Three Makes a Trend
Posted on June 8, 2008
This appeared originally in The Hill's Pundits blog a month ago.
First, it was the Hastert seat. Then Richard Baker’s seat. And now, Roger Wicker.
Four years ago, the House GOP would have easily won special elections in these three districts. But it is not four years ago.
It is amazing how quickly things can change. Four years ago, things seemed to be OK. But that is not the case today.
Most Americans think this country is going in the wrong direction. Many Americans are scared about their own financial futures. Most Americans are worried about their mortgages, about rising gas prices, about rising food prices. Many Americans are worried about the decline in the value of the dollar.
Many Americans blame free trade for their woes, thanks to the foolish demagoguery of Lou Dobbs and Big Labor. Many Americans hate illegal immigration, although this nation couldn’t survive without it. They are worried about losing their healthcare, if they have healthcare. And because many Americans eat poorly and are overweight, they have a myriad of health problems. America is less healthy now than it has been for a generation.
Many Americans don’t actually pay that much in federal taxes, so running a campaign about high taxes doesn’t mean much to them. Basing a campaign on the “Bush tax cuts” like Woody Jenkins did in the Baker in Louisiana seat is an especially stupid way to talk about taxes.
Most Americans are more concerned about the crime in their backyards than they are the about the war on terror. They are much more concerned about their children being kidnapped (which happens at lower than the historical average) than they are about the problems of the Middle East.
Most people (statistically speaking) suffer from Bush fatigue. They have tuned the president out. They ignore any good news (unless it is the marriage of his daughter, which was kept private by the White House) coming from the administration. The good news for the president is that the ratings of the Congress are even lower, by about a touchdown and a field goal, than his. But Bush has the lowest sustained ratings of any president in history. Personally, I like the guy, but the facts are the facts.
The Republican congressional brand hasn’t recovered from the Foley debacle. The latest scandal surrounding Rep. Vito Fossella (N.Y.) only reinforces the image of Republicans as a bunch of hypocrites who talk about family values but then fail to live up to them. Everybody knows the Democrats are a bunch of moral pygmies (think Bill Clinton), so they get a break when they flout the rules. Republicans have set themselves up to a standard that clearly many of them can’t meet.
Republicans won in 1994 because the American people wanted to send a message to Bill Clinton. They also won because they promised to change Washington. Today, in the minds of most voters, they have become Washington.
Today, the American people want some honest politicians (an oxymoron?) who will fight for them. They want help with rising gas prices, rising food prices, falling home prices. They want help fighting crime in their neighborhoods. They want to feel more secure in their jobs. They want better schools for their kids.
Mostly, they want to feel to better about the future. I know the experts say that negative campaigning works. But I actually think people want some real answers to their problems, real solutions to the things that ail this country.
Running a traditional campaign with the traditional 30-second commercial, with the predictably negative message, isn’t sufficient. It may drive up the negatives of the other guy, but it won’t get our guys over the finish line. At least, it hasn’t in three solidly Republican districts.
I think that if the Republicans want to improve their brand, they should do three things. First, they should listen to the American people. Really listen to them. The GOP leaders should go on a tour of America and find out what people really care about.
Second, they should promise to be honest with the voters. Really honest. They should own up to their mistakes in the past, and they should then take a solemn oath to avoid demagoguery in all of its forms.
Finally, they should pledge to do all that they can to put America back on the right track. They should promise to do this even if it hurts them politically. They should pledge to work with Democrats to do what is in the best interests of the country.
The spin era is over. Now is the time for some honest answers to the tough questions that face America today.