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The GOP House and Senate Leadership as Leaders of the Opposition

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When President first was elected John Boehner and Mitch McConnell could not actually serve as leaders of the opposition in the traditional American sense of the term because neither man had the ability to even slow down the president and the Democrats.  (Thank goodness the Democrats did so on their own or we’d be burdened with global warming craziness as well as Obamacare.)

After the 2010 elections, some balance returned to D.C. when the House passed into the control of the GOP, but the race to lead the GOP in the presidential election quickly overshadowed all else, and Boehner/McConnell and their teams were excused from opposition duties quickly though the clashes on budget, taxes and debt limit provided background to the presidential campaign.

The two years ahead thrust new roles on both men and their teams.  They can block the president’s more absurd fancies, but they also have to participate in governing to some extent because our system requires the House’s consent to do anything.

The Speaker’s and Leader’s staffs, however, don’t show any obvious signs of understanding the new media order or the relentlessness of the president’s program.  The president or Vice President Biden uses every day to push their agenda forward and belittle or divide the GOP.  Every day.  Yesterday the Obama machine, supported by its permanent allies in the Manhattan-Beltway media elite, acted to get the focus off the Hagel and Lew nominations and the Holder hold-over and they used Joe Biden and his “executive order” on guns to do so.  Today will see a different part of the carnival throwing up different aspects of stories or new story lines altogether.  

Yesterday, as the day before and the day before that, there was no sign of any GOP leader anywhere, on the nominations, onthe “executive order” on guns, on the key nominations.  No appearances.  No statements.  Just crickets.

There are just three ways of leading an opposition in circumstances such as these with an opponent like the president.

One, do nothing and let the president and his team decide the news cycle every day all day.  This has been the GOP’s choice for most of the time since the election and all of the time since the disaster of the Boehner-Obama cliff dance.

Disappearance is not a strategy.  It is a collapse.  And this week going by without a word out of any of the GOP House leadership has telegraphed disarray.

A second approach is to follow the president’s lead and respond to whatever news balloon he sends up every day.  Thus if the GOP leadership was doing anything except hiding, it would have answered quickly and forcefully on the idea of an “executive order” being a legitimate means of controlling guns.  This “call-and-response” style isn’t an optimal way of opposing the march of the left, but it is preferable to silence.  If nothing else the NRCC has to be out every day blasting such absurd theatrics as the vice president’s yesterday and encouraging people to enlist in opposition efforts.

Far more preferable to either one or two is a third strategy of every day pushing the key arguments forward, and right now the key arguments are (1) that the debt ceiling won’t be raised without entitlement reform and (2) that Chuck Hagel is opposed by the GOP for the job of SecDef.  This approach ignores what the president wants to talk about and instead talks about the GOP’s agenda, for the time being the debt ceiling/entitlement reform nexus and defeating the Hagel nomination.

Both messages are powerful and they can be made with relative economy and backed by strong and specific arguments, but someone has to make them and they have to be made from specific platforms —every day.

The platforms, one or more of which are always open to GOP leadership, are the Cavuto and Hannity shows on Fox (and sometimes O’Reilly), some of the CNN shows with more on the way as the network prepares to jettison the unwatchable and unwatched orphans of its lineup, and of course the big talk platforms of Rush, Hannity, Levin, Bennett, Gallagher, Prager, Medved and me.  Thus there are at least ten platforms available to the Speaker, Leader Cantor and Whip McCarthy as well as Cathy McMorris-Rogers, Greg Walden and Paul Ryan as well as Leader McConnell, Whip Cornyn, and John Thune and Orrin Hatch every day, with Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul as the most interesting non-leadership senators because of their potential national leadership roles.

There are thus a dozen potential voices and a dozen different platforms available to the GOP –every day—and the technology to take an appearance on one and push it out through all of media using Twitter and blog support.  Taking the audio and video of a single appearance and pushing it out to all of the platforms and a dozen media centers is elementary media and message management —and never done by the GOP staff.

To us the platforms and drive a message requires a commitment from the leadership to do so, and a staff that is at least remotely aware of how to do it, a staff which is evaluated and which is judged by its ability to place the messengers and multiply the messages via social media and institutional media.  

That which gets rewarded gets repeated.  You shouldn’t reward what isn’t counted.  Apparently leadership staff is getting rewarded for keeping their principals off of screens and away from platforms so the president has a monopoly in setting up the public opinion battlefield so that when a GOP leader eventually steps out he or she will get raked over the coals put there by the president and his team.

I am told the GOP is waiting for its “retreat” in Williamsburg to be over before it rolls out “Message 2013.”  This is amusing because these retreats are not strategy sessions, but social gatherings and “team-building” exercises.  The rank-and-file won’t be getting detailed hand-outs on what is going to happen next, though a draft of the legislation the Speaker is hoping to get through regular order on the debt ceiling and entitlement reforms would have been very useful to have available to help focus the Members and the press on the debate ahead.

The “loyal opposition” thus remains scattered and in effect leaderless though it has elected leaders.  President Obama in sharp contrast moves every day towards his principle goal of 2013-14: To destroy the GOP House majority and retain the Senate majority so his last two years can renew the transformative work of his first two years.

The GOP, thus far, shows no sign that they are aware that this president isn’t about moving to the center and building a legacy and building a library.  He is about crushing the GOP in the 2014 elections.  Thus far, he hasn’t had to break a sweat.

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