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June 17, 2015

Winning Elections Isn’t Enough

(The headline of this post has been changed, see below for explanation)

Brandon Finnigan, formerly of the HQ (unless it's about astronomy) now man about the real conservative mediasphere, has a few articles out today on prestigious website hitting his favorite subject (well 2nd favorite since the birth of his son)….how Republicans can win states like Pennsylvania.

The pieces are generating high praise from people like friend of the HQ Charles C.W. Cooke. The praise is well deserved. Brandon makes fine arguments. The problem isn't his electoral strategies, it's the meaningless of his goals…GOP electoral victories.

I’m not telling tales out of school when I say Brandon isn’t that big on conservative ideology. He's admitted it himself numerous times. But don’t take my word for it. Read his pieces. There’s nary a mention of ideology or policy to be found.

I understand that he’s writing process pieces but you can't separate ideology from the process and still make his advice work. Look at his spot on suggestion how to win a state like Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania's untapped vote (that is, eligible but unregistered voters) runs around 1.6 million strong, based on my analysis of census data and current registration statistics. It is more concentrated in redder counties than in bluer ones, and while some of these counties have a higher percentage of Millennial and non-white residents (i.e. groups less likely to vote Republican), notable swaths do not.

If you grow your own share of the overall electorate, you kick off the campaign with a bigger base and shrink the voter deficit in ways that pummeling everyone's TV sets with ads can't match. This isn't glamorous work, but it is essential. We don't know how favorable these potential voters are, but with so many of them around, and almost zero effort having been made previously to bring them in, there are fish in the lake. Party leadership, third-party PAC organizers, and the candidates themselves need to drop a line in and see what bites.

This is essentially what Obama was so effective at in both of his runs. Remember when the Romney camp pathetically claimed that they had “hit their numbers” but Obama found and turned out more voters than they had anticipated? That's what Brandon is arguing the GOP should do.

It's the second step that is left out though…turning them out. Obama was successful at doing that because he gave them a reason to get involved. Whether it was a desire to make history by electing the first black President, promises of more government support or whatever their micro-targeting research showed would work.

Picking the right candidate, one who has a winning sales pitch but is also selling the right policies is essential.

People who aren't engaged in the political process aren't engaged for a reason...mostly they don't care. Getting them motivated enough to do things they've previously declined to do (register to vote and vote) requires someone who is sufficiently inspiring to break their apathy.

You can send an army of GOP volunteers to knock on doors to hector people into signing up to vote but are they people heretofore uninterested in voting likely to be roused by say, Jeb Bush or even Scott Walker?

And beyond personality and "it" factor, what are the policies (slogans really) that are likely to motivate this previously disinterested cohort? Is it worth bringing out these voters if the price is "more free stuff for you!"?

Following Brandon's advice without giving any thought to the candidate or the types of policy promises they will make could prove devastating to the conservative cause.

Rick Perry advisers Austin and Henry Barbour were successful at reaching new GOP primary voters during the Mississippi Senate runoff campaign. Unfortunately the way they did that was to find liberal Democrats who would crossover and vote for a big spending dinosaur like Thad Cochran.

Surely the Barbour bothers would nod in approval at Brandon's diagnosis of the problem and his cure. But in the hands of such hired guns, how does that profit conservatives?

If you think a rising Republican tide lifts all righty boats, you need look no further than the historic GOP wins in the House this year. They haven't exactly covered themselves in glory, have they?

“Why do 65 percent of Republican voters think Republicans aren't doing what we said we were going to do? You know why? Because we're not doing what we said we were going to do,” says one Freedom Caucus member. “We didn't talk about trade. . . . We talked about dealing with the executive amnesty issue, we talked about dealing with Obamacare, we talked about totally reforming the tax code, requiring work for welfare.”

Last week, leadership galvanized Jordan and his allies by refusing to allow Republican amendments to TPA, even as they negotiated with Democrats in an attempt to rally enough votes to make up for the GOP defections. “So, the Democrats basically got to amend the process; we didn't,” Jordan says. “That's a frustration that members have, as well.” Jordan had offered to deliver about two dozen votes for TPA, enough for Republicans to pass the bill without Democratic help, on three conditions: that GOP leadership include an amendment that sets up “checkpoints” at which the Republican conference could decide if the trade agreement proceeds; that they kill a union-friendly job-training program for workers affected by the free-trade deal, which Senate Republicans had backed in order to win Democratic votes; and that Boehner promise not to allow a vote on the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank. (Jordan wanted Boehner's word on Ex-Im because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had promised to allow a vote on the bank's reauthorization in order to get Democrats to drop their filibuster of the trade package.)

Instead of working with House conservatives, Boehner kept offering Pelosi more and more. She then screwed him over and is now demanding and likely to get EVEN MORE concessions.

So yes, Brandon has a very important tool for the GOP but like anything else it matters who is using it and to what end. I the hands of a committed small government conservative I'd be banging this drum right along with him.

But please, don't get caught up in “how we can win” talk until you know for sure who “we” are. If history is any guide, conservatives are likely to wake up the morning after a big GOP win and wonder if it was really worth it.

(I removed "So Please Don't Listen To Brandon" from the headline because it wasn't my argument. As I wrote in the piece, his advice is sound, it's simply insufficient. Let this be a lesson in trying to be cute and writing the headline before you write the post.)

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posted by DrewM. at 12:02 PM

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