The GOP’s Problems Aren’t Just About “Messaging”
Ever since the 2012 elections ended, Republicans have been engaging in an internal debate about what went wrong in an election year that seemed so promising for them, and how it is that the party has lost the popular vote in five out of the last six Presidential elections. Inevitably, the debate has broken down into a variety of camps that largely correspond to the divisions inside the party itself. On one side, you’ll find the group of people who argue that the party’s problems can be traced at least in part to it’s policy positions on issues ranging from social issues to immigration and that the party needs to change it’s message on these issues or risk losing an entire generation of voters. You can see that argument, at least in part, in the arguments of people like Senator Marco Rubio on issues such as immigration, and in the increased willingness of many on the right to speak out in favor of same-sex marriage in wake of the success the issue had in the 2012 elections. On the other side of the argument, though, are those Republicans who argue that the party doesn’t really need to change its policy ideas at all. To this group, the GOP’s problems aren’t the fault of the policies it advocates, but what has come to be called “messaging,” meaning the manner in which the party communicates its ideas. Added into this argument are observations about the extent to which the GOP has fallen behind in campaign organization and digital outreach. For this group, the solution to the GOP’s problems can be found in imitating the tactics of the Obama campaign, while ignoring any concerns about the policies the party is advocating.
It’s easy to see why the “messaging” theory is so appealing to Republicans. After all, it tells them that they don’t need to worry about the ideas that their party is putting forward. Simply concentrate on running a better campaign, get better at communicating your ideas, and your problems will be solved. Unfortunately, for the GOP, though, the “messaging” theory ignores the fact that it is in fact the party’s positions on the issues of the day that are holding it back. The latest example of that can be shown in a new Pew Research/USA Today poll that shows that the public disagrees with the GOP on pretty much all of the hot button issues currently before Congress:
Taxes and the deficit: 76 percent say the we should reduce the deficit with a combination of tax increases and spending cuts (the Democratic position), while only 19 percent say tax increases should be off the table completely (the Republican position). While a majority of those who want a combination of the two want it to be weighted towards spending cuts, that’s also the position held by many Democratic leaders (to the chagrin of the left).
Minimum wage: The public favors raising it to $9.00 per hour by 71-26. Even 50 percent of Republicans favor raising it.
Gun control: Americans favor passing major new gun legislation in the next few years by 67-29. Americans favor expanded background checks by 83-15, favor an assault weapons ban by 56-41, and favor banning high capacity magazine clips by 53-44.
Climate change: 54 percent say the most important priority for our energy supply should be developing alternative energy sources, while only 34 percent say it should be expanding exploration and production of oil, coal and natural gas. Americans favor setting stricter emission limits on power plants by 62-28.
Immigration: Here the picture is more mixed, but not by much. Forty seven percent say that border security and a path to citizenship should be given equal priority, while only 25 percent favor prioritizing only enforcement, and 25 percent favor prioritizing only a path to citizenship. But it needs to be restated that the combination of enforcement and a path to citizenship is the Democratic position. With the exception of a few Senators, most GOP lawmakers favor either enforcement only or a combination of enforcement and a murkily defined second-class status.
On every one of these major issues with the exception of the isolated assault and magazine ban policies, the GOP position is favored by roughly a third or fewer Americans. Now, in fairness to Republicans, in some cases (the economy, the deficit) Obama’s approval is lagging. But on the issues themselves, public preferences are overwhelmingly clear.
I don’t care who you are, you can’t simply blame a situation like this on “messaging.” The Republican Party is in trouble for many reasons, including the fact that they have become so ideologically rigid as to become obstructionist on even the most basic of issues, the fact that what used to be the fringe elements of the party are not the ones driving the agenda, and the fact that the party ascribes to positions on a wide range of issues that are quite simply out of step with the American public. Barack Obama didn’t win re-election last year merely because his campaign was better organized and had a better digital campaign strategy, he won because he beat the Republicans on the issues and that happened to a large degree because of what the GOP had done over the previous two years, and indeed the fact that it still has not fully realized the lessons of the Bush Era. Messaging and campaign organization are important, but even the best messaging operation in the world isn’t going to make up for the fact that you have a party that is falling out of touch with the American people. Until Republicans learn that lesson, they are going to keep repeating the mistakes of 2012.