I was a big fan of Newt Gingrich in the 2012 primaries for many reasons, but the main one was the way he wouldn’t play the game the media wanted him to. When asked irrelevant or gotcha questions that shouldn’t have been taken seriously, Newt turned it on the questioner.
Newt is quick on his feet and been at the game of politics for many years, so he knew how to do it effectively, but most candidates aren’t as seasoned. To them I offer this sample exchange:
MODERATOR: Candidate X, on the issue of (whatever), the Republican Party platform says (whatever). But if (hypothetical worst-case scenario) what would you tell (victim du jour) who had (something awful but extremely rare happen)?
CANDIDATE: Everyone knows where I stand on (whatever), but this race isn’t about (whatever), it’s about the economy and the disaster that is Obamacare and the damage it is doing to tens of millions of Americans and the economy.
Then – and this is key – have a solution to offer. No matter what issues you personally care about, barring an unforeseen cataclysm, the 2014 election will be about two things and two things only – Obamacare and the economy. And they are, particularly now, interconnected.
When I was a health policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, the first thing my boss told me was that, on the issue of healthcare, Democrats are evil and Republicans are stupid. He was right. But Republicans were stupid by choice; they ceded the issue to Democrats and offered only platitudes.
Healthcare was a Democrat issue in 2003, but it’s not anymore. Republicans have to not only oppose Obamacare, which is a popular stance, they have to unify around certain concepts and plans (and there are plenty from which to choose). Bitching about what your opponent may turn voters away from the opponent but it does not, by itself, turn them toward you.
Get behind ideas AND LEARN HOW TO MESSAGE THEM! Platitudes work in bars, not when running for office. You aren’t offering an alternative plan in a debate setting, you’re asking voters to support changing what is to something else. If you can’t sell it, they won’t buy it.
Just because voters are running away from Democrats doesn’t mean they’ll run to Republicans. You won’t win a majority in the Senate by default. The easy thing to do is vote for an incumbent because, even through the lies, you know what you’re getting. The second easiest thing to do is not vote. Republicans need voters to choose the most difficult path before them – invest their faith in someone they don’t know. They need to trust that not only will they do something better, but that they know what they’re doing. Getting distracted by shiny object issues and worse, not being prepared for how to handle them, will not win anyone’s trust, and it sure as hell won’t win anyone’s vote.