I have been involved in politics for most of my adult life and have advised elected officials on campaign tactics and strategies during that entire period.
My very first political campaign provided a template I would use throughout my career. It involved a conservative Democrat who was tagged by liberal opponents as a “one issue candidate.” Print, radio and television commentators and columnists were brutal and never failed to remind voters that the issues in the campaign were far greater than my candidate’s alleged limited reach.
When I was called in, the campaign was frantic. What should they do? The tag was sticking and hurting the candidate in the polls. My suggestion was simple: embrace the tag and use it everywhere — on billboards, radio and television commercials, and in every advertisement and piece of campaign literature they could afford. “Yes, the candidate is a one issue candidate . . .” and then I suggested they add something to the tag. I advised that THEY define the issue, such that every time the media used the tag in a derogatory manner, voters would think of the rest of the candidate’s message. “The issue is the quality of life in our neighborhoods.” Boom!
Up it went on billboards, campaign literature, and radio and newspaper advertisements. Every time a liberal accused the candidate of being a one issue candidate, voters were reminded that the issue was the quality of life in city neighborhoods. The campaign was an enormous success. The candidate was elected. Cynical liberal critics were devastated that we took what they believed was their strongest political attack message and converted it into my candidate’s most compelling reason to be elected.
Lesson learned. I have used this strategy for over twenty-five years, advising candidates for re-election to listen to what is said about them by their liberal critics and, wherever possible, take their opponent’s arguments for their own and run with them.
Come November 2010, Democrats believe they have both a winning message for the American people and a way to convey that message that is a sure crowd pleaser. It can’t fail, or so they believe. It was expressed best by the President himself in Iowa at a health care ralley in March. To paraphrase: “Republicans want to come in here and campaign and tell you they want to take health care benefits away from you that the health care reform bill gives you, I say, come on in. That’s a fight I’m eager to make.”
He then used some pretty fancy, cynical humor to make his point, his voice rising as he urged the crowd on: “They told us that if health care reform was passed it would be Armageddon the day after.” He then paused and added, “Well I went outside today and I looked up in the sky and I didn’t see any asteroids falling.” The line drew a deserved and hearty roar from the crowd. Pretty good theater.
Hunker down Republicans, this is what you’re going to be up against in November. Do you know how to campaign against it? Can you get a crowd on its feet, make ’em laugh and cheer you along? Obama can, and while the American public is still skeptical, November is a long way off, attitudes and opinions change. My free advice is this: get started now in defining the issues for the American people to ponder, and give the Democrats no air or time to recover from your merciless assaults. How?
First, all Republicans need to stay on message, and whenever they speak to the public on this issue the public needs to hear the same message, over and over. Rule one, speak with one voice.
Second, embrace the issues, don’t run from them. Okay, I’m you’re campaign advisor. Let’s get going.
Let’s get wound up here in our best Obamian mode, voice gradually rising as we go along. motivating the crowd in our direction. “Democrats say we don’t support health care reform. They’re lying. (Don’t ever be afraid to call your opponent a liar if he or she is one) We support all sorts of health care reform for the American people. We support lifting limits on coverage. We support portable plans that can be purchased across state lines. We support coverage for pre-existing conditions. We support protecting the elderly and sick from catastrophic illnesses. We support liability reform to reduce costs and reduce frivolous lawsuits against doctors. We support all these things and more. But that’s about twenty pages in the Democrat’s health care reform bill.”
Now here’s where you really ramp it up. “But what’s in those other 2,700 pages of the health care reform bill that the Democrats don’t want to tell you about?” (Repeat it again, ramping it up as you go along.) “You should want to know this: what’s in those other 2,700 pages that the Democrats don’t want to tell you about?”
“I’ll tell you what’s in those 2,700 pages that the Democrats don’t want to tell you about. There are 16.500 new IRS agents to collect fines from the American people. There are $500 billion in cuts to Medicare that will directly affect the elderly. There are tax increases and increases in costs of medical equipment and supplies that will directly impact the sick and elderly. There is a massive expansion of subsidies to 32 million new recipients, many of whom don’t want or need it. There are going to be 150 new agencies, commission and boards that will draft thousands of pages of regulations and rule and hurdles for you to jump over to be covered. And make no mistake about it, the most vulnerable will be at the greatest risk of loss of full coverage altogether. This is what the Democrats don’t want to talk about. This is what is in their bill — and yes, I don’t support that bill. And I don’t support pitting people against the very providers who make health care the best in the world. You keep hitting the health care industry over the head with a club and who will provide your health care when you need it most, the Democrats? Don’t count on it. Don’t count on it. Don’t count on it. ”
You see? Fire ’em up! Yes we can!
Now, I could go on, but I thnk you get the idea. You attack. You take the Democrats’ issue away from them and make it yours and find everything in that 2,700 page bill that irks Americans and remind voters who gave it to them under the guise of health care reform.
Responsible health care reform should be a Republican strength. Irresponsible spending and 2,700 pages of bureaucracy should be like an anchor around the necks of Democrats.
Oh, and as for Obama’s stated relief that no asteroids are falling, I might add, “You’re right, no asteroids are falling, thank God. But lights are quickly going out on the best health care system in the world as our system is undergoing a transformational change with passage of this behemoth 2,700 page bill from a free enterprise, healthy, vibrant, extraordinary, inventive and effective health care delivery system to a European socialist form of health care that will bankrupt this economy and rob money and treasure from the American public. You know it; I know it; and the American people know it.”