Editor’s Note: This is the final installment in a series of articles examining what went wrong for the Republican Party in the 2012 presidential election and where the GOP goes from here. Please visit our special section GOP: What Next? to see the series of stories and find related content.
Republicans have lost touch with the messaging, tone and cultural reach needed to capture the majority of the electorate. That much is clear from the results of the 2012 election.
Lacking leaders who can imbue a sense of humanity into the party’s ideals, the GOP has, according to many conservatives, lost the moral high ground to the Democrats, who have redefined their political agenda using universal terms like social justice, fairness, kindness and equality.
Political experts and party insiders point to defining moments in the 2012 presidential campaign, including instances in which an inability to properly package and deliver the GOP ideals such as personal freedom and individual opportunity was evident.
Consider, for a moment, the differences in how the presidential candidates addressed the American people during the debates.
While Republican candidate Mitt Romney was often statistical, relying upon numbers and schematically detailing his plans, Obama opted for a more friendly tone that relied upon emotive imagery. During the first debate, for instance, a discussion about Medicare showcases the stark differences:
“We also have 50 percent of doctors who say they won’t take more Medicare patients. This — we have 4 million people on Medicare Advantage that will lose Medicare Advantage because of those $716 billion in cuts,” Romney said. “Now, you point out, well, we’re putting some back; we’re going to give a better prescription program. That’s one — that’s $1 for every 15 (dollars) you’ve cut. They’re smart enough to know that’s not a good trade.”
Obama, seeking a more relatable tone, barely touched upon the numbers, focusing instead on the raw emotion surrounding Medicare and the elderly:
“Now, in fairness, what Governor Romney has now said is he’ll maintain traditional Medicare alongside it. But there’s still a problem, because what happens is those insurance companies are pretty clever at figuring out who are the younger and healthier seniors,” Obama proclaimed. “They recruit them leaving the older, sicker seniors in Medicare. And every health care economist who looks at it says over time what’ll happen is the traditional Medicare system will collapse.”
While anecdotal, this exchange encapsulates the issue. One side of the aisle tried to make its case using mainly numbers and statistics, while ignoring much-needed moral arguments, with the other appealing mainly to emotion. Rabbi Aryeh Spero, president of Caucus For America and the author of “Push Back: Reclaiming the American Judeo-Christian Spirit”, explained this dynamic in an interview with TheBlaze.
“[The Democrats] use language wonderfully. Our people use statistics,” he said, noting that “a personal language” is needed to reach the populace. ”Too many in the conservative movement became so statistical, they forgot the moral language that inspired our Founding Fathers to begin with.”
This is certainly something to consider, as the Republican Party is coming off of its 2012 presidential loss, however statistics aren’t the only problem at hand. While some GOP insiders are jumping at the opportunity to quickly reform and adapt in an effort to bring in new voters, others are sitting quietly and assessing in an attempt to determine what, exactly, has gone wrong.
After all, the GOP, based on available indicators, didn’t just miss out on electoral victory; the party also lost the narrative and failed to court much-needed cohorts. Considering these developments, it appears that the GOP’s problems are larger than losing one, isolated presidential election; they are structural and, in many ways, cultural.
REDEFINING CLASSICAL TERMS TO WIN THE NARRATIVE
Asked why he believes that the Democrats have a winning strategy of late, Spero was candid.
“They have a narrative — now I don’t subscribe to that narrative, but they talk in moral terms,” Spero explained. “They’ve been able to co-opt moral language [and] they have redefined vital moral phrases like tolerance, fairness and equality.”
It is this redefinition and rebranding of the Democrats’ agenda that has secured power for liberals by winning over the American electorate. Spero said that the party’s redefinition of these sentiments from the classical meaning into more contemporary notions that comply with its agenda (what Spero called a “socialist welfare state”) has been successful. As a result of 50 years of this redefinition, the faith leader explained that many Americans are beginning to join the Democrats is viewing the nation through the socialist welfare state lens.
Michelle Selesky, former deputy press secretary to presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and communications director for GOPAC, a conservative political organization, echoed Spero’s assessment in an interview with TheBlaze.
“The loss wasn’t about Republican values or conservative principles,” she said of Romney’s failure to secure the presidency. “It was our failure to articulate them clearly and effectively to the people who needed to hear it.”
Selesky noted that Republicans must consider both the message and the messenger, as both are essential. Rather than merely highlighting what the party is opposed to, she said that there needs to be communication about what it supports as well. From an issue standpoint, this means having viable talking points about contentious issues, including pro-life values and traditional marriage.
All-too-often, the right-of-center rhetoric speaks out fervently against abortion and gay marriage, without always defining why Republicans generally support sustaining life and keeping marriage in tact. The challenge, Selesky argues, is finding a way to draw people in without excluding those who have ideological disagreements.
This ability to articulate is exactly what the Democrats have refined, with Republicans clearly not keeping pace. An example of this phraseology debacle can be found when examining the basic human trait of hard work and dedication. While Republicans have always argued that the human soul is best fulfilled and progressed through hard work and personal effort, the Democrats have changed the narrative.
“Fairness” has now become something that has little to do with tenacity and dedication and everything to do with the redistribution of wealth and other related big government policies, Spero argued.
Steve Forbes, chairman and editor-in-chief of Forbes Media, is one spokesman who has set out to fix the definition of these key terms. In a recent interview with The Washington Times, he discussed his new book, “Freedom Manifesto: Why Free Markets Are Moral and Big Government Isn’t,” and his views on the current economic and political dynamic.
“Free markets are moral because they’re fundamentally about meeting the real-world needs and wants of others,” he said. “In a free-market transaction, two parties — individuals or companies — come together voluntarily to make a reciprocal exchange that provides mutual benefit.”
Forbes said that one must treat others well if he or she wants to do business and that, as a result, moral and ethical behavior is encouraged most of the time in open markets.
“Economic freedom is also moral because it is the world’s most powerful engine of prosperity,” he added. “Free enterprise has done more than any other system to serve the common good by lifting billions of people out of poverty.”
It is the proper articulation of these values that Spero, Selesky and Forbes, among others, are advocating.
A FAILURE TO ARTICULATE JUDEO-CHRISTIAN VALUES
And the changes didn’t just evolve over night. As stated, the narrative faltered over decades, with the Republican Party holding a major portion of the blame. Rather than relying upon classical language to define Judeo-Christian terms, while showing how they benefit society, the rabbi believes that the GOP has waffled in this area.
“Either too many of our politicians don’t understand the moral high ground upon which conservatism rests — or if they do, they are unable to communicate it or they’re simple fearful of ridicule that might come if they define terms in the way they have historically been framed,” Spero contends.
For those looking for a quick political fix to this crisis of conscience and messaging, Spero doesn’t seem to think that one is in order. He argues that it will take time to “re-educate the public of their heritage.” Additionally, the way in which Republican politicians interact needs to be altered; either they must understand the traditional moral high ground or gain the courage to define terms boldly and historically.
Spero argues that it takes “a special person” to take in Judeo-Christian language and to both believe and process it.
This challenge shouldn’t be monumentally difficult, as Selesky noted that the Declaration of Independence, the very document that led to the creation of the United States, noted that mankind is “endowed by our Creator.” She explains that this endowment doesn’t come from a king, a government or a bureaucracy and that the basic rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” derive from the Almighty.
Despite this purported moral truth inherent in the party’s values, the left has been able to advance its agenda, while also successfully disparaging and denigrating Republicans’ views in the process.
THE RIGHT ALLOWING ITSELF TO BE DEMONIZED
As for the right’s responsibility, Spero believes that Republicans have allowed themselves to be demonized and to be slapped with the claim that conservatives’ definitions and choices of language are “mean spirited.” To solve this problem, the faith leader believes that America — and the GOP — need courageous personalities, a suggestion that coincides with Selesky contention that finding the right messengers is paramount.
Spero noted that the current dynamic, fueled by the left’s tendency to dub conservatives as “homophobes” and other such labels, has right-leaning Americans and their leaders afraid to speak up.
“What I’m concerned about is the rekindling of the classic, natural moral language that has to do with personal responsibility, accountability, what it means to be an individual,” Spero told TheBlaze. “Our rights come from God and they don’t come from the state. The state gives rights and can take them away.”
The faith leader said that it is essential for the GOP to “return to the spirit that animated the Founders to begin with.” There needs to be a fundamental re-education, showcasing Republicans, and the American people as a whole, the role of the individual and government. Rather than focusing predominantly on lower taxes, Spero said that the main thrust of ensuring that people understand the individual’s roles and responsibilities is one rooted in human dignity and integrity.
“When we speak about personal responsibility it’s not because end game is to keep taxes lower…its to raise the individual to be someone who is mature and strong and takes care of themselves,” the rabbi said.
Selesky, who focused more intensely on the strategic nature of the GOP’s messaging, agreed. Considering Romney’s loss and the overarching decline in support for conservative candidacies, she noted that the Republican Party “failed to convince the American people that Republicans could offer a better alternative to the Obama record of the past four years.”
THE NEED TO EDUCATE THE MASSES
Getting people to understand these dynamics, though, will likely take some time. It will involve lectures, education and fervent engagement to ensure that individuals understand the grander message. All-too-often the Republican Party is characterized by its tax policy, but, as Spero advocated, the grander theme of personal responsibility and building up the individual may need more fervent attention.
“We have to educate the people,” Spero said, noting that the challenge to get the conservative message back to the forefront won’t be easy and will require both courage and confidence. “It’s not going to be done in one election cycle…two or three election cycles.”
Rather than cutting anyone out of the discussion, the rabbi believes that it’s essential Republicans reach every cohort — something that the party has not traditionally done well with. But rather than pandering, these actions must be taken in a way that speaks truth and honesty to the electorate, he said.
Taking an honest look at the Republican Party’s current schema is paramount. Selesky, like Spero, told TheBlaze that the movement has not built an adequate coalition that takes each subgroup into account, while reaching its members on the issues that matter to them.
“We must be serious about including youth, women, Hispanics, African Americans, Asian Americans, poor, middle class, wealthy – everyone – into the Republican Party if we want to build a majority,” the communications expert contended. “This starts by building relationships with these communities and communicating our principles in a way that includes, not alienates, people.”
Selesky provided some examples regarding the barriers and how the GOP can overcome them. On immigration, for instance, she argued that the party must come to a workable solution before support among Hispanics will grow. As for youths, the issue may be more structural at its core, calling for a renewed method of getting messages out to campuses and selecting the proper spokespeople to reach younger Americans.
In addition to educating the masses, Selesky also mentioned another important point of consideration — the vehicles through which messaging is spread. Considering Obama’s ground game and his upper-hand in organization and technology, she noted the important of the Republican Party “catching up” in these arenas.
Based on expert opinion, it is clear that, if the GOP fails to reform itself, former House Speaker and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s recent statement about the 2016 could come to fruition. In an appearance on “Meet the Press” over the weekend, he noted that Hillary Clinton would be a difficult competitor for Republicans next election cycle, should she choose to run.
“If [the Republicans'] competitor in ’16 is going to be Hillary Clinton, supported by Bill Clinton and presumably, a still relatively popular President Barack Obama, trying to win that will be truly the Super Bowl,” Gingrich proclaimed. “And the Republican Party today is incapable of competing at that level.”