A Republican Strategist's Approach to a Democratic Victory in 2010

"You will die, Sir, of either madness or venereal disease".
"That, Sir, depends upon whether I embrace your opinions or your mistress"
(Parliamentary Debate between Disraeli and Gladstone)

Based strictly upon policy preferences, Republicans should not win many elections. They oppose popular programs such as Social Security and Medicare that service the vast middle class (where the votes are), and Medicaid, S-CHIP, and food-stamps that provide aid to the poor (where more votes should be, if they voted!) that is at least a safety-net for the increasingly anxious middle class. Their protestations about limited government to the contrary, Republicans invade the most private areas of peoples' lives such as religion and control of one's own body such as end-of-life decisions (Terry Schiavo), sex and reproductive rights.

Republicans protect Wall Street to the detriment of Main Street. Their primary policy objective, to the exclusion of all other priorities (e.g., veterans benefits, budget deficits, economic growth, education to secure our future, adequately provisioned or numbers of troops, repair and modernization of roads, bridges, rail, electric grid), is to keep taxes low, and lower them more, for the wealthiest Americans.

Whether this includes the top 10%, the top1% or the top 0.5%, it still represents only a small fraction of the electorate.

And yet, they win. They have, and repeat incessantly, a narrative of America that--surprise!--dresses up their primary policy objective in "American traditions" that are written as they wish they were. Democrats have no opposing narrative that they repeat. Each issue, each policy, stands on its own.

Unless, that is, Republican policies are so demonstrably disastrous--such as the Bush/Cheney Administration--that people give them the heave-ho. Note, it is "against" them, not "for" the Democrats. As extraordinary a person as is Barack Obama--the most extraordinary man to occupy the White House since Teddy Roosevelt--the Obama/Biden ticket was actually behind McCain/Palin until the collapse of the financial system seared the acute need for change into peoples' psyches. And, just to drive the message further, McCain had declared--in his book!--that he had no reason to be President other than it was his ambition, and said that Sarah Palin, "knows more about energy than anyone in the country". Yet, this team of nincompoops was competitive until the bottom fell out of the economy.

Bottom line: Democrats eke out electoral victories when they hold all the cards, whereas Republican win most despite a deck stacked against them.

One would think that such a situation might prompt Democrats not just to re-think, or even re-package, their policies, but to delve deeply into the basis for such a persistent anomaly.

One would be wrong.

So long as the "same-old/same-old" is called upon to do the post-mortems, no profound insights will emerge. So long as the methodology is itself not subject to scrutiny, and is actually used to analyze failure, no fundamental change will occur.

Democrats and Republicans approach political campaigns very differently. Democrats hire pollsters to ask people what they care most about--and then provide them 3-or 5-point plans they have passed, or will pass, to address those concerns. That's great for the 2% of human decisionmaking that neuropsychologists tell us are based purely on rational thought.

Republicans, on the other hand, determine what they need to move peoples' psyches to feel better about them than they do about their Democratic opponent. What passes for policies rarely adds up, most are bald-faced lies, some are irrelevant or utter nonsense, but they serve to make people feel good about them, or uneasy about their Democratic opponent, or both. That is, they address the 98% of human decisionmaking those same neuropsychologists tell us are based on emotional responses that the brain then quickly rationalizes.

98 to 2. Which side of those odds would you like to take?

Of course, bipartisan gerrymandering has left most districts with a strong predilection to like one side or the other. The question then is how large is the battlefield. From what I read, Democrats have swallowed the Republican line that they have to defend their turf, and that little opportunity exists to make gains in modestly Republican districts.

Pundificating has already begun. Democratic office seekers have already lined up their polling firms and their political strategists. TV programs will invite these same pollsters and strategists to pundificate on the predilections of the electorate, and thus--very much like Dick Cheney's quoting Judith Miller's New York Times articles that regurgitated disinformation about Iraq that Cheney had sent her--the cake for a substantial election loss is already being baked.

It will be a tragedy, regardless of whether the Democrats retain titular control of both Houses. Massive and (in many instances) unpatriotic resistance to President Obama will seem to have been vindicated. No judicial appointments, including likely vacancies on the Supreme Court, will be approved. No progress will be made on any of the major problems bequeathed by the disastrous Bush Administration. The country's future will be bleak.

It is even more tragic, because it could have been avoided. The best way to avoid it, of course, would have been to hire 4 million workers directly like Harry Hopkins did in the 1930s, break up the big banks, provide credit to small businesses, pass a public option to Healthcare Reform (to lower costs!) and so on, but in the absence of such clear legislative lines in the sand, here is what they could do.

1) Stop crafting political strategy based upon the pseudo-science of polling. For example, ask people how much they care that their Republican Member of Congress votes for his own healthcare and voted against theirs, and it will not even be a blip on the radar. Why? Because the rational brain--and that is what you are polling--very quickly rationalizes the hypocrisy: they have the power to do it, it has been done for 60 years, my guy is no worse than the others, it is typical Washington DC, it does not cost that much because it is only 535 Members, and so on.

On the other hand, start a little online buzz, run some YouTube ads, start sending it around town, employ some creative images--and voila(!), one has created some real doubt about whether this person is someone you can trust to take care of you. Note that in this example the healthcare achievement is still employed, but it is used in an entirely different fashion.

Note also that, unlike the Republican use of such tactics, no lying or exaggeration is involved--just repetition, that has the added virtue of conveying to people that one truly believes in healthcare reform, and so voters perceive a person of integrity.

Another example: poll (if you must) the electorate on their views about corporations being able to spend freely in elections, and a (gratifyingly) large majority oppose it. But, ask where it falls on their list of priorities, and it is somewhere down around putting Ronald Reagan's picture on the $50 bill.

Democratic and Republican strategists respond very differently to such information. Democrats will conclude that it is not much of an issue, and thus ignore it.

A Republican strategist, advising a Democrat in our theoretical universe, would conclude that there is a major opportunity here (huge opposition cutting across party lines and race and ethnic and rural/urban lines) if they can gin up the rhetoric and intensity about it. A group calling itself "Americans for Individual Power" would, magically, appear. It would ask every candidate to "Sign the Pledge" to vote for a specific, briefly worded, Constitutional Amendment to ban it within the first 14 days of a new Congress.

A Republican strategist would then advise his Democratic candidates to talk about it. Challenge their opponents about their corporate cash, start blending the issue about taking corporate money now, and claiming to vote for an Amendment to ban it (if they signed the Pledge), and attacking them if they refused to sign for selling out the people to the Corporations, and for violating the vision of the Founders.

All of this would convey to that 98% of our decisionmaking machinery what kind of person, what kind of American, the candidate is.

2. Use the Congressional majorities to force Republicans to alienate or embrace the Tea Party agenda.

Republican efforts to do anything to forge an identity have been utter failures. Anyone remember Eric Cantor, Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush on their "listening" tour?

All the intensity emanates from a tiny fringe of the Republican Party that William F. Buckley Jr essentially expelled in the 1960s--latter day Birchers who are now the Birthers, the death panel liars, those who want government to keep its hands off their medicare, and those fellow-travelers who have been frightened by them.

The goal is not to win the latter group's support. It is to force Republicans to choose between embracing or alienating them.

Right now, the Democrats have allowed the Republicans to straddle the enormous gulf between concerned centrists (concerned because the problems are huge and solutions do not occur instantly because a bill passes) and the Tea Partiers.

That is not very strategic. Their congressional majorities allow Democrats to control the agenda. Why not bring some core Tea Party ideas to a vote?

a) A sense of the House and Senate resolution that the 1964 Civil Rights Act was Constitutional under the Commerce Clause. Kentucky already ran for the hills on the Rand Paul statement. Let's see what Senators like Sessions, Cornyn and DeMint have to say, and Members of Congress like Michelle Bachmann.

b) Bring the Ryan budget to a vote. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has a budget proposal that balances the budget in 10 years, restores the Bush taxcuts, and cuts spending. That's what they are going to run on, but they will lie and fudge the details. In the Ryan budget, Medicare becomes a voucher system, and the value of the vouchers declines with time, so that they are rapidly insufficient to purchase healthcare insurance, especially for the elderly. Indeed, the year they are slated to begin, 2021, they are less than currently-budgeted medicare expenditures. And, just for good measure, Social Security is also privatized, although that actually costs money.

So, yes, let us bring the Ryan budget to a vote. If the Democrats do not, Republicans will run on it without admitting what it really does, and get "credit" for reducing spending and deficits without it costing anyone anything. If Democrats believe people will sort through the lies, they have never heard of death panels. Moreover, this is the perfect storm: either a yes or a no vote by a Republican will be political suicide. And, a no vote will make their born-again deficit-hawkishness a very hard sell.

c) Write a succinct Constitutional Amendment to undo the egregious Citizens United Supreme Court decision and bring it to a vote. Let Republicans show how much they believe corporations should control the country.

d) The Tea Party wants to abolish the Federal Reserve, the Department of Education, the Department of Energy, and so forth. Bring each one of these proposals to a vote, and let us see how the Republicans line up.

Almost every day a new opportunity arises to force Republicans to make choices that will expose them either as in sync with the whackodoodles, and thus ripe for a withering barrage that will swing Independents to the Democrats, or will show they actually do not agree with their intense base, and thus see enthusiasm fizzle.

But the Democrats need to use their (current) control of the agenda to bring these matters to a vote. Otherwise, Republicans will profit from their unholy alliance between the Tea Baggers and their corporate paymasters--but, as before, be unable to govern as each part of that alliance demands thanks in the form of policy positions that are diametrically opposed.

Democratic Governors. A Republican strategist honestly advising Democrats running for Governor would have a field day against his increasingly whacky opponents.

The Healthcare Reform Act provides Democratic candidates with a nearly-perfect strategy. Propose a State-run public option, as is allowed in the Act. It would not cost the state anything, since people would have to pay premiums, and those who needed subsidies would get them, as they would for private insurance, under the Act.

Is this "big government"? Well, no, it is at the state level, there is no federal hand. Is it too expensive? Well, no, it is designed to run (both on the premium and payment sides) as any insurance plan but without the provision for profits.

What happens? Healthcare expenses go down, and the State becomes a better place for businesses to locate---i.e., jobs! If the Republican supported it, he would alienate his entire Party, and fundraising would dry up. When the Republican opposed it, he would be anti-job, pro-insurance industry...you get the picture. If he opposed it on "limited government grounds", no one is forced to participate, and it is not federal anyhow, it is the State. It is merely "there". What could be wrong with that?

Of course, the Democratic strategists who will actually run these campaigns would be horrified. Look, they will say, polls tell us that HCR is not very popular, although it is growing slightly. The last thing to do, they will say, is to remind people that their party is the one that passed it.

And that perspective is why the Democrats will likely lose in November.