"First you win the argument -- then you win the vote," is the now well-known quote from Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. President Ronald Reagan was the last Republican president who understood and used that strategy.
President Barack Obama and his team also understand the phrase and are using it to their advantage. They are making a full-court press in the public arena to lay out their argument against sequestration and for more taxes.
"In a few days," Obama said this week in Virginia, "Congress might allow a series of immediate, painful, arbitrary budget cuts to take place -- known in Washington as the sequester. ... What the sequester does is it uses a meat-cleaver approach to gut critical investments in things like education and national security and lifesaving medical research."
He laid out his argument: "These cuts are wrong. They're not smart. They're not fair. They're a self-inflicted wound that doesn't have to happen."
Regardless of whether you agree with Obama's points, his appeal is emotional and attempts to line up Congress against the American people. While his argument might not be technically true, it is a compelling construct and provides clear delineation between those whom he says he supports (the American people) and those whom he says he opposes (members of Congress who refuse to yield to his tax plans).
In contrast, the Republicans communicate with facts, figures and constructs that are not as emotionally compelling.
"The House has done its work," said Speaker Boehner this week. "It's time for the president and Senate Democrats to do their work. They've known for 16 months that this date was coming -- that's why the House acted twice last year -- and yet Senate Democrats and the president never passed anything. It's time for them to do their work."
"The president got his tax hikes in January," he continued. "The federal government will have more revenue this year than any year in our history. It's time (to) tackle spending. Period."
His argument pits the president and the Democratic Senate against the Republican House, instead of against the American people, whom they are ultimately hurting. While his numbers and facts are correct, they are not communicated in a way that is emotionally connecting and memorable.