The Republican party today is chasing the political equivalent of a get-rich-quick scheme.
Most people who actually succeed in becoming rich do it by intelligence, planning, creativity, long hours, and hard work. But many people prefer get-rich-quick schemes. They want to skip the hard work part and, through the use of some gimmick, go straight to the payoff. These schemes almost always fail. The person ends up trying scheme after scheme, but success continues to elude him. In the end he often spends as much time and effort as it would have taken to build a legitimate business, but he has nothing to show for it.
That's been the Republican party's approach to winning votes lately.
Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich led the Republican party to the biggest election victories in its history. How did they do it? By adopting a platform based on principles that they really believed in, campaigning on that platform, and then when elected, delivering on those promises. They didn't always succeed in their goals, of course. But they didn't change their positions once elected. They remained loyal to the people who elected them.
Contrast that with the Republican party of 2007. They lurch from gimick to gimick to win votes. Like:
- Buy the votes of senior citizens by creating a big new entitlement program, Medicare prescription drug coverage.
- Buy the votes of particular districts by spending tax dollars on pork projects, like the "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska and the "Indoor Rainforest" in Iowa.
- Win over Democrats by making major concessions, like when the Democrats were in the minority in the Senate, nevertheless giving them a veto on judicial appointments.
- Win the Hispanic vote by pushing amnesty for illegal aliens.
None of these gimmicks appears to have actually worked. All of them look like they cost the Republicans more votes with their "base" -- the people who voted them into office in the first place -- than they picked up new votes. Indeed, a moment's thought would have shown that all of these ideas were unlikely to work.
- Prescription drugs: Polls all showed that the people it was supposed to benefit didn't particularly want it. Like all government programs, it proved to be complicated and confusing, which just made the beneficiaries frustrated. And the price tag was huge, and the only plan to pay for it was wishing the money would magically appear. The fiscal conservative Republicans were mad at the wasteful spending, and the libertarian Republicans were mad at the government sticking its nose in yet another part of our lives.
- Pork projects: The average voter doesn't get any particular benefit from a pork barrel project, just because it happens to be in his state. The people who benefit are the people who actually win the government contract or grant. The theory here is apparently that voters will flock to the cause of the party that raises their taxes the most so that the money can be given to rich campaign contributors who live near the voter. Voters hate to see tax money given to rich campaign contributors who live far away, but if they live close, well that's a good thing then.
- Winning over Democrats: Of course each party wants to win away voters from the other. A rational way to do this is to try to convince people that your policies are better. An irrational way to do this is to try to convince people that you will meet them half way. Because why should they vote for someone who is half of what they want when they could vote for someone who is all of what they want? Apparently the Republicans have figured out that if a liberal voter realizes that he agrees with the Democrat candidate 90% of the time and the Republican candidate 10% of the time, he's going to vote for the Democrat. Fair enough. But then the Republicans got the bizarre idea that they could win these voters by compromising, that is, that if a liberal voter realizes that he agrees with the Democrat candidate 90% of the time and the Republican candidate 50% of the time, that he will vote Republican. Why in the world would he do that? What really happened, of course, is that the conservative voters then observed that while the Republican had campaigned on a platform that he agreed with 90%, once elected this candidate betrayed him on half those promises, and so the conservative voters decided that it didn't much matter who they voted for. So they stayed home.
- Amnesty: After losing so many voters by betraying them and stabbing them in the back, the Republicans concluded that they had to get a new crop of voters to replace them. Hispanics seemed a likely group. Hispanics tend to have many conservative social and political beliefs, so it seemed reasonable that Republicans could win over a fair percentage by making the appropriate overtures. Unfortunately, what the party came up with was a policy that was widely opposed by their base. Personally, I'm in favor of loosening immigration laws and giving some sort of amnesty to illegal immigrants already here. But I realize this is not a popular position among Republican voters. For the Republicans to push this is absolutely insane. If I was a Republican running for office, I'd be talking about immigration like Giuliani talks about abortion: "I know you don't agree with me on this, but there are so many more important issues on which we do agree, etc" Instead, the Republican leadership tried to ram this down the throats of the people who voted for them, and when the voters objected, they called them ignorant and racists. Brilliant way to build support: First betray your supporters, then insult them for objecting to being betrayed.
If the Republican party wants to start winning elections again, here's are a few of radical ideas they might try:
- Build a platform based on principle.
- Live up to your campaign promises.
- Don't betray your friends in order to appease your enemies.
© 2007 by Jay Johansen