Republicans: Who We Are

Governor Andrew Cuomo tells conservatives to get out of New York

Here in the great state of New York, our governor, Andrew Cuomo, kind of put his foot in his mouth recently.  I’m not a journalist, so I’m not going to report the story to you, but you can listen to the whole thing here.  But here’s the important part of what he said:

“You have a schism in the Republican Party.  The Republican Party is searching for an identity.  They’re searching to define their soul.  Is the Republican Party in this state a moderate party, or is it an extreme conservative party?  That’s what they’re trying to figure out…the gridlock in Washington is less about Democrats and Republicans, it’s more about extreme Republicans and moderate Republicans.  The moderate Republicans can’t figure out how to deal with the extreme Republicans, and the moderate Republicans are afraid of the extreme conservative Republicans…their problem is not me and the Democrats.  Their problem is themselves.  Who are they?  Are they these extreme conservatives who are Right to Life?  Pro-assault weapons?  Anti-gay?  Is that who they are?  Because if that’s who they are, they have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are.”

After this part he discusses some specific state issues, makes up some really, really bizarrely fake statistics, and kinda sorta endorses ‘moderate’ Republicans in general.  As you can imagine, conservatives all over the Empire State are riled up.  I could write a whole other post on how Mr. Cuomo could have more eloquently and less offensively made his point (which has been completely missed by all the media, it would seem), but I’m not here to solve his problems (although Peggy Noonan did a good job of it here).  I’m here to solve yours. At the end of this diatribe, Cuomo poses a really pointed question.  A question every Republican has asked themselves more than once over the past decade–

“Who are the Republicans?  And who wins between the extreme conservatives and the moderates?”

And if you’re running for office in 2014, this is the perfect time to ponder this question, because the success of everything you do from this point on – developing a campaign messaging strategy especially – rests on how you answer this question for yourself, and how firmly you’re willing to stand by that answer. Let’s take a look at the history of the GOP, shall we?

Technically, there have been two Republican parties in our nation’s history, and the first one cropped up in the 1790s when the founding fathers were still on the political scene as the Democratic-Republican Party (basically, Thomas Jefferson’s anti-Federalist party).  The party’s philosophy was much more nebulous than would be acceptable as a party platform these days, but generally revolved around Jefferson’s concept of “republicanism” which, by his definition, narrowly focused on the themes of liberty and equality.

“The republican is the only form of government which is not eternally at open or secret war with the rights of mankind.” –Thomas Jefferson

After the Federalist Party petered out and the Era of Good Feelings began, the Democratic-Republican Party faded away as well. Though the first Republican Party became obsolete, the principles behind it–freedom and equality–were the same values that prompted abolitionist political leaders to form the Republican Party that still exists today.  Abraham Lincoln is, famously, the first Republican president.  And is there a greater national representative for freedom and equality?

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” – Abraham Lincoln

Along the way, we’ve had a few truly legendary men to serve as bastions for the GOP.  But here’s the funny thing–the coolest Republicans have never fallen in lockstep with a boilerplate political platform.  They set new standards.  They think of republican principles first, and only after that do they define Republican platforms.  Teddy Roosevelt was an environmentalist, for example.  That’s not a value typically assigned to the Republican platform, but it should be noted it was there.

“I am an American; free born and free bred, where I acknowledge no man as my superior, except for his own worth, or as my inferior, except for his own demerit.” ― Theodore Roosevelt

Freedom, for our nation as a value but also for  individuals, is the one common thread that has held the Republican Party together for decades.  In his later years, when the issue was thrust onto the national political agenda, Barry Goldwater–the conservative standard-bearer Barry Goldwater–became an advocate for gay rights.  Some people think maybe he was off his rocker toward the end.  I think he understood the republican value that my rights only extend so far as they do not infringe on another man’s freedom.

“Equality, rightly understood as our founding fathers understood it, leads to liberty and to the emancipation of creative differences; wrongly understood, as it has been so tragically in our time, it leads first to conformity and then to despotism.” – Barry Goldwater

So when you’re determining your campaign’s key issues, when you’re interacting with voters–especially those who don’t completely agree with you–and when you’re trying to decide what “type” of “Republican” you’re going to be, please remember Thomas Jefferson’s original vision for what it means to be republican.

“I hope we have once again reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There’s a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: as government expands, liberty contracts.” – Ronald Reagan

So what is the answer to Mr. Cuomo’s question?  Lincoln said “a house divided against itself cannot stand,” and that’s just as true today as it was when our nation was ripping itself in two.  Will the Republican Party split itself out of existence, leaving only moderate Democrats and Socialists to run the country?  Or will we find some common ground to stand on?  If you intend to be a candidate for office this year, no matter how big or small, you are an integral part of answering that question.

What kind of Republican will you be?  Hopefully one who thinks for himself.  Don’t allow yourself to be trapped by terms like “conservative,” “establishment,” “Tea Party,” and so on.  You can be a part of those things without being a slave to them.

“The ultimate determinate in the struggle now going on for the world will not be bombs and rockets but a test of wills and ideas – a trial of spiritual resolve; the values we hold, the beliefs we cherish and the ideas to which we are dedicated.” – Ronald Reagan

How to Deal With Abortion and Other Off-Agenda Social Issues

Brace yourselves, folks, for a rant, because that’s just the mood I’m in.

I am oh so ever annoyed with the way many conservatives are painting the party into a corner by constantly beating the drum of several less-than-popular social issues that, quite frankly, aren’t important at the moment and likely won’t be until after 2016.  I’m just spit-balling, but I think it’s pretty evident that ObamaCare, the economy, and maybe education will be the top (and virtually only) issues in 2014.

I’m going to tackle an issue I happen to be fairly knowledgeable about: abortion.  But the general rules outlined in this post could also apply to other hotly-debated social issues like gay marriage.

abortion social issues

The Facts

Join me for a quick hop over to Gallup, the nation’s top public opinion research company, and see what they say that we say.

Hm, well, look at that.  According to study after study, year after year, Americans as a whole are NOT pro-abortion.  In Gallup’s in-depth review, they even state that the all-or-nothing terms ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’ are inadequate and misleading.  Here are the facts:

  • The country is not split on abortion.  The media quote stats that indicate about 1/2 the country is ‘pro-life’ and half is ‘pro-choice.’
    What they don’t tell you is that half of that ‘pro-choice’ group is:
    1.  Against 2nd and 3rd trimester abortion.
    2.  Against abortion except in cases of rape/incest/life of mother.
    3.  Against partial birth abortion.
    4.  Less than 3% of abortions are due to rape/incest/protecting the life of the mother.
    That means roughly 75% of Americans are against 97% of abortions.
  • Republicans are reliably pro-life by about 70%.  Democrats actually vary widely from 19% to nearly half, depending on demographics…curiously, under-educated and poorer democrats are actually more pro-life, hm…
  • It’s not the young and frightened teen getting most of the abortions – they’re only 17% of the equation.  The majority lies with unmarried 20-something white women who cite ‘financial stress’ or not wanting to be a single parent as their reason.  A surprisingly high number are repeat abortions and abortions for women who already have a child (or children), again the vast majority unmarried.
  • There may be something to this Black Genocide theory.
  • 1 in 6 voters hold abortion as a ‘make or break’ issue in winning their vote, nearly half view it as one of several important factors.

The Point

There are a gazillion more statistics I could throw at you, and this may all seem irrelevant to your political campaign, and maybe it is, but you need to know it anyway.  Because someone will ask you.

If you’re running for Congress it matters because abortion is a classic national level public (a.k.a. media) agenda issue.

If you’re running for mayor, city council or a county wide position and there’s an abortion clinic in your district, it matters.

It matters most for a state senate or state representative seat because state legislatures are the true battleground for the pro-life/pro-choice debate.

Not to mention, there’s always the potential for you to progress up, and it may come into play in another race.

The Problem

You might be wondering why I feel the need to write an in-depth post about this topic.  For the record, I’m pro-life.  And I’m constantly ripping my hair out because some ‘staunch pro-lifer’ in a committee in some state legislature has killed a bill that would have curtailed abortions by some percentage on the grounds that it wasn’t ‘strong enough.’

As if that isn’t enough, I rip out whatever hair I had left because some promising new candidate gets caught off guard and says something religious/sentimental/fundamental on the topic that the media then happily takes out of context and over-plays on every newscast from now until election day, and a would-be ally doesn’t get elected at all.

There are some things that pro-life candidates (and current politicians, too) need to keep in mind:

  • This is a war.  We are not going to win it in one sweeping battle.  It will take incremental changes to peel back the over-reach of Roe v. Wade.  It will take a great deal of sly cleverness to get any sort of pro-life legislation past the long and well-funded arm of the pro-abortion movement, namely Planned Parenthood.  They stomp on any legislation that’s even remotely pro-life, regardless if it’s damaging to greater issues like women’s health.  Inspect abortion clinics? Require basic health standards?  Let women see their ultrasounds?  Tell them about adoption?  How dare you!
  • Accept that Roe v. Wade is probably here to stay, at least in this lifetime.  If you take an all-or-nothing approach to your pro-life agenda, you will fail.  You should approach any and all pro-life legislation by asking yourself, “Can this save one life?”  If the answer is yes, support it!  For God’s and the unborn’s sake, don’t kill the bill yourself because it’s not stringent enough, and don’t change it to the point that no democrat will support it.  Saving one at a time is infinitely better than saving none.
  • There are other, more effective ways to curb abortions.  Think about the women who have them – unmarried, often already has one child or more, low-income.  How can you help these women to not fall into these categories?

The Rules

This delicate subject requires a complicated web of rules when it comes to addressing it publicly – or even privately – during a political campaign.  The last thing you want to do is scare away would-be supporters because you make an overly sentimental display of support one way or another – these candidates are (usually outrageously unfairly) labeled right-wing fundamentalist evangelical looneys.  And your words will be taken out of context and go viral online.  I promise.  So bear with me through what promises to be the most tedious – but potentially campaign-saving – post you’ve ever read.

For the sake of convenience, I’m going to assume anyone who’s tripped upon this post is pro-life and Republican.

  1. You do not need to talk about it.  If some one asks you, of course, you can simply tell them you are pro-life and are free to answer any follow up questions, but you don’t need to shout it from the rooftops, include it in your stump speech, or mention it in a bullet point on your palm card.  You should have a fleshed out issue stance about abortion on your website, as every other conceivably important issue.  Websites are for voters who really need to know you – typically independent-minded informed voters.
  2. When you do talk about it, especially when you’re on the record in any way, quote statistics, not Bible verses.  The liberal media wants you to talk about Jesus.  They’re dying for you to bring up Bible verses no average American has heard before.  That’s exactly the soundbite they need to make you look like a Bible-thumping, ultra-conservative, fundamentalist Christian with a close-minded and backward view, completely lost in these modern, free-spirited times.
  3. Use the opportunity to talk about other issues and initiatives that support women.  Show sympathy for the women who may find themselves in this situation.  Surely many feel like there is no way out.  What are you doing to help them out?  How are you making adoption an easier choice?  How are you making employment with kids easier?  How are you building a supportive environment for the nuclear family?  How about addressing the issue of fatherlessness head on?  That’s a good angle for a black Republican candidate in particular.  Show voters you love them both.
  4. Redirect, redirect, redirect.  Answer the question if you must.  But embrace the freedom to give an answer completely unrelated to the question.  Focus on the issues that matter, and most importantly, the issues that are already imbedded in your communications strategy.

Okay, so now that I’ve written it out, it isn’t really complicated at all.  So take it to heart, apply it to appropriate hot-button issues, and win.

I Don’t Care About Gay Marriage

gay marriage, political campaign, rick santorum, new hampshire, primary

"Damn! All the good ones are either married or gay..."

As I write this, the hammer is coming down on GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum for his very conservative views on marriage, sex, and abortion.  I’ve been avoiding this divisive topic for months because it’s a crazy sticky web of complicated B.S., but what better time to talk about the issue of “gay marriage” than now, when it’s so fresh in the political debate?

First, I’d like to give a little (very unofficial) history of gay marriage and what it is.  I should preface by saying I’m not an expert on gay rights, but I am an expert on how they affect political campaigns.

For several years political issues surrounding homosexuals had been classified under the heading of ‘civil rights.’  Homosexuality has kind of been given the same status as gender or race is this regard, and rightly so, since (as far as I can tell) its just another trait you get at birth.  In 2004, however, President George W. Bush’s campaign forever altered this perception of homosexuality.

When the war issue was getting too stale to inspire the GOP voter base for Bush’s second presidential run, the Bush campaign decided to light a fire under the ass of a great sleeping giant of GOP base supporters:  ‘Evangelical’ or ‘Fundamental’ Christians.  So Karl Rove in all his brilliance thought up the idea of grabbing hold of a very liberal fringe issue that had hardly made any traction whatsoever on its own and flipping it on its head to turn it into the firestorm now known as “gay marriage.”

You see, gay activists had been struggling to get the same privileges for monogamous gay couples that married couples get, like tax privileges, adoption rights and healthcare rights.  They wanted some legal entity to acknowledge the relationship as valid so that they could, for example, visit each other in the hospital.  There were small battles being fought, but no major media was picking up the issue and putting it on a national agenda.

The 2004 Bush campaign pointed a big, national finger at these activists and said “Look!  Look what they want to do.  They want to be married.  They want to have all the same rights and privileges as married people.  But the Bible says being gay is wrong.  If the U.S. government gives them those rights and privileges, that’s like we’re saying being gay is A-OK.  Do you, America, want to go against the Bible and put your seal of approval on something the Bible says is wrong?  If not, vote for Bush again and he’ll ban gay marriage with a Constitutional Amendment.”  From that point on, the homosexuality debate quickly became not a civil rights issue, but a moral issue.  Moral issues are incredibly emotionally charged and legally murky – the perfect environment for waging a fantastic political ambush.

And everyone in America whose ever read at least most of the Bible said “Oooh, that sounds logical, I think I really need to vote for Bush again.”  That is how Bush turned out spectacular numbers within the party base in 2004, and how he even squeezed a few independents over to his side to squeak through the November elections without a getting pink slip.

For the gay activists, well, whether they’d admit it or not, it actually did them a favor, because now everybody in America was thinking about their issue, and all the political commentators were talking about it.  There have been a lot of local and state level victories in the area of gay rights/privileges since 2004, much more rapidly than they ever would have occurred before.

That’s the history.  So what’s my point in this post?  “I thought this blog was about campaigning!” you say.  Well it is!

I hate, hate, hate the issue of gay marriage.  Quite frankly, I’m annoyed that Rove came up with this whole scheme, because it’s made political campaigning even less about real, important, quantifiable, life-affecting issues than it already was.  Being on one side or the other of this issue helps only a few candidates in a few parts of the nation, at particular times in the political media cycle.  If you go around stumping on the maladies of gay marriage when you’re running for state senator, then guess what?  It will bite you in the ass when you run for Congress!  That’s right!  I say stay as far away from this issue as humanly possible.  Dodge and redirect questions from the media.  Heck, I’d even skip the vote if it came up, maybe, or at least do everything in your power not to let it come to a vote.

As you can see on the news, the social conservative ‘traditional marriage’ message plays very well in Iowa where people are mostly white, middle class, church-goers.  But look at what is going on in New Hampshire.  The East Coasters are having none of it, and it could mean a surging primary win for Mr. Moderate Mitt Romney, crowning him the unofficial GOP nominee for president.

All that being said, I hereby declare that I retain the right to say “I told you so” when Obama handily pulls off winning a second term, or worse yet, when America comes to realize that the Romney administration is a carbon copy of the last four years.

When it comes to state level policy, yes, the issue is relevant.  But the Constitution of the United States makes it abundantly clear that the federal government has absolutely no jurisdiction in the area of ‘marriage’ or anything even closely related to it.  So why are we talking about this at all in a presidential campaign?

When it comes to national politics, I don’t care about gay marriage.  I really don’t care, because,

  • It should be a state issue, always and forever.
  • Unemployment is too high
  • The tax burden is too high
  • Government spending is way too high
  • We obviously have more important things to do!
America has allowed issues like gay marriage, abortion, immigration and healthcare to be the “Hey! Look over there!” tactic that both Republicans and Democrats use to distract us from the fact that they don’t have a real plan to fix any real problems.  The Republican primary debates began being about one thing: Economy, economy, economy.  Jobs, jobs, jobs.  Now it’s a three ring circus, with MSNBC and CNN as the ringmasters and the Tea Party swinging precariously from the trapeze.
**Here are a couple of good resources for further info on the topic:
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