As many have already discussed, Karl Rove has launched an organization, the Conservative Victory Group, that purports to work on behalf of conservative candidates to shore up our numbers in Congress and bring our party into the 21st century.
Like many others, I viewed this as the political equivalent of declaring war on the grassroots.
The New York Times’ Jeff Zeleny set off the fireworks with his opening paragraph introducing the world to Rove’s group, writing that it will work “to recruit seasoned candidates and protect Senate incumbents from challenges by far-right conservatives and Tea Party enthusiasts who Republican leaders worry could complicate the party’s efforts to win control of the Senate.”
He then quoted American Crossroads’ President, Steven J. Law, as saying that we are losing candidates because the “wrong candidates were selected.” An astoundingly astute observation supported by the fact that we lost. One can only assume that Law is referring to Mitt Romney as well.
The name that is tossed around most as an example of the “wrong candidates” is Missouri Senatorial candidate, Todd Akin. I won’t rehash his entire unfortunate rape comment incident, I’ll only say that having a candidate who seems incapable of giving a coherent answer to a question designed to trap them is a great sign that they aren’t up for the job.
Rove’s organization claims that they intend to prevent candidates with such careless lips in the future. Refocus the party and weed out the “problem” candidates.
However, for an organization that wants to chaperone the commoners through the primary process to make sure they don’t screw it up, the people behind it, American Crossroads, may wish to look at their own track record.
Tommy Thompson, Jesse Kelly, Heather Wilson, Jane Corwin, and of course Mitt Romney received support from the group and suffered defeats across the board.
And they weren’t much better at defeating their opposition. Out of their ten most funded efforts to defeat Democrats, American Crossroads managed to defeat only one: Rep. Shelley Berkley of Nevada.
So if for every Akin there is a Thompson and for every Rubio there is an O’Donnell, what should that tell Rove and his buddies? Well, here comes the advice part.
Ever since the rise of the small but influential “I am the 53%” meme started online, my perspective on how to win elections has changed.
Perhaps people could have claimed that such a seemingly “inside the political bubble” meme would have no effect on the general election. At least they could have had our candidate not used the exact numbers when infamously caught on camera indicating that he wasn’t shooting for the vote of the “47%.” It did play a role. It was bad.
We, as the low-tax & personal responsibility party cannot waltz into a low income housing area, look around, shake our heads and say “Hey, when are you guys going to stop being idiots and voting for people that think you’re stupid — also, you don’t pay enough taxes.”
Whether or not we view that as what happened, the people we’re talking to certainly did.
In the same vein, we cannot waltz into a border town and say “Hey, you know your high school football star? Yeah, his parents came here illegally 17 years ago when he was one. Sucks to be him but dammit, THEY TOOK OUR JOBS!! Deportin’ time!” There just might be a better way to engage that conversation.
Now before my twitter timeline fills up with people screaming “AMNESTY!!” take a breath and grab a glass of regulated water. No one, certainly not me, is asking for anyone to change their principles, beliefs, or policy positions. But maybe we should consider offering our principles, beliefs, and policy positions, in a way that doesn’t make people want to set us on fire.
As the headline says, “It’s the messaging, stupid. It’s the stupid messaging.”
And this is what American Crossroads, and now the Conservative Victory Project, doesn’t seem to get. Sure, there were some candidates that weren’t ideal and were pushed in by the grassroots. Clearly the same can be said of the self-appointed arbiters of the “seasoned” candidates. But dumb, ill-prepared and gaffe-tastic candidates will always be a part of American politics. You don’t win by making a strategy that consists of preventing people you think are too dumb en masse from picking a candidate. You win by effectively selling your ideas.
Of course, it’s not only messaging. There’s the issue of policy perscritpions that run counter to our alleged shared beliefs. As Michelle Malkin pointed out, Rove played a major role in “disastrous Medicare prescription drug entitlement expansion that created an unfunded liability of $9.4 trillion over the next 75 years, No Child Left Behind federal education expansion, steel tariffs, ag subsidies, the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.” Following Rove’s tenure he was still an outside supporter of other policies such as TARP and the Auto Bailouts. So in no way am I saying there aren’t substantial policy discussions to be had.
But without appropriate messaging, fixing those platform issues won’t solve a thing. You have to do more than be right. You have to convince people you are right.
Overall, if you believe fiscal conservatism is right and is best for everyone and we still aren’t winning, then I believe there are only two possibilities: People are too dumb to get it or we’re too dumb to say it in a way that is comprehensible. Since I believe we’re right and that people aren’t inherently stupid, I must opt for the latter.
Somehow we’re failing to convince people that keeping more of their paycheck and affording them less government interference in their lives is a good thing. “Don’t blame the messenger” just doesn’t apply here. The messenger is without a doubt the problem.
For Rove’s part, there are a lot of people telling me to give him and his partners the benefit of the doubt. That this isn’t them declaring war on the grassroots but is simply a group of conservatives trying to figure out the best way to effect change.
If that’s true, then my advice is only compounded. Is their group so horrible at messaging that they couldn’t even roll out this announcement without enraging their base?
The truth is, I’d rather not spend the next 2 years fighting people that are supposed to be on our side. I’d rather spend that time crafting messages that espouse our believes in a way that doesn’t make people grab buckets of tar and bags of feathers.
We should be seeking candidates together, not tearing each other apart. With a skeptical eye, I look forward to seeing how Rove’s group intends on working with the rest of us to win for conservatism. I wish I were more optimistic.