Republicans Need to Fight Smart in 2014

Derek Hunter

12/26/2013 12:01:00 AM - Derek Hunter

If there’s one thing at which conservatives and Republicans excel, it’s snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Republicans would control the Senate today were it not for poorly prepared candidates and badly run campaigns. As the political world prepares for the 2014 election, it’s equally important to remember the mistakes from the past and be proactive on the issues that will motivate voters to go to the polls.

The Democrats are out of favor with the public, but their drop hasn’t correlated to an equal hike in support for Republicans. Only some of the fall in Democrats’ favorability has landed in the Republican column; the rest supports neither. Those people either will vote for whichever candidate reached them last or simply not vote.

Republicans have to reach out to them and win their vote, not simply hope they vote against the party of Obamacare and the awful economy.

To repurpose an old adage: “The person who opposes my opponent is not my supporter.” Politics has been described as war by other means. But, unlike war, politics leaves an easy out that allows all of us to be our own Switzerland – not voting. In a year with an unpopular Democrat president and so many Democrat senators in red states up for re-election, not voting constitutes a vote for the incumbent.

To address this issue and offer some free advice to all potential candidates running for the House or Senate, might I suggest the following: You will be asked questions about issues over which you, should you win, can do nothing; ignore them.

You will be asked about gay marriage. You will be asked about abortion and contraception and rape and any number of other issues elected officials can opine on but actually do nothing about. DON’T ANSWER THEM.

You can oppose abortion and gay marriage all you want, but you aren’t going to change the laws on them. A court ruling you can do nothing about controls abortion. As for gay marriage, the battles have moved beyond the court of opinion to real courts and state legislatures. This may be frustrating, but wishing it wasn’t so won’t change anything.

Rape and contraception aren’t federal issues, so there’s no answer to give. Rape is evil, and states should prosecute those who do it to the fullest extent of the law. Period. And if you oppose contraception, don’t use it. But you aren’t running for Pope; you’re running for Congress. As such, your personal views on the issue are as relevant as what you had for dinner last week is.

So what should a candidate, or anyone for that matter, say when these issues are brought up in debates, discussions or by the media? Answer the question you want to answer, not the one asked.

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.