How to Win the White House in 2016
Republicans and conservatives need to start selling a product the customer wants to buy.
Editor's Note: Below are excerpts of a report produced by Americas Majority Foundation by Tom Donelson and JD Johannes. The report is being turned into a book.
When Hillary Clinton recently declared that businesses don’t create jobs, it was considered a gaffe, but what if it was instead a declaration of Democratic economic policy? The biggest problem with Republicans, conservative and the consulting class, is that we don’t always think like our opponents, and when they make what we think are simply stupid statements, we fail to recognize that those statements are not meant for us but for their supporters.
Hillary Clinton was expressing the Democratic ideal that government creates wealth, and the private sector needs to be directed on where to place their investment. In the journal, Democracy: Journal of Ideas, a seminar featured, “Middle Out Middle,” discusses how the left views the economy today. One participant noted,
“Middle-out economics argues that national prosperity does not trickle down from wealthy business people or corporations; rather, it flows in a virtuous cycle that starts with a thriving middle class. Middle-out economics demands a systemic policy focus on the skills, capacities, and income of the middle class.”
Investment and capital formation are not mentioned, but for Elizabeth Warren, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, give money to the middle class and magically wealth is created. The question of where we get the money before giving it to the middle class is never discussed. As one participant declared,
“Demand from the middle class- not tax cuts for the wealthy- is what drives a virtuous cycle and job growth and prosperity… Rich businesspeople are not the primary job creators; the more middle class can buy, the more jobs we’ll create…Middle-out economics means investing in the health, education, infrastructure, and purchasing power of the Middle Class.”
This is the intellectual effort to justify Keynesian economics on steroids, but as we have discovered, American voters are rejecting big government and even the left realizes it. Global Strategy Group, a leftist polling group, noted,
“A focus on economic fairness is better than a focus on income inequality, but a focus on growth appeals to even more voters…. More than three-quarters of voters (78%) believe promoting an agenda of economic growth that benefits all Americans should be a very important priority for Congress, and a majority (53%) believes such an agenda is extremely important. No other statement of economic priorities for the country registers as high.”
The left may want to promote bigger government and inequalities but they understand that Americans want the fair opportunity to succeed which a growing economy can provide. So they hide their intention, even though occasionally they allow their true feelings to come through.
Understanding the tactics of the left is important, yet every election conservatives and Republicans seem surprised at the campaign tactics used against them. A simple reading of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals will educate any Republican candidate or consultant on what awaits them. If you want to know why Democrats demonize Republicans, conservatives, and Tea Party candidates every election, it is because those are the proven tactics mentioned in Rules for Radicals. Barack Obama was taught by Alinsky’s protégés as a community organizer and Hillary Clinton met Alinsky and invited him to Wellesley College as a speaker when she was a student there. Alinsky’s tactics influenced groups just as ACORN and many Democratic operatives have long adopted his tactics, even if they don’t know the origin or even read his book. Ironically, Alinsky rejected not only the new left and their tactics, but also identity politics in interviews prior to his death in 1972. For Alinksy, it was the Haves vs. Have Nots.
Too often politicians and their consultants view voters as blocs, or market segments. For Democrats, this makes sense since they view voters as part of broad demographic groups. However, Republicans and conservatives succeed when they view voters not as blocs with specific issues, but address major macro concerns.
The public sees the big trend. Government debt has gone up while their opportunities to succeed are shrinking, and their real income keeps dropping. In the current economic climate, debt is something customers see as an inherently bad thing. A recent poll by GFK Custom Research for Credit.com found that the new American Dream is being debt free. The customer is averse to increased debt in any form.
There is a prevailing economic agreement, but neither party is offering a product that matches what the public really wants to buy. Neither party is offering a solution to the customer’s real problem. Many people view politicians, especially Republicans, as a problem simply because they are not selling a solution to the voters’ actual concerns. They have failed to market how their ideas can produce what many voters want to buy: A Fair Opportunity to Succeed!
To begin the process of winning back blue states, Republicans should start by simply pointing out what the customer already knows, increased government spending and debt hurts the economy. A stronger economy creates a fair opportunity to succeed.
The debates over the debt ceiling and pension obligations provide an opportunity for conservatives to be on the side of the customer, solving the customer’s problem. However, the political class and the media frames the debate over the deficits, pension obligations or the debt ceiling as solving a government problem, not the customer’s [voter’s] problem.
Republicans and conservatives need to start selling a product the customer wants to buy. They need to articulate a common message theme about stopping out-of-control government debt. Reducing government deficits is the way to fix the economy, create jobs and provide the working and middle class with a fair opportunity to succeed. Sadly, elements of both parties seem to want to continue the cycle of ever expanding government indebtedness.
View it in this way, telecommunications is a market segment. Consumers don’t buy telecommunications, they buy a specific solution; they buy an iPhone or an Android phone. Improving the economy is an issue segment, a market segment. Consumers really want to buy a specific result, a specific product, i.e., the Opportunity to Succeed.
Republicans and conservatives have the opportunity to rebuild a new conservative majority and unite activist libertarians, social conservatives, pro-life advocates, gun rights advocates and fiscal, small government conservatives with a broad swath of the general public under the prevailing economic agreement.
A solid majority of Americans understand that Keynesian economics has failed and government debt and spending are bad for the economy. It goes even further because the increased debt fuels the expansion of the Bureaucratic State. The IRS being used to silence political opposition, NSA spying scandals and the attack on gun rights are connected to an ever expanding government. Many other issues like life, marriage and 2nd Amendment, though seen as less important by most customers, should not be ignored, but framed in the context of the growing power and scope of the state.
For example, many people do not know what the 2nd Amendment really is, but they do think people should have the right to protect their home, family and business from criminals. The argument should be phrased to explain the actual benefit they receive, not the overarching principle. For example Republicans need to portray Democrats as wanting to use the power of government to stop you from buying a gun to protect your family, home or business.
Social conservatives should be concerned about the ever growing State encroaching on religious freedom by interfering with the religious sacrament of marriage and forcing religious institutions to violate their beliefs on the sanctity of life. For each individual activist issue group, from those concerned about gun rights to groups focused on privacy rights, and others generally aligned with conservatives, stopping the out-of-control government spending and debt is a solution to their unique problem. It is also the policy that non-activists customers agree will solve their problem.
Republican candidates who articulate a message of creating A Fair Opportunity to Succeed by stopping the out-of-control government debt and spending that hurts the economy will be selling a product the customer actually wants to buy.