Over the course of my military career, I participated in more than a few "lessons learned" studies, analyzing what went right (or wrong) in a particular exercise or operation. With a nod toward Colin Powell's axiom that bad news doesn't improve with time (or distance from the event), most of my "lessons learned" reports that I authored were concise, fairly blunt documents, designed to convey key points, with little regard for personal or political sensitivities. That's one reason I never reached the senior ranks, but at least I was an honest broker of information. In the light of yesterday's GOP defeat, I think the party needs a similar "lessons learned" assessment, to be adopted or ignored at their own peril.
1. Beware of Conceptual Collapse (see my previous post). The Grand Old Party that got hammered yesterday was not the Republican Party of 1994, or the party that Ronald Reagan led to power in 1980. Those movements were codified around clear objectives that were easily understood--and embraced--by the electorate. Ronaldus Maximus was swept into office on three principles: downsize government, reduce the tax burden, and defeat communism. The Republican Revolution of 1994 was built on the Contract of America, principles that were eventually abandoned in a great flood of greed, cronyism and political triangulation. Sorry, but a guest worker amnesty program and prescription drugs for everyone simply don't wash for a party built on revolutionary ideas. Regaining power means a return to the values and principles that resonate with the party's core values, and the electorate.
2. Understand Today's Political Playing Field. David Horowitz has been a lone voice in articulating the reality of today's political environment that Republicans largely ignore. In a country that is roughly split 50/50, politics is truly a blood sport; give no quarter and take no prisoners. Think the DeLay and Foley "scandals" are mere happenstance, or (as the MSM would have you believe), evidence of a "culture of corruption?" In the case of DeLay, it was a carefully conceived political takedown, designed to eliminate one of the most effective GOP leaders in decades. Foley, of course, deserved to resign in shame. But it's worth remembering that some of his instant messages circulated for more than a year before they found their way to liberal operatives and their accomplices in the MSM. And naturally, they were released barely a month before the election, to inflict maximum damage on GOP candidates and the Republican base. If the GOP wants to compete in this no-holds-barred, bare knuckles environment, they better get better at opposition research, data mining, and the other tools perfected by the Democrats. If that sounds contrary to the "party of ideas" principle, remember this: it's hard to advance an intellectual argument if you opponent is successfully painting you as corrupt. At least three Democratic Congressmen are either under or facing indictment on serious criminal charges. Yet none were mentioned in national advertising. If I had a dollar for every time I heard "Mark Foley" or "Jack Abramhoff," during this election cycle, I could retire comfortably.
3. Quit Worrying About the MSM and Fully Engage the New Media. For some reasons, Republicans who spend more than a couple of days in D.C. become concerned about what the Washington Post or The New York Times thinks of them. Guess what, guys: they hate you. They really do. The Times didn't endorse a single Republican candidate this year (surprise, surprise), and the WaPo pulled out the stops to put its favorite Senate candidates (Ben Cardin in MD and Jim Webb in VA), over the top. That scenario isn't likely to change anytime soon, either. On the other hand, conservatives dominate the new media, but talk radio hosts weren't invited to the White House until late October. What took so long? Efforts to reach out to the conservative blogosphere were inconsistent at best, and another example of too little, too late. You can make the case that engaging talk radio and bloggers is an example of "preaching to the converted," but it's also an effective tool for energizing the base. Polling data from this year's campaign suggests that much of the GOP base was late in coming home; earlier, more persistent efforts among the new media might have energized conservative voters earlier, and saved some of those Congressional seats that turned blue on Tuesday.
4. Win the Damn War in Iraq. Many voters who voted for "change" yesterday expressed grave concerns about the War in Iraq. Small wonder, since Congressional Democrats and the MSM have been beating the "Iraq is a failure" drum for the past two years, and today, they got an early Christmas present with the resignation of Don Rumsfeld. As we've noted (in another post), Mr. Rumsfeld and the troops certainly deserved better. The best tribute for his service--and the unflinching courage and sacrifice of our military personnel--is to finish the job in Iraq, no matter what it takes. Unfortunately, the administration seems poised to adopt some form of the cut-and-run strategy. Rumsfeld's prospective replacement, former CIA Director Robert Gates, is a member of the Baker Commission, currently exploring "new options" for Iraq. Interestingly, polling data over the last month indicates that a majority of Americans would support more troops in Iraq. in order to win the war.
5. Get on the Right Side of Key Issues. And we're not talking about an increase in the minimum wage and the illegal alien guest worker program--two issues that Mr. Bush spoke about enthusiastically at today's press conference. An overwhelming majority of Americans favor border security as the first step in fixing immigration. There is also support for tax cuts, particularly when it increases revenues and decreases the deficit--something that the GOP failed to point out in the recent campaign. The same holds true for reducing federal spending. Whatever happened to proposals to get rid of the Department of Education and Commerce Department? And what about school vouchers, genuine social security reform and the Fair Tax? Talk about revolutionary issues. But sadly, few in the current generation of Republican leaders are willing to discuss--let alone propose--these needed reforms.
6. Start Softening Up the Democrats for '08. Borrow a page from the Clintonistas and start the perpetual campaign cycle. When those freshmen Democrats go along with another Pelosi scheme, run some attack ads in their local markets, and prime the pump for an uphill re-election battle. And as for Ms. Pelosi, she's got a few ethical skeletons in her closet. Time for a brave GOP back-bencher to demand an ethics investigation, and put some heat on her. The Dems made a point of targeting GOP leaders. Let them discover that payback's a bitch (again).
7. Start Recruiting Quality Candidates. As Hugh Hewitt (and others) have reminded us, the Dems have more vulnerable senators on the ballot in '08 than the GOP. Whoever is running the Republican Party needs to start recruiting quality candidates now. Let me offer a potential #1 draft choice: Louisiana Congressman Bobby Jindal, to run against Mary Landrieu. There's talk that Jindal may run against incumbent Governor Kathleen (Clueless) Blanco in 2007. Jindal is one of the brightest lights in the GOP, and I think he'd be the ideal choice to take out Mary Landrieu. A lesser candidate should be sufficient to defeat Blanco.
8. Remember Churchill's Advice: In Victory, Be magnanimous, in Defeat, Defiant!
I think, as in most defeats, this one will be overanalyzed. It was basically a referendum on the war, and Bush's strategy was judged to be wrong. I certainly don't think Republicans have to start doing oppo research and engage in the neverending campaign: Washington has had enough of that. You need what you always need; Good people who stand for what they believe and not afraid to lose if the electorate doesn't choose them. Both parties need that.
The Dems didn't get into office by anything that they espoused. They got in by painting the Repubs as 'blacker than Vader'. In our system the enemy sets the rules and determines who they are. We do what we do best, follow the rules with overwhelming force until they change their mind. That should include political battles.
Actually the NY Times did endorse Hevesi's opponent. Reluctantly, to be sure, but it did endorse him.
And while I don't think that the MSM will love Republicans anytime soon, I think we have to understand that talk radio and bloggers are not as effective as the MSM.
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