Note to GOP: There Are Two Communications Problems

Carol Platt Liebau

10/18/2013 10:44:00 AM - Carol Platt Liebau

Everybody knows the old saw: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, but expecting a different result.

It's true. And it's why some serious strategizing, thought and dialogue has to take place within the Republican Party over the next few months. Otherwise, we'll find ourselves right back where we are today after the next round of budget/shut down negotiations.

First and foremost, there are two communication problems afflicting Republicans.

(1) Within the party.

Increasingly, the Republican establishment is vocally expressing contempt for the Tea Party -- also known a highly principled, strong and most active wing of the party. Such contempt is political suicide; let the Tea Party grow sufficiently frustrated that it breaks into a separate party, and the GOP immediately becomes obsolete.

On the other hand, Tea Partiers have to stop conflating confrontation with principle. It isn't "principled," for example, to denounce once's fellow party members as the "surrender caucus." That kind of name-calling isn't a "principle" -- it's a tactic, and a dumb one at that. No successful leader alienates people whose support he needs for his principles to prevail. Having a strategic disagreement (e.g., do we shut down the government?) doesn't necessarily mean that policy goals (e.g., defunding ObamaCare) are at odds.

Bottom line: People can disagree about strategy and tactics (and even policy, sometimes!) without being evil. But as every Republican knows -- having been, in effect, called "evil" by the President -- it's hard for any leader to win someone's support after that person's character has been assassinated. We've got a lot more in common with each other, all wings, than we do with Democrats. Let's not forget it.

Maybe Reince Priebus should just rent a room and lock McCain/Graham & Co. and Cruz/Lee & Co. in it and let them fight it out. I don't care what they do in there, as long as they come out willing to listen to each other in private and speak respectfully about each other in public. Keep the disagreements behind closed doors, like the Democrats do.

Ultimately, the GOP is a little like a family . . . and there's nothing worse than someone who badmouths his own family -- whether it's the crochety old grandpa or the cocky, upstart young nephew. Why should the American people like, respect or trust any of us if we clearly don't like, respect or trust each other?

(2) Outside the party.

Here's just a fact: Republicans start out with a disadvantage because members of the media will not do our work for us -- as they do for Democrats. It may not be fair, but it is true.

As a result, we need to assume that, when it comes to the Tea Party in particular or Republicans in general, all Americans who are not already affiliated with us are essentially "low information" voters swayed by the media . . . kinda like this professor (who deserves credit at least for announcing his findings). We need to explain what we're doing, and why. Repeatedly. And in positive, accessible terms.

What's more, we need to stop sounding angry -- even if we are (and rightly so). Anger doesn't attract anyone who doesn't already agree with us; it frightens them. Frightened people will not give us a hearing, and they won't vote to empower the people who scare them. They will vote for people (like Ronald Reagan) that they like and trust -- but those tend to be the people whose rhetoric defies the media-generated stereotypes (like "compassionate conservative" George W. Bush circa 2000 or sunny, funny, genial Reagan), rather than confirming them.

Conservatives rightly condemn liberals for failing to take a peek outside their own lefty world-views. But too often, we do the same thing. Not everybody agrees that Obama is wrong about everything, or that government is too big and powerful. We have to reach these people, os that they can be convinced. But it's hard to convince people if they don't like us first.

That doesn't mean selling out or giving in. It means talking to people with a decent degree of sensitivity, without a tone of outraged indignation, grab-the-pitchforks fury, or a presumption of moral superiority.

Right now, even many of the activist Republicans (with whose views I often agree) remind me of someone who thinks that, if he can simply pound harder and louder on a locked door, it will open. Isn't it smarter use a little common sense to find the key, and then just unlock the door?

We may need to fight; we must be principled. But let's also be smart about it. A "surrender caucus" surrenders to whomever is winning. Those who are winning are those who are convincing the American people. If conservatives can do that, the "surrenderers" will be surrendering to us.