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The GOP’s Problems Aren’t Just About “Messaging”

Elephants Fighting

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.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. swbarnes2 says:

    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.

    You pick an interesting time to make that argument. The best “conservative” (and I am defining that word empirically, looking at what self-labeled “conservatives” say they believe) ad that could be made in favor of gay marriage has a few ambiguous years-old clips, used without getting permission first, and look, one of the clipees doesn’t want her words applied to the cause.

    And honestly, I’m not sure what you think Republicans should do. There already is a party that is friendly to gay marriage, and doesn’t think immigrants are scum. But you don’t vote for them, so where’s the upside in Republicans changing those policies?

    How is a party composed of people who hate the idea of citizens being “in love with the government” going to justify giving more government recognition and benefits to more citizens? Would you really vote for a politician who was so “in love with government” that they supported policies like that?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  2. Tsar Nicholas says:

    On the Internet elephants often are passed by without being noticed:

    13.2% – unemployment rate for blacks, Nov. 2012 (93-7, Obama)
    10.0% – unemployment rate for Hispanics, Nov. 2012 (71-28, Obama)
    6.8% – unemployment rate for whites, Nov. 2012 (59-39, Romney)

    That aside, unquestionably it’s far more than just “messaging” problems with which the GOP is saddled.

    - The country no longer has a real media. We’re saddled with a propaganda arm of the left side of the Democrat Party.

    - We don’t have a real education system. The public has been dumbed down nearly to a state of de facto catatonia.

    - The GOP has a colossal demographics problem in connection with its primary selectorate. The likes of Angle, O’Donnell, Akin, etc., did not happen merely by accident.

    - Quickly the country has devolved into Europe West with worse crime rates. High unemployment. Slow growth. Flat to negative real wage growth. High poverty rates. Food Stamp nation. That helps Democrats. When Joe Low Information Voter wants a handout from the gumbmint he sure as hell won’t be inclined to vote Republican. That Joe simply is consigning himself to more poverty with that approach is lost not only upon Joe but upon the chattering classes too.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 43

  3. Gustopher says:

    With the policies that the Republicans hold, such as turning Medicare into a voucher program, they really better hope they don’t get better messaging, because that sh.t is toxic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1

  4. C. Clavin says:

    Can someone else check me on this…is that the most delusional comment Tsar has ever posted?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 38 Thumb down 2

  5. Moosebreath says:

    @C. Clavin:

    “is that the most delusional comment Tsar has ever posted”

    How can you tell? Don’t all of his posts have the same points in them?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 20 Thumb down 1

  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    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.

    That’s funny…. I thought their messaging was pretty accurate….

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    13.2% – unemployment rate for blacks, Nov. 2012 (93-7, Obama)
    10.0% – unemployment rate for Hispanics, Nov. 2012 (71-28, Obama)
    6.8% – unemployment rate for whites, Nov. 2012 (59-39, Romney)

    What Tsar is never able to figure out is that “Joe Low Information Voter” is smarter than Tsar. He knows those #s are as bad as they are because the GOP deliberately set out to sabotage the recovery in order to make Obama a one term President. Unlike Tsar, they were listening to the GOP.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 29 Thumb down 1

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Can someone else check me on this…is that the most delusional comment Tsar has ever posted?

    He is definitely off his meds again.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  8. michael reynolds says:

    Yes. People agree with us. Because we aren’t clever or imaginative or entirely honest, but at least we aren’t hateful, delusional nut sacks like the Republicans. And isn’t that just how a superpower should decide policy? Rule by the dull but sane?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 20 Thumb down 1

  9. bk says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: Oh, stfu already, ok?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

  10. Scott says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: The Republicans are never going to get anywhere where the main message (like yours) is that everybody is stupid, lazy, and worthless and why won’t they just listen to us (or me).

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 20 Thumb down 1

  11. Foster Boondoggle says:

    Luckily for the GOP, they have captured the statehouses, gerrymandered the congressional districts and are lined up to disenfranchise their urban voters in the “purple” states. They don’t have to fix their messaging or their substantive problems. They’ll succeed by rigging the vote.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  12. Lynda says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    On the Internet elephants often are passed by without being noticed:
    13.2% – unemployment rate for blacks, Nov. 2012 (93-7, Obama)
    10.0% – unemployment rate for Hispanics, Nov. 2012 (71-28, Obama)
    6.8% – unemployment rate for whites, Nov. 2012 (59-39, Romney)

    You missed an “elephant”
    <6% – unemployment rate for Asian Americans Nov 2012 (73-26, Obama)

    http://www.deptofnumbers.com/unemployment/demographics/
    Of course your implication is that it was the unemployed who voted for Obama for “free stuff” so you just excluded a data set that doesn’t fit in with your conclusion. It was the same with the “unskewed” polls.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 22 Thumb down 1

  13. andrew says:

    ” reduce the deficit with a combination of tax increases and spending cuts (the Democratic position),”

    Hahaha! What? That’s not their position.

    This whole post is a joke. Do Republicans have problems? Sure. But a Left wing push poll isn’t going to give you any insight.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 22

  14. C. Clavin says:

    @ andrew…
    OK…I’ll bite…how is that not the Democrats position?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  15. David M says:

    @andrew:

    Please try and read a little before commenting. It’s well known that the Democrats prefer to avoid the sequester with a mix of spending cuts and revenue increases.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  16. David says:

    @C. Clavin: Because Fox News or Rush says so. We could point out that Obama has offered up cuts, some of which had the left a little bit worried, but those would be facts, and using facts is a time honored smear tactic by the left.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  17. Septimius says:

    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).

    I realize that the average Democrat’s memory is only slightly better than a house fly, but come on. Obama just got his tax increase. $600 billion! Seven weeks ago! It passed with significant Republican support. That was the deal to avoid sequestration on Jan 1st. Obama got his tax increase and the can was kicked for two months so that a deal could be worked to cut spending. Where are the spending cuts?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 10

  18. bandit says:

    @David M:

    Democrats prefer to avoid the sequester with a mix of fake nonexistent spending cuts and revenue increases.

    FTFY

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 15

  19. David M says:

    @bandit and @Septimius:

    We’ve Actually Already Cut a Bunch of Spending
    As it is well known that there have been some significant spending cuts these last two years, will you two to acknowledge this obvious fact?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 20 Thumb down 0

  20. wr says:

    @Septimius: Obama got A tax increase, not “his” tax increase.

    It’s not an ice cream cone, it’s a tool for governance. And if more tax increases are necessary, then whining that Obama already got one is hardly an intelligent argument.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 1

  21. C. Clavin says:

    @ Bandit…
    As part of the 2011 Budget Control Act we cut over $1T in discretionary spending…together with another $700B in discretionary savings through annual appropriations bills…and the interest savings on that…and spending has been cut by $2T.
    If your opinion is based on total bullshit…then your opinion is total bullshit.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 0

  22. @David M:

    “will you two to acknowledge this obvious fact?”

    Short answer….no.

    And don’t ask about where to cut spending, cuz that’s another black hole of nothingness. (You can bet it won’t be on border security or drug enforcement!)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  23. Sejanus says:
  24. David M says:

    Back to the original topic, the following issues brought up:

    Taxes and the deficit: The GOP could easily negotiate reasonable compromises and then declare victory here, but it won’t happen.

    Minimum wage: If the GOP wanted to do something positive here they could propose indexing the minimum wage to inflation and then moving on to more difficult issues.

    Gun control: Again, if the GOP would accept some minor reforms, they probably could gain some separation from the NRA without endangering the second amendment.

    Climate change: There are conservative solutions, but the GOP doesn’t even appear to want to acknowledge the problem exists.

    Immigration: I actually don’t think there’s any electoral danger here for the GOP if they pass a bill, as it won’t drive voters to the Democrats. However, I also don’t think the party is smart enough to do something constructive.

    It boils down to an unwillingness to govern responsibly and realistically, and that’s not what the GOP does.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  25. swbarnes2 says:

    @David M:

    Minimum wage: If the GOP wanted to do something positive here they could propose indexing the minimum wage to inflation and then moving on to more difficult issues.

    I don’t understand the premise of this argument. Republicans hate minimum wage. Remember, Bush said it was the American dream to work 3 jobs to keep your head above water. They don’t think that increasing minimum wage is “positive”. So why would they pass such a policy?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  26. David M says:

    @swbarnes2:

    It’s a political loser for them and will get raised again. Index it to inflation and then they don’t have to deal with it anymore.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  27. Tod Kelly says:

    @swbarnes2: “And honestly, I’m not sure what you think Republicans should do. There already is a party that is friendly to gay marriage, and doesn’t think immigrants are scum. But you don’t vote for them, so where’s the upside in Republicans changing those policies?”

    What should you do? Find other issues to campaign on, I should think.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  28. An Interested Party says:

    The really sad thing about the GOP in particular, but also sad for the country, is that there are probably plenty of Republicans who actually believe the same kind of delusional horse$hit that Tsar Nicholas peddles around here…and it’s really lovely to watch him slowly morph into superdestroyer…as if one wasn’t more than enough…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  29. swbarnes2 says:

    @Tod Kelly:

    What should you do? Find other issues to campaign on, I should think.

    The “you ” in that sentence was Doug, and the answer there is “he should vote for Democrats, because they are sane, and not viciously cruel”.

    Republicans have no issues to campaign on other than attacking the hell out of anyone who isn’t straight, white, prosperous and male. The base loves the social issues, the base loves being told that only them and theirs are legitimate Americans, and legitimate people. Perhaps an extremely disciplined party could have shunned the hell out of anyone trying to make political hay like that, but that time is long past. Republicans can’t keep a lid on the disgusting stuff, because their base loves it, and if traditional Republicans won’t deliver, the Tea Party sure will.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  30. andrew e. says:

    The adjunct to the question of ‘Messaging’ is the fact that those who believe in only a messaging problem within the GOP also tend to be the people that have the least problem with how Rush/Beck/Coulter/Hannity et al. make the party look. It’s not that Republicans, at least in my opinion, are wrong on everything or don’t have useful things to add to the conversation. It’s that the faces of the party, the one’s most people with turn to the find out what the GOP is thinking, are nasty, bitter and completely over-the-top. Again, like it or not, THESE PEOPLE ARE THE FACE OF YOUR PARTY.

    And responding specifically to Tsar’s predictable whine about how the Media is a “propaganda arm of the left side of the Democrat Party”- here’s a couple facts: the Wall Street Journal is the highest circulation newspaper in the country. Fox rules cable news. Radio, which over a third of the country get at least some of their news, is dominated by a ridiculous amount of Conservatives. The internet, where the majority of the country get some or all of their news, is a buffet of whatever you want. You guys are amply represented but just can’t help constantly feeding your own Persecution Complex. It’s pathetic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  31. Kylopod says:

    @Gustopher:

    With the policies that the Republicans hold, such as turning Medicare into a voucher program, they really better hope they don’t get better messaging, because that sh.t is toxic.

    Agreed. I think it also needs to be pointed out that the problem with GOP policies isn’t simply their lack of popularity. After all, the left has staked out some unpopular (though I would argue correct) positions, most notably on civil liberties (which the Democrats in power have largely abandoned). What makes the GOP positions on Medicare, taxes, and so forth a different matter is the extent to which Republicans misrepresent what they’re about. Republicans treat it as gospel that their economic policies will lower the deficit, balance the budget, AND work toward the interests of the middle class, despite the lack of evidence for any of those propositions. In 2011 and 2012, the Republicans tried to voucherize Medicare, while denying they were doing anything of the sort, and then they accused Democrats of slashing Medicare. You can’t work on identifying policies that may be hurting your party if you aren’t even honest about what those policies are.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  32. superdestroyer says:

    Of course it is about more than messaging. Look at how stupid the leadership of the Republican Party is being on immigration. The currently proposed comprehensive immigration reform bill is a horrible deal for the average Republican voter and is a bad deal for those independent most likely to vote for Republicans. Immigration reform leads to higher taxes, poorer public schools, more crime, higher costs of living, more sprawl, and higher insurance bills. It also lower the career prospects for many Americans.

    Yet, the Republican push on with amnesty, immigration reform, and open borders. No one believes the government is seriously about long term border security, employer verification, and interior security. Everyone knows that as soon any reform passes that improve border security will end and that employer will not be held accountable.

    If the Republicans want to improve that have to decide whether they are interested in appeal to middle class Americans or doing the bidding of people like Sheldon Aldeson. And that has nothing to do with messaging.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  33. grumpy realist says:

    I wonder how many of those Republicans stating that the only problem is “messaging” happen to run PR/media or lobbying companies? Remarkably efficient at sucking money from the RNC into their own pockets, hmm?

    Methinks that grifters gotta grift and “it’s only a messaging problem!” is a very convenient argument for them to raise….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0