Much has been written – including some very good stuff on this site by Erick, Ned Ryun and others – about the lessons we on the right need to be learning from the debacle that was the 2012 election.
Readers Digest this morning had a bit of news that makes me believe we’re missing one very important lesson. Erick and others are absolutely right that the problem is not, repeat NOT, with conservative policy positions. However, the bulk of the focus has been on adjusting the party’s outreach mechanisms, technical expertise, candidate selection, and other such infrastructure issues.
Meanwhile, we’re forgetting that 81% of voters felt that Obama “cares about people like me,” compared to 18% for Governor Romney. That statistic has, of course, been hashed and rehashed over the last several months. But here’s where Reader’s Digest comes in.
The article this morning lists the 100 most trusted people in America. It’s an insightful look into the mindset of low-information America . . . otherwise known as the President’s base.
Most of the list is populated with entertainers, sports personalities, and (tellingly) media figures, with a smattering of Nobel Prize winners and CEOs thrown in.
The vast majority of those on the list who are politically active are outspokenly liberal. You have to work your way down to number 13 to find a vocally conservative voice – that of Clint Eastwood, above whom are vocally left-leaning Tom Hanks (1), Meryl Streep (4), Maya Angelou (5) and Stephen Spielberg (6) as well as the center-left Bill and Melinda Gates (7 and 9, respectively).
The most trusted political figure is Michelle Obama (19).
The most trusted president is Jimmy Carter (24).
The most trusted journalist is Obama fan (and Ann Romney critic) Robin Roberts of GMA.
The most trusted member of any Republican administration is no longer a Republican – Colin Powell (32).
All nine of the Supreme Court Justices are on the list. The two most trusted are Ruth Bader Ginsberg (36) and Stephen Breyer (43). The three least trusted are Samuel Alito (63), Antonin Scalia (66), and Clarence Thomas (88). Judge Judy (28) is trusted more than all of them.
Hillary Clinton is the 51st most trusted person in America.
Barack Obama is the 65th most trusted person in America.
On a list sprinkled with journalists, the only Fox News personality on the list is Shepard Smith. He’s the last name on it at 100.
The only Republican political figures that grace it at all are only borderline political figures at all: Eastwood, Condi Rice (68), and Steve Forbes (97). There is no actively serving Republican on the list.
Take that in for a moment: the 1000 people in the survey trusted Barack and Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton and Jimmy Carter, along with Noam Chomsky (20), Madeleine Albright (23), Maureen Dowd (98) and Paul Krugman (99) more than any Republican leader.
Heck, they trusted Whoopi Goldberg (46), Adam Sandler (64) and Ben Stiller (77) more than any Republican leader.
What’s the point?
Simply this: If there’s a battle going on for the hearts and minds of America, conservatives haven’t just lost . . . we’re not even fighting. Andrew Breitbart liked to point out that “culture is upstream from politics.” So we can point out the fatal flaws in Obamacare until we’re blue in the face. We can throw statistics out there that demonstrate conclusively that more guns have led to a drastic dip in violent crime. We can point out the flaws in global warming until the cows come home.
We can crunch all the numbers and figures we want. But all of that is irrelevant if the people who go to the ballot box on election day do not trust the messenger.
I think we on the right – myself included – tend to shy away from that fact. We believe that logic and facts should own the day. We believe that, as Breitbart said, “truth isn’t mean, it’s truth.”
But we tend to forget that we live, for better or worse, in a postmodern world. The left thinks that means we ought to just give up on what we believe is true, because in a postmodern world, absolute truth – allegedly – no longer exists.
I don’t think so. I think truth is truth. But I DO think that our postmodern world means people lend a lot more credence to the messenger than to his or her message. YES, we can effectively communicate conservative principles – but only if they trust us. YES, we can win unengaged and low-information voters to our way of thinking – but only if they trust us.
If they don’t trust us, we might as well not bother, because they’ve already tuned us out. That’s the world we live in – and the Left has already embraced it.
That’s why they pass (or try to pass) massive health care, immigration or gun control bills without bothering to read them, safe in the knowledge that most of them – at least in the leadership – won’t be held accountable: The message doesn’t matter if you trust the messenger.
It’s why a Democrat’s scandal is always local, while a Republican’s scandal is always national: It’s easier to nationalize when you don’t trust the messengers – or when the trusted messengers are in your back pocket.
It’s why the things that DO hurt them are things like Benghazi, or Kermit Gosnell, or President Obama’s campaign of drone warfare . . . because they cut at the all-important question: “can the people telling me this stuff really be trusted?” It’s why the left works so very, very hard to minimize such instances or to make them disappear all together.
That’s the world we live in, and so that’s our challenge. we’ve got to close the “trust gap.”
It’s not going to be easy – and it’s going to take a lot of the same sorts of things Erick has said about the technology gap. Too often, in the wake of November 2012, our side’s response has been “we need to recreate what the other side has.”
No, no, a thousand times no! Let’s not fight the last war.
Rand Paul is, I think, an excellent example to follow in this regard. His historic “talking filibuster” was a classic example of exploiting a wedge issue (drone strikes, in this case) that damages the trust people have in the other side while building their trust in your own side. His willingness to take conservative messages into a hostile environment like Howard University is something to be emulated. It will be rough (as it was for him), but we can’t win if we don’t play.
We need sites like RedState . . . sites that allow conservatives to gather virtually and discuss issues that are important to them, refine the ways in which we talk about those issues, and determine how best to move forward.
But we also need to more frequently venture outside those comfort zones, because if people don’t see us where they are, they won’t trust us, now or ever. For all his incompetence at actually governing, that’s something Barack Obama did masterfully in the 2012 campaign.
This is not a strategy for winning in 2016. It’s a strategy for avoiding political and cultural extinction in 2024 and beyond. Yes, by all means, let’s close the vast technology gap the other side has over us. But let’s also work to close the “trust gap.”
It’s just as important. It may be more so.