Cucchinelli wants to keep Virginia out of Obamacare, meaning the state will still be solvent at the end of his tenure.
McAuliffe is bent on going along with Obamacare and expanding Medicaid, which, as governors who have looked carefully have determined, is the road to state bankruptcy. Nothing could provide a stronger shock to congressional Democrats that they had better find a way to find to undo the ACA before it undoes them than a surprise Cucchinelli victory.
An independent group of conservatives has been raising money to go on TV against McAuliffe. When tested, the first of their ads was so effective at moving voters to Cucchinelli that Rush Limbaugh featured it on his show and urged listeners to help out. A former Reagan White House speechwriter (not me) is helping with the copy. They tell me that they are buying airtime as fast as the dollars come in.
To see the spot that they are currently raising money to run, go here: www.fightfortomorrow.com <http://www.fightfortomorrow.com> . If Cucchinelli pulls it out, this independent communications effort will deserve a big chunk of the credit.