One of the things I've been hearing the last couple of days is that Republicans need a new message- or to refine our messaging. Part of this comes from this post from DrewM at the Ace of Spades HQ, the other from an anecdotal comment from friend-of-the-blog tsrblke on twitter. Drew points out that 81% to 18%, the electorate believed that Obama "cares more about people like me" than Mitt Romney. On a related note, tsrblke points out that many believe that Republicans see everyone on welfare as "takers."
Now, both of these are silly. They're even stupid. They're also both absolutely correct. What Republicans believe doesn't matter. What people believe that Republicans believe is what matters. Mitt Romney is a very caring man. The stories of his being a caring man are poignant and hardly rare- except that he wouldn't talk about them. As for all those on welfare being "takers?" Well, that comes down to the "47%" comment.
So what do we do? If we change our principles, then we're not the same Republican party. We could do that, but we'd have to recognize we're giving up on things that have been core conservative values for generations. If we won't change the product, though, maybe we have to change the packaging.
But how do we do that? We can't just offer people free stuff, nor should we. It's weak and cowardly to do so, which makes it all the more vexing that Democrats get away with it cycle after cycle.
I have a couple of ideas, here.
First off, about the "makers versus takers," we need to radically shift our language there. Mark Davis (formerly of WBAP in Dallas/Fort Worth, now on 660 KSKY ("The Answer")) has recommended using the term "Economic Liberty." We're not for "Tax cuts for the rich" we're for increased economic liberty. We're not for a national sales tax, or a flat tax, we're against the economic repression of a too-bulky, hard-to-understand progressive tax system. We don't want to "privatize Social Security" we want to expand Seniors' economic liberty by giving them additional choices to fund their retirement.
Second, on the "he cares about me," stuff, there are two steps. The first, and most simple, is simply to say that, over and over. Not flippantly, dismissively, or in exasperation. "Of course we care" is not the correct answer. "Republicans care deeply about the plight of young urban youths. That's why we want plans that will empower them to reach their goals and achieve their dreams." "Martin Luther King, Jr., a Republican, believed in a world where your abilities, not your skin color, determined your success. Republicans still believe in that dream." Yes, it's touchy-feely, mealy-mouthed crap. It's also absolutely necessary.
For those of you who are married- what do you think would happen to your marriage if you never, ever told your spouse, "I love you?" Or, when you did, it was "Well of course I love you, I can't believe you'd ask that question! Would I work 50 hour weeks to keep a roof over your head if I didn't love you?" That wouldn't do much for your marital bliss, would it?
Well, the voters we need to reach are the same way. They have to hear "we care," over and over and over.
The second step is more difficult. We have to actively change our image from one of "big ideas" to one of "personal ideas." Republicans typically reject this approach. "We don't worry about [group], because we know that our policies are good for everybody." Well, we need to be seen as worrying about [group] more often. We need to be seen as thinking for X many minutes every day, "I wonder what I can do to help young blacks," or, "We've got to do better helping rape victims," or, "What can we do to make sure women are successful?"
Ultimately, this question constantly trips up Republicans in debates, "I'm a member of [insert group here], what are you going to do for me?" Republicans respond with the quite factually correct answer that getting government out of the way is good for everybody. Then the Democrat says, "See, I see people in exactly your situation every day. What I propose to do is have group X fund a plan to give you more free stuff."
Republicans can't win against "free stuff" but we don't really have to. We just have to be more competitive. So, when the question of (for instance) student loans comes up, a good answer might be something along these lines:
"You know, I talk to college kids who are either just graduating, or looking at graduation pretty quickly all the time. And their number one concern, as soon-to-be or recent graduates is 'how do I pay for these loans.' Well, let me tell you what I'm going to do about that. First off, I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure your loans stay as affordable as possible. The last thing you need is for your interest rate suddenly to go up. The next thing I'm going to do is everything in my power to make sure you can get a job that will let you then pay back those loans as quickly as possible.
Then, for people who are further away from graduation, or aren't even in college yet, I'm going to do one more thing: I'm going to use what power I'll have to encourage colleges to offer a streamlined degree program that can be completed in 3 years of full-time work. Right now, a lot of the cost of your education is taking credits that don't actually have anything to do with your major. Now, that's really good from the standpoint of a well-rounded education, but when you're trying to get a degree so you can get a good job, you don't need those extra hours which cost you so much."
Now, here's the thing: realize how many weasel words you've left in. "Everything in my power." "What power I'll have" "Encourage." "As quickly as possible." Just as importantly, realize that I can achieve all of those goals through conservative means, with the possible exception of the low interest rate (see also: weasel words). A good job? Lowering regulations, cutting the minimum wage, and all kinds of conservative ideas will make business boom- leading to more jobs. Encouraging colleges can be done, not by increasing their grants and subsidies, but by threatening to cut them.
Messaging is important. It doesn't matter how good your product is if no one will buy it. We've got to figure our our messaging and get it fixed- fast.