One critical political metric on which Democrats often vastly outperform Republicans pertains to the question of caring about people. This so-called 'empathy gap' is a major explanatory factor behind Barack Obama's re-election victory over Mitt Romney, and it's one of several reasons why Hillary Clinton is a risky bet for Democrats in 2016, beyond the email scandal and ethical struggles. Maybe the GOP is finally starting to learn and adapt. At Saturday's Republican debate, several candidates gave outstanding answers related to policy matters that were very personal in nature, and even emotionally moving. Connecting with voters requires making policy points while appealing to people's hearts. Here are four examples of Republicans achieving this balance in front of millions of viewers:
(1) Ted Cruz on drug addiction. Cruz, who is sometimes criticized for being too slick and calculating, opened up on a very personal level in his discussion of the impact of drug addiction on his family. He spoke about the tragic case of his half-sister, who died of an overdose, and tied her story into his signature issue of border control. I can tell you that you could hear a pin drop in the debate's media filing center as Cruz relayed this heartbreaking story:
(2) Rubio on his brother's struggles with the VA. The Republican field as a whole offered a much more substantive and forward-looking discussion of the VA's failures than the Democrats did on Thursday night. While Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders defended a failed status quo, lobbing disingenuous grenades at Republicans and attacking the Koch brothers (!) in their responses, Republicans talked about the importance of solving problems and guaranteeing veterans strong options for care. Marco Rubio personalized the issue by raising an example about his brother, who has battled the VA for decades over simple dental care arising from an accident suffered while he was serving with the US Army's special forces:
In spite of all the talk about Rubio's repetition debacle during the Christie confrontation, Rubio citation of his brother's situation was by far the most Googled event of the debate, from any candidate. Cruz's story about his sister came in second:
The Washington Post writes that after Google released search trends in New Hampshire alone, "Rubio dominated during the second half of the debate, where he performed much better. The media (like me) makes a lot out of fights like the one he had with Christie. But voters maybe are paying less attention to it." Team Marco undoubtedly hopes that's the case. But look at that chart again. For all the buzzy media moments on Saturday night, the two events after which the most Americans opened up their browsers to seek more information about a candidate occurred when Rubio and Cruz spoke about their siblings, tying those anecdotes to serious national problems.
(3) Chris Christie on raising his daughters. In the context of a question about women registering for the draft (on which Bush, Rubio and Christie seemed to be in agreement, prompting a strong Cruz dissent after the debate), the New Jersey governor described the values he and his wife have instilled in their two daughters:
(4) Donald Trump on the perils of negotiating with terrorists. In one of his best answers of the night, Donald Trump handled a difficult question about the appropriateness of ISIS hostage relatives raising ransom money for in an effort to save their loved ones with deftness, compassion, and conviction. He cited his personal relationship with the family of beheading victim James Foley, praising them to the hilt, before stating the principled case for why negotiating with terrorists is a dangerous idea (the key piece starts at the 1:45 mark):
Voter behavior, often to conservatives' consternation, is frequently dictated by how candidates make people feel, not hard statistics or empirical data. The political sweet spot for Republicans is to convey their ideas and policy cases on the latter front after or while they arrest people's attention and demonstrate their own humanity on the former. These clips show how it can be done.