Putting the best face on a defeat is the oldest spin in politics. The practice is ancient…
Rather than spend time trying to convince people that defeat is really victory, learn from history and discard what failed and embrace a new message. After Watergate, Republicans embraced the message of Reagan conservatism and came roaring back at the 1980 elections – taking both the White House and the Senate. After Democrat Bill Clinton defeated the “kinder-gentler” GOP brand of George H.W. Bush, Republicans adopted the conservative Contract with America – ending 40 years of uninterrupted Democratic control of the House of Representatives and capturing the Senate. The populist “Tea Party” message of 2010 saw Republicans gain 63 seats to take back control of the House. In 2014, that message completed the takeover of Congress, gaining 9 Senate seats and another 13 House seats. And in 2016, a populist Republican took the White House in an upset that caught the professional political class of both parties by surprise.
Nationally, and at the state and local levels, Republicans need to embrace the setbacks of 2018 and learn from them. These lessons are clear:
(1) Money doesn’t replace message.
(2) Technology is a means to convey a message, not a replacement for having a message.
(3) In the era of Trump, trying to out-liberal the Democrats is a fool’s errand.
(4) Turnout is key and that means registering every person who would likely vote Republican and then motivating them to vote.
(5) Your message should maximize your vote without turning off your base. Better still, find a message that excites your base while adding to it.
At present, the man with the ideas – the man leading the charge to put New Jersey back on the right economic footing – the man standing in the way of the more crazier notions of Governor Murphy’s Democratic Socialism, is in fact not a Republican at all, but a Democrat. Senate President Steve Sweeney is calling out the Governor, challenging him to debate their contrasting ideas.
Republicans should be challenging Governor Murphy to debates, leading with ideas and a clear message that contrasts with Murphy’s Wall Street-style social activism. And if they can’t manage to come up with ideas of their own, then they should at least be prepared to add their united voice in support of the man who has taken on the task of challenging Murphy’s crazier instincts.
Politically, New Jersey Republicans need a message, with fully fleshed out ideas and solutions. There are people already at work on this. The Garden State Initiative – run by state government veteran Regina Egea – is producing a solid product of facts and stats that could back up a message… if the political will is there. It’s up to the folks who run campaigns and the party’s leadership to take the next step.