5 Things Republicans Can Learn From The Democrats
1) Respect The Base: The first rule of politics is, “take care of your base.” That doesn’t mean you give your supporters everything they want, but if your base isn’t happy, you’re going to have a rough time. Why? Because they’re the people who donate money, volunteer to help candidates, talk you up to their friends, defend you when you’re under attack, and, when they’re happy at least, they’ll crawl over broken glass to come out and vote for you.
Democrats bend over backwards to make their supporters happy. They pay an enormous amount of attention to what their activists have to say, are constantly doing things to try to make them happy, and even though they can’t always give them what they want, they go to great lengths to please them.
But, the Republicans in DC? Most of them treat their biggest supporters with polite indifference at best and contempt at worst. On issues of great import to conservatives like fiscal conservatism, illegal immigration, and judges (See the nomination of Harriet Miers for a perfect example of this), the DC GOP have gone out of their way to kick their own biggest supporters in the teeth. Because of that, the base hasn’t been happy with the Republican Party since early 2005 and quite frankly, unless some significant changes are made, there’s probably not going to be an about face any time soon.
2) Stay Out Of The Primaries: One of the most aggravating things about the 2006 election was the Republican Party’s involvement in the primaries.
The worst example of this was the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s insistence on supporting Lincoln Chafee, a left of center Republican who didn’t vote for George Bush in 2004, in a tough Rhode Island primary against Steven Laffey. What was the result of that brilliant maneuver? The NRSC lagged far behind their Democratic counterparts in fund raising because conservatives withheld their donations in retaliation and in the end, Chafee still lost. This isn’t the only Republican Party screw-up of this sort either. Look at the Arlen Specter vs. Pat Toomey battle in 2004 and the Randy Graf vs. Steve Huffman race in 2006. In each case, the party’s interference came back and bit them hard in the behind.
Unlike the Republicans, the Democrats are generally smart enough to stay out of primaries because they understand that if they get involved, they will inevitably be fighting against their own base to help someone who’s probably not much of an asset in getting their agenda through. This is part of the reason that Democrats in Congress are much more disciplined than Republicans, because the Democrats can’t thumb their noses at their biggest supporters and then expect the party to come running to save them when they get a primary challenge.
3) Sometimes, It is the Thought That Counts: Rich Lowry once said that, “(Bill) Clinton was in favor of small, popular things. Bush apparently likes to be in favor of big, unpopular things.”
This is another area where the Democrats are smarter than the Republicans. The Dems are constantly doing small things to show their base that their hearts are in the right place. It’s these little gestures, sometimes even throwaway lines in speeches that help keep their base happy, even when the left isn’t getting everything they want.
Republicans in general, and Bush in particular, are terrible at this. They seem to be of the opinion that they can mention Reagan a few times, make a few pleasing noises towards social conservatives, and everything will be fine. But often, it’s the little things that end up killing the GOP instead of helping them. When Republicans who claim to be fiscal conservatives vote for a monstrosity like the Bridge to Nowhere or when Bush goes to South America and starts talking about how he will help them out by rewriting our immigration laws, it sends a loud and clear signal that is far out of proportion to the actual significance of the event. Democrats understand this. Most Republicans on Capitol Hill do not.
4) Hang Together Instead Of Hanging Separately: Liberals in the blogosphere have a reputation for being good at organizing and raising money for elections. It’s well deserved and I can tell you that from experience, because last election cycle, I started a grassroots conservative group called Rightroots to raise money in the blogosphere. We raised around $300,000 from the right side of the blogosphere in about 3 months which may sound like a lot, but it’s chicken scratch when it’s spread over 20+ candidates. During that same time period, liberal bloggers raised millions and blew our doors off.
Know why? Simple. The liberal bloggers didn’t have a problem with trying to raise money for candidates that they support while a lot of people on the right did. Don’t get me wrong, the left side of the blogosphere is a lot bigger than the right side of the blogosphere, but Rightroots reached out to almost all of the big conservative websites and radio talk show hosts. A few agreed to help out, but most didn’t.
Why not? “We don’t do that.” “That’s not what we are about.” “We’re just not interested,” etc., etc., etc. Well, here’s the reality. The left does do that. Maybe their website isn’t “about that,” but they did it anyway. Maybe they weren’t all that interested in raising money for candidates, but they took the time to do it when members of the conservative grassroots online wouldn’t do the same thing.
The conservative grassroots could be much stronger and more vibrant than our opponents across the aisle in every way, but we don’t work together. Most of the big talk radio hosts and magazines treat conservative bloggers like lepers and almost nobody wants to help the GOP raise money to win elections. The potential there is enormous, but we’re behind the left because they’re much more willing to try to push the movement as a whole forward than most of us on the right.
5) Attack, Attack, Attack! We might as well change the Republican Party symbol from an elephant to a punching bag because the Republican wimps in DC just refuse to fight back. The base may have no qualms about going after liberals, but when we look for Republican pols on the Hill to show some leadership in this area, we’re almost always sadly disappointed.
Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Ted Kennedy treat politics like a street fight in an alley. They wrap a chain around their fist, grab a broken bottle with the other hand, and then aim for the eyes and the throat. Meanwhile, George Bush and Company are wearing boxing gloves stuffed with extra foam and try not to hit anybody too hard for fear of making them mad. The Bushies aren’t afraid to go after terrorists, but when Ted Kennedy or Hillary Clinton attacks, they tremble like John Edwards after he runs out of mousse.
C’mon, guys, you don’t have to start comparing Howard Dean to Hitler or anything, but how about showing a little moxie instead of cringing, apologizing, and rolling over like French poodles every time the Democrats go after someone? You Republicans on the Hill: the Democrats have spent the last 2 years smacking you in the mouth, taking your lunch money, and pushing you down while you keep hoping people will give you brownie points for being “nice” and “bipartisan.” At what point does it dawn on you guys that it’s time to go after the Democrats as hard as they’re going after you?