In 2009 I went to work for Scott Brown in the special election to replace Ted Kennedy. At the time I had no idea what I was getting into. I was just coming off of running for city council at-large in Boston were I got my clocked clean thoroughly. The day after going down in flames I got a condolence call from Scott Brown that basically said good job in your run, sometimes it takes a couple of shots to win, and then he transitioned into telling me to get in touch with his people because they could use my help in Boston for his campaign. And I did just that, taking on the responsibilities of coordinating his campaign in Boston and some of the communities in the greater Boston area; it was a glorious ride! As a lover of politics and as someone who bleeds red literally and figuratively, I watched with no small amount of envy, the democrats run great campaigns for Governor in Massachusetts in 2006 and then an awe-inspiring campaign for President in 2008. Those efforts seemed like more than political campaigns to me; they were movements with dynamic candidates leading the charge. Those campaigns were maddening in their effectiveness. Here they were campaigning on policies that I personally believed to be incredible harmful for my state and country and they were just rolling to victory. However the special senate election in 2009-2010, was my revenge! This time my side had the movement behind us and we had the dynamic candidate with a message, and it was the democrats that were on their heels and were completely unprepared to handle what was happening. That campaign was awesome: a real insurgency, a motivated campaign team with thousands of extremely motivated and highly effective volunteers. Election Day was one of my favorite moments in politics as we shocked the world.
As I look around at the political landscape today, including last year’s election, I am once again depressed, as I ask myself what happened to all the hope and promise (no pun intended).
How did it go from awe-inspiring to where we are at now? There has been a lot of talk about Republicans needing to reach out to minorities and developing infrastructure to compete with democrats in urban areas and I agree with all of that; in fact I have written about it. But we need to do more than that; we need to develop a new message. A message that is about improving people’s lives, and dare I say it, a message that conveys hope and change. After all those sentiments do not belong to the Democratic Party– they stole those from Republicans. It was Ronald Regan’s “Morning in America” theme that was the first modern-day campaign to wrap its message around hope, promise, and prosperity and that message would go on to dominate national politics for 12 years from Reagan’s two terms to Bush 41’s term. In 1994 Newt Gingrich and congressional Republicans were the originators of talking about bringing change to Washington with the “Contract for America”, and that message allowed republicans to end the forty years of democrat control of congress. It is time to take these themes back and develop a new playbook to win elections. The old playbook of crime, welfare reform, and taxes is no longer enough. Talking strictly about entitlement reform, although that very important, is not enough. We must begin to craft our message around improving the lives of voters so that the voters will begin to understand they have a personal stake in the parties’ electoral success.
I want to be clear I am not advocating for Republicans to become “Dem-lite.” That makes no sense and is not very successful from a political stand point. I believe in drawing stark contrast between Republicans and Democrats. However I do believe Republicans need to do a better job showing how our policies relate to all demographics that make up the American electorate.
In 1952 Senator Robert Taft, known as “Mr. Republican”, addressed a capacity crowd of steel workers in Pittsburgh, during which he centered his message on the interest of his audience. Taft said, “We offer the American workman a return to honesty and integrity in Washington, a reduction in his tax burdens, a stimulation of the process of improved production to increase his income and standard of living and a foreign policy which will protect his security.” The senator had a message about an agenda that promised to protect the middle and working classes through economic growth and national security while also safeguarding the concerns of the business community. The audience, which had both workers and management, gave him a standing ovation.
In Scott Brown’s first run for the Senate he had a message that supported individual freedom and opportunity over one size fits all government control and he won. In 2012 the Dems controlled the message and they won. Our ideas are better. When we message them right, we win!