John Feehery: Speaking Engagements

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Forward?

Posted on November 12, 2012


In retrospect, Forward was a brilliant campaign motto.

Forward for the President implied backward for his opponent.

And, unfortunately for the Republicans, they fell into the archetype all too easily.

The Romney campaign started with the premise that the election was to be referendum on President Obama’s stewardship of the national economy.  The election turned out to be referendum on Mitt Romney’s opposition to President Obama.

Forward was just a clever ruse. Backward was the real campaign theme.

Mr. Romney opposed how the President handled the auto bailout, and that opposition became one of the critical campaign talking points for Team Obama, not the bailout itself, which had its fair share of critics at the time and turned out to be quite a boon for Big Labor and for the Italians.

Mr. Romney’s opposition to Obamacare became the campaign theme in the Presidential election, not Obamacare itself.  Romney’s tortured explanation as to why Obama’s health care law was in actuality worse than Romneycare, despite all of the similarities, was what the pundits were talking about, not the President’s very unpopular law.

The Obama campaign went on offense on taxes, but not necessarily how you would think.  They made Mitt Romney’s reform plan the issue, not the President’s desperate plea for higher taxes on the rich.   Remember how the Obama campaign accused Romney of wanting to raise taxes on the middle class.  It was pure malarkey, but it stuck.

In other words, while the President talked about going forward, their campaign was more about how Romney was going backward.

Republicans should learn the lesson here.

Being merely an oppositional party works well in midterm elections, especially if you are in the minority.  It was the reason the Republicans were able to do so well in the Tea Party Congressional election of 2010.

But being purely oppositional in a Presidential year is awfully dangerous.  If you don’t have your own reform agenda, the voters will find you less interesting, less engaging, less hopeful, less optimistic, and ultimately less credible.

Republicans have to start laying the groundwork for a reform agenda in 2016.  They probably have to acknowledge that 2014 won’t necessarily be the best time to unveil this new agenda, as midterm elections are awfully difficult places to get the voters to engage in new ideas.

But reform trumps opposition.  Reform charts a new direction.  Reform, by its very nature, is infused with optimism that change is possible.

Maybe all of that Super Pac money can now spent designing this new agenda.   It has to be a better use of money than all of those stupid campaign ads.