Pollster Frank Luntz for the past decade issued warnings to his fellow Republicans that they did not want to hear, but never has been so out of touch with them as he is today. "The Republican message machine is a skeleton of its former self," Luntz told me. "These people have no idea how the American people react to them."
Luntz sees a disconnect between Republicans and voters that projects a grim future for the party. That contradicts what House and Senate Republicans are saying to each other in closed party conferences. While Luntz views 2006 election defeats as ominous portents, the party's congressional leaders see only transitory setbacks and now dwell on bashing Democrats.
Like Cassandra of ancient Troy, Luntz's prophecies of impending disaster have been both accurate and disregarded. Republicans never have been that comfortable hearing critics in closed conferences. He is not invited to such meetings today. "They do not want to hear the truth," Luntz told me. While truth-telling is celebrated by Republican reformers who include presidential front-runner John McCain, it is a decidedly minority view in the GOP.
Luntz's truth is summarized in a 10-page "addendum," inspired by the 2006 election fiasco, to his new book, "Words that Work" (about political use of language). He delayed publication and lost Christmas sales in order to deliver a wakeup call to his party.
"The Republican Party that lost those historic elections was a tired, cranky shell of the articulate reformist, forward-thinking movement that was swept into office in 1994 on a wave of positive change," Luntz wrote. He went on to say that the Republicans of 2006 "were an ethical morass, more interested in protecting their jobs than protecting the people they served. The 1994 Republicans came to 'revolutionize' Washington. Washington won."
Except for momentary defection to independent candidate Ross Perot in 1992, Luntz has been a Republican operative who has counseled Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani and Trent Lott. But he often has worked for the media, making comments too harsh for the ears of reclusive Republicans. He has clashed frequently with Rep. John Boehner, the current Republican leader of the House who stifled ethics legislation last year when he was still majority leader.