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?