What can conservatives learn from this election?

CM and Cheesestick challenged me to come up with some answers as to how to make our message more appealing to women and minorities.  If I knew the complete answer to that question I’d be President myself.  I don’t.  But I’ll be happy to throw out some ideas.

First, we must get over this notion that anyone who disagrees with us is ignorant and immoral.  Certainly, many on the left (especially in the leadership) are both of those things.  But there are millions upon millions of highly moral people who simply disagree with us.  Many of these people are open to being made less ignorant and persuaded to our cause.

Second, we must pay attention to the message and how we present it.  Obama’s ads were dishonest, but sharp and persuasive.  Romney’s ads were unfocused and ineffective.

For example, here in central Florida, with its many retirees, Obama ran weeks of ads saying that Romney would turn Medicare into a voucher program, basically telling seniors that their own Medicare was in peril.  Bookworm posted a reasonably effective (though too short) commercial featuring our own Senator Rubio.  So far as I saw, it never ran here.  Instead, Obama’s ad went unanswered for weeks.  Finally, in the last few days of the campaign, Romney ran ads clarifying that his plan would not change Medicare for anyone over 55 and would give a choice to anyone under 55, and even that ad didn’t say what the choice was.   That ad was far too little and far too late.

Wouldn’t it have been more effective and persuasive if Romney in the debates and in his ads had made a point of challenging Obama directly?  Wouldn’t you have just loved to see Romney ask directly, “Mr. Obama, why are you lying about my plan for Medicare?  You know it will not change Medicare for anyone over 55.  Why are you trying to frighten our senior citizens?  You know the current Medicare system is unsupportable.  Let’s have an honest discussion about how to fix it.  Here’s my plan.  What is yours?”

Another example:  it is absolutely meaningless to say, as Romney did in one widely-run ad here in Florida, that if Obama is elected the debt will grow to $20 trillion dollars.  Honestly, most people don’t have a clue what such a number means.  It means little to have a woman say, as one said in another widely-run ad, “Mr. Obama, how are our children going to pay back this debt?” as practically a throw-away line in the middle of a commercial that tried to cover five topics in 30 seconds.

How about an ad that pictures a baby in a nursery?  The ad voice over and graphics are something like this:  “When Megan was born, in 2008, she was deeply in debt.  She was born owing [X] dollars as her share of the national debt. “  Then show a picture of a 4-year-old at play.  “Now, in 2012, thanks to Obama’s trillion dollar deficits she owes [Y] dollars.”  Picture an 8-year-old, perhaps with a serious, sad, look.  “In 2016, if Obama is re-elected, she will owe [Z] dollars. Isn’t it time we stopped heaping debt on Megan?  Isn’t it time we paid our own way?”  Then Romney:  “I will fight for Megan and for all our children.   This problem wasn’t created overnight and it won’t be solved overnight.  But my plan [and, for goodness sake, have a plan!] will put an end to a government that overspends and passes the bill on to our children.  I’m Mitt Romney and I ask for your vote and your help.”

Would such an ad have made the difference in Florida and elsewhere?  Who knows?  But as I write this Obama leads by about 50,000 votes out of 8 million counted.  And it would surely have been more effective than the ads Romney actually ran.

Every ad should have one and only one message.  Every ad should be long enough to deliver that message.  Every ad should put a face on the problem and offer a solution.  Obama understood this.  For example, he ran a series of ads here in which the topic was reproductive freedom and the “face” was Romney himself.  The ad showed Romney time after time saying that he wanted to overturn Roe v. Wade and end funding to Planned Parenthood.  The message was clear:  Are you (women who want to preserve your right to choose) going to believe Romney’s commercials or the words out of his own mouth?  Romney responded with an ad that equivocated, saying that he favored leaving abortion legal in cases of rape, and immediately changed the subject to the deficit and a claim that Obama had no plan for the next four years.   What incompetent wrote these things?

This ad needed a direct response by Romney himself, stating whatever he actually believed.  I don’t know what that would look like, but here’s one possibility:  “I believe that women should have access to birth control.  I also believe abortion should be legal in cases of rape and medical emergency.  However, I do not believe that abortion should be used as a form of birth control.  I do not believe that the government should be able to force those who oppose abortion on religious grounds to pay for abortions.  I do not believe that a government that is $16 trillion in debt should pay Planned Parenthood to counsel young girls to have abortions.  Finally, I believe the federal government should not decide this issue that so deeply divides our country.  I believe the federal mandate set out in Roe v. Wade should be overturned, and the decisions in this area returned to the states.”  [I’m uncertain how to effectively end such an ad.  Any ideas?]

Such an ad might or might not have helped Romney get votes.  But it would address the issue honestly and forthrightly and certainly would defuse the impression left by the Obama ads.

Third, we must find ways to stand firm in our principles while being flexible in our positions.  For example, it would not violate our principles to support a path to citizenship for all immigrants who seek it.  America is a land of immigrants and it is, if anything, against conservative principles to close the borders to those who seek a better life here.  I believe that we could be more successful among Hispanic voters, and completely consistent with our principles, if we put forward a plan that (a) allowed a short path to citizenship for all who sought it, but (b) cut off benefits to all those who did not seek citizenship.  Immigrants who are now here illegally would be given the opportunity to choose which course they desired.  I believe a plan can be put together that would, at a minimum, not turn off Hispanic voters but still be true to conservative values.  If that much is accomplished, Hispanics will become Republicans in large numbers because they largely share conservative values, especially regarding family and religion.

I’m not sure how much progress can be made with blacks, but many Asian-Americans and Jewish Americans certainly share conservative values.  Even many, if not most, blacks share many conservative values.  But the Republican party has practically written off minorities and liberal women.  Conservatives should never concede a single voting block to the opposition.  Yet, I did not see a single ad in this entire campaign directed specifically toward minority voters.  [Well, that’s not entirely true; I saw Internet links to such an ad, but I don’t recall ever seeing it on local television here in central Florida.]  Why not have ads featuring, say, a Mexican immigrant who came here illegally but now is proud to be a hard-working, successful, conservative, Republican citizen?  How about a black man who started life in the inner city, joined the military, got an education and is now proud to be a hard-working, successful, conservative, Republican small businessman?  Such people do exist.  Featuring them in ads would show the minority communities that Republicans have not written then off and, indeed, offer them a clear path to success and alternative to being forever dependent on government handouts.

In short, we have an appealing message that, if packaged honestly and properly, has at least a fair chance of success.  But, we are guaranteed to fail if we fail to engage the other side, if we write off voters as ignorant and immoral, if we wring our hands and moan that we just can’t understand how people could believe and vote as they do, if we blame the media or the pollsters and just give up.

Be firm in our principles.  Articulate those principles clearly and directly.  Talk less and listen more, in order to understand what matters to the voters.  Then find ways to tailor our messages to the voter’s concerns, compromising positions where necessary, while never compromising principles.

Anyway, I’ve tried to answer your question as best I am able.  I hope this will at least start a constructive conversation.  I’m quite certain that if the intelligent readers in the Bookwormroom put their efforts into finding positive solutions, they will develop creative and valuable ideas that will make a real difference.  What are your ideas?

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  • Cheesestick

    I haven’t read this whole post yet, but I think first of all, the republican party must never again allow someone to run that lost in previous primaries.  They should be banned.  2nd, the early primaries must be moved from states that go democrat in the general election anyway. Still thinking…. 

  • michal

    everyone moves to Texas. Texas declares independence.
    Just kidding. I think.

  • http://photoncourier.blogspot.com David Foster

    I’m big on market segmentation. Every group has something at stake where the Republicans have a better story than the Dems, but it is different from group to group, and will be lost in the noise with a pure mass-marketing approach.

    For example, if you live in the inner city and have kids and an income below, say, $50K, then the odds are 90% that your kids go of will go to a public school that sucks. True whether you’re black, white, hispanic, or whatever. Targeted message: Dems are under the thumb of the education “blob,” and will never give your kids a chance for a good education.

    There are hundreds of segments that should be targeted with hard-hitting messages on specific points.

    Much can be done with a more segmented marketing approach…still, the problem remains that the popular culture has worked very hard to make Democrats “cooler” than Republicans. And the sad reality is that there are a lot of people who live their lives to appear cool in the eyes of some collective superego, as well as in the eyes of people they actually know

  • http://neomodernism.net Huan

    ideas of the benefits of smaller government and less regulation need to be sold better. better in terms of clarity. better in terms of timing; now rather than in 3-4 years. better in terms of the target audience; blacks and hispanics.
    also sell the value of self reliance.

    don’t pitch for a candidate, sell the ideas.

  • merighen

    Begin working on 2016 now.  There will be plenty to analyze from this election.

    1.  Push back on the media at the corporate level.  Surprise them.  Send real letters on paper via snail mail.  

    First objective:  CBS and 60 Minutes for their editorial decisions of what portions of the POTUS post-Benghazi interview to air immediately and for not releasing the “out-takes” until a few days before the election.

    Second objective:  CNN for Candy Crowley’s performance as moderator at the second O/R debate.  Focus on the issue that she decided in advance, and announced publicly that she was not going to follow the terms of the debate negotiated by the candidates and the Commission.  She then went on to not only do what she said she would do, but also became the third rail.  Let CNN know that you hold the corporation who employs her responsible; but for her job she would not have been there

    Third objective:  call out the quasi journalists on both sides who use ad hominen attacks.  You know who they are.  They all pride themselves on how smart they are.  If they’re so darn smart, stick to the policy issues, and use their brains to explain them in more constructive ways.

    And so on… surprise them that they’re not the smartest people in the country.

    2.  Become demographic experts.  Then accept that reality.

    3.  Make a sincere effort to engage in respectful discourse with people with whom you disagree. Seek to: listen and understand as well as inform.

    4.  Monitor what is happening on nearby college and university campuses.  Attend public lectures.  Write about it.

    5. Discourage your party from promoting one issue candidates and litmus tests.  Pay more attention to party platforms at all levels; platforms should evolve on emphasis.  Don’t abandon all values, but emphasize those most relevant to resolving the most pressing problems of the day.  

    6.  Embrace Niebuhr’s serenity prayer.  There are various versions; I like Niebuhr’s early version:  Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.


  • Cheesestick

    I don’t understand how better sales pitches will work on people who do not understand economics.  In fact, I think that message is completely lost on the other side because of that.  This whole election, both sides tried to push the jobs message, which is ridiculous.  Everyone knows the govt. doesn’t produce jobs.  They don’t understand how policies affect jobs.  They completely discount the affect taxing the job makers has on jobs.  They think all things will remain the same, the only thing that will change is “the people” share in the profits of the job makers.  They think price controls will keep prices low but that all products & services will still be freely available to them.  They spend $30 to $150 or more plus tips to the hairdresser, but think doctors should only cost $5 – $20 per visit; prescription medicine should cost less than even over the counter Advil or a 6-pack of beer.  And they believe that the govt. can force these prices, but don’t consider that the burden being placed on either the doctors or the nameless individuals who will actually be footing the bill for the rest of the cost of these services the customer is unwilling to pay for amounts to slavery.  I don’t see how slick ad’s will overcome this level of ignorance.  (And yes, I’m guilty of still thinking this afflicts the majority of them.)

  • jj

    You answered the question succinctly in your fifth paragraph: challenge your opponent.  McCain wouldn’t do it, neither would Romney.  After the “foreign policy” “debate,” I wrote that if Romney loses, he lost it right there.  I stand by that. 
    How do you better compete for the presidency?  You start by recognizing that you do in fact have to compete for it, and you take what your opponent is jackass enough to give you.  When your opponent makes you the present of a Benghazi, or an open mic comment to some Russian thug, or a refusal to meet with Netanyahu: you ram it  right back up his ass.  Right there, in front of everybody.  You don’t decline to talk about it because you’re “above all that,” or you’re engaged in “looking presidential,” or any other self-deluded bullshit.  You recognize an opening when it’s there and you damn well drive a truck through it.
    On the home-front, what was the single issue that galvanized the country, led to the formation of the Tea Party, and resulted in an electoral wipe-out in 2010?  Why… ummmmm… lessee…. ah… Obamacare?  Why, YES!  You frabjous genius, yes indeedy.  Here your opponent gave you an issue that a majority of the country hated then, and still does according to the polling.  A program that was passed with not a single – not one! – vote from any republican anywhere, house or senate.  A hugely divisive issue, and one that most people HATE!  So, what do you do with this gift from your opponent, Mitt?  Why, the answer’s obvious” isn’t it?  You don’t bring it up!  Hardly ever!  The issue led to an electoral wipe-out two years ago – not last century –  and you barely brought it up.  Instead of hammering it every single day, like someone with live brain cells would have, instead of taking a firm hold of this gift from God and ramming it home – nothing.  Here’s the winning issue: why wasn’t it being shouted from the rooftops?  Daily?  Why wasn’t it tied to him – every day – like a tin can tied to a car bumper at a wedding?
    The answer to the question’s actually pretty simple, DQ.  We should try to run candidates who’d like to win – how’s that for a novel concept?  The GOP organization itself; George HW Bush; Dole; McCain, and now Romney – they’re all “above all that.”  They all don’t like to get their fingernails dirty.  They all had zero fight when it counted.  They’re all gentlemanly – or whatever the hell was wrong with them that they refused to show up and take part.  (I don’t really care, I just never want to see their like again.)  We need to stop showing up – to quote Obama – with a knife to a gun fight.  We need to get people who recognize it’s a fight and don’t come unarmed. 
    There’s no big change needed here, except in attitude.  Obama’s going to finish up with maybe 3.5 million more votes than Romney will, even with Romney’s campaign being mostly a no-show.  That’s not a lot out of a total of around 100 million-plus.  Even being useless and barely showing up he didn’t get wiped out.  (He deserved to – but he didn’t.)  So the fundamentals are okay, or at least in need of no more than tweaking.
    And the GOP goes.  We are suffering through the worst economy in my lifetime, and frankly (especially if “it’s the economy, stupid”) beating Obama should have been easy.  This is a horrid presidency, and if the GOP couldn’t defeat it, then it’s time for the GOP to be closed down, and we start again.  There’s no longer an excuse for their existence.

  • BrianE

    I think Donald Sensing over at “Sense of Events” has it about right.
    “For the next four years, no one will care what Boehner has to say about any issue.
    Why? This morning an 85-year-old World War II veteran told me the most succinct analysis of the election that I have heard: “The people voted for Santa Claus, not Scrooge.”
    Forget the split of the votes cast: What the data really show is that a super-majority of the American people either do not care (non-voters) or want the government’s free stuff to continue. Overall voter turnout was significantly less this year than in 2008, with tens of millions of eligible voters not voting, meaning that Romney’s loss (Obama’s vote plus non-voters) was absolutely crushing.” And reinforcing DQ’s analysis: “There is no way the Republican Party can reinvent itself to overcome this deficit. Facts are facts: The Republicans presently can count on exactly one voting bloc:

    White men”

    Not a pretty picture. And he makes the point that trying to pander by being Democrat lite won’t work, when it’s just as easy to vote for the real thing– more free stuff.
    The Obamites succeeded in creating the impression that there is an easy solution– we just need to tax the rich. No amount of facts will change that belief.  

  • lee

    reagan lost in the 1976 primaries, cheesestick.

  • Cheesestick

    Okay, I hate to reveal my age but I was only 6 years old in 1976 so I’m not sure what happened then w/ Reagan; so not sure how it applies to what I said.  (In my defense though, I will tell you that I DID vote for Ford in our 1st grade mock election.  He lost to Carter though, even among my classmates.)

  • JohnC

    That’s the same thing Rush said today.
    Half of the people in America think like children, Obama and other Dems get elected by being Santa Claus, and both expect the productive people to be the elves that produce all the toys!

  • http://OgBlog.net Earl

    My idea is that the GOP hires DQ and JJ to run the ad campaign in 2016.
    G-dd—nit….I want our candidate to FIGHT!!  This is America, for pete’s sake!!  Get in there and SCUFFLE!
    If you’re in a brawl, and your opponent leaves you an opening, knock him silly!!
    Sheesh, what a bunch of nancies!

  • Spartacus

    “First, we must get over this notion that anyone who disagrees with us is ignorant and immoral.  Certainly, many on the left (especially in the leadership) are both of those things.  But there are millions upon millions of highly moral people who simply disagree with us.  Many of these people are open to being made less ignorant and persuaded to our cause.”
    As a very generalized starting baseline for handling disagreements as we go through life, DQ, this is a very kind, generous, and intelligent approach.  But in the case of this specific election, I simply cannot agree.  While it is certainly true that not everyone who voted (D) is ignorant AND immoral, I struggle to think of anyone who is not ignorant OR immoral OR profoundly irrational.  How does an informed, moral, and rational person say, “Well, I don’t think it’s fair that American drug dealers should be so well-armed while their Mexican counterparts go without,” or “You know, rule of law is really overrated,” or “I *totally* think Keynes would have approved of perpetual structural deficits in the trillions”?  I’m just not getting that connection; it’s not even close.
    My belief is that truth-seekers will ultimately find their way through the fog, no matter how thick; conversely, those who prefer to wrap themselves in a nice, warm fiction and go back to sleep cannot be dissuaded.  But if you feel that all that is needed is a little more persuasion, then this is a marvelous opportunity for you to prove that you are correct.  As informed and articulate as you are, if several 30-second TV spots in the blizzard of election-year disinformation could make a conservative out of a porridge-head, how much more then could that porridge-head be brought into the light by being contacted directly by you?  If you can find a number of people who voted (D) last night and make solid converts of them, please let us know, and we will rejoice in the hope that the micro might possibly be scaled to the macro for the salvation of us all.  In my experience, however, I spent about eight years on this approach with precious little to show for it.
    I hope you’re right, but for my part, I will be more focused on learning how to supply my own water, food, and electricity off the grid, and not wasting much more of my time at all on persuasion.  Been there, done that, got lots and lots of campaign T-shirts.


    The effects of long-term drug use (entitlements) are never limited to the addict and can have substantial and devastating effects on the user’s families (country). These include eventually dissolving the family (electorate), emotional and financial injury to family members (all of us).
    Progressives will not be opening a chain of Betty Ford Clinics to address the problem. Common sense is not covered under Obamacare.

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  • USMaleSF

    Whites continue to be the most foolish people on the planet.

    Even though we still constitute 72% of those who vote and 2/3 of our country, if we voted in a racial or ethnic block —like every other racial and ethnic group— we would still control it. 
    If, instead of 59% of the White vote going to Romney, 80%+ had gone to him, matching the Democrat blockvoting habits of Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Jews, gays, etc. we might have some reprieve from our national dissolution.

    These people are bonded to the Democrat Multicultural Nanny State. No “conservative” arguments will move them. You might as well try selling monarchy to Texans.
    First Thoughts: Obama’s demographic edge 

    But the way that we have allowed The Game to be set up, we are the only group in American utterly forbidden from even thinking about our own interests or power. 

    Any assertion of White self-interest is instantaneously classed as racist and banned from the room. And by Whites first and most of all.

    Liberalism –of the leftist or conservative variety– is indeed the ideology of Western suicide.

  • http://OgBlog.net Earl

    Seriously, USMaleSF?
    I suspect that you’ll find “racial solidarity” voting rejected here……good try, though.
    Consider that if the same people who voted for McCain in 2008 had come out and voted for Romney yesterday, we’d be celebrating VP Paul Ryan today. 
    We don’t have to get into any sort of race thing to explain what happened.

  • Danny Lemieux

    I would have to agree with Spartacus, DQ. This isn’t about messaging. You can’t argue with someone on the basis of “reason” when all of their reason tells them that they will get free “stuff” by voting Democrat. This is not a debate about ideas but a one-way conversation about peoples’ underlying motives.

    I don’t think anything is going to change until people learn the hard way that there is no more free stuff. As the Greeks are finding out, that is a very painful process. They will wail and gnash their teeth, but eventually reality reasserts itself. Only then will people be open to change…real change. Let it happen.

  • http://neomodernism.net Huan

    a good sales pitch is both educative and entertaining. the target audience do not need to understand economic to be influenced to believe your product is better.
    In retrospect I think we should all foreseen an Obama reelection. In 2008 Obama got elected not based on the Democratic platform, Obama got elected as a person. There was a cult of personality around Obama. Though diminished some, that cult of personality remains in 2012. Thus it did not matter that Obama lied about Benghazi or Romney. Thus it did not matter that the economy remains as bad today as it was when he took office. Thus it did not matter that he broke so many promises. To his followers he was their guy, and their vote was his. Loyal fans route for their team even in losing season.
    The Democrats should not assume the turn out in 2008 and 2012 will be duplicated in 2016. It wasn’t about the Democratic turnout, it was the Obama turnout.

  • http://OgBlog.net Earl

    Huan:  Glad to have your voice in the BookwormRoom…stick around and contribute to the conversation.
    Especially if you have other insights like this one.  Once I read what you wrote, it seemed obvious – but I hadn’t thought of it on my own.
    Good work.
    2016 is going to be fascinating!

  • http://ravana.wordpress.com Ravana
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