Last weekend at the Defending the American Dream Summit, I had the opportunity to talk behind-the-scenes with some Republican staffers. During our back-and-forth exchanges, here are some of the things I told them that I thought their bosses should understand:
1) It's going to take time to re-establish trust: During the Bush years a lot of conservatives simply lost confidence that Republicans in D.C. were on our side. Sure, you can point to plenty of things that Republicans did that conservatives agree with, but they also sold us down the river on some issues near-and-dear to a lot of hearts on the Right.
That's why so many conservatives are still very tough on Republicans in Congress: we don't trust them. Someone like Jim DeMint or Tom Coburn? Conservatives may cut them some slack when they do something we disagree with because we know their hearts are in the right place. The same can't be said for the Senate leadership -- yet. Regaining the base's trust is tough, but it can be done with enough time and consistent effort.
The GOP's performance in Congress has improved immeasurably since Obama came into office, but conservatives need to believe it's real. What we don't want is more talk about "conservative principles" from people who are going to kick us under the bus five minutes after they get back into power.
2) Stop running from conservatives: One of the biggest differences between the Democrats and the GOP is that the Dems have worked to legitimize their base. They may not be willing to go down with the ship, but they don't push their effective activists into oncoming traffic unless they feel like there's no other choice. Additionally, Democrats give more access, help, and information to their new media allies in a month than the Republicans have done in our lifetimes.
On the other hand, with Republicans, at every given moment you feel as if you're an out-of-context quote away from being disowned by the entire Republican establishment. Newsflash: unless it's a really extreme case, no Republican politician should be on TV denouncing conservative talk radio hosts or bloggers. It's fine to let people know where you stand, but you don't have to push your own guys off on an ice floe to do it.