Green Room

Fail: Republicans’ maddening messaging mess

posted at 3:30 pm on December 4, 2012 by

They say the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again, yet expecting different results.   Based on this standard, Republicans are in desperate need of an intervention.  Over at Townhall, I’ve described how bizarro-world Republicans might have exploited the occasion of their “fiscal cliff” counteroffer to at least improve their standing in the essential realm of public perception:

(1) On Sunday evening, Republican leadership aides leak word to key media figures that their bosses will be calling a press conference the following afternoon, at which they’d unveil a “major announcement” or “breakthrough” regarding the fiscal cliff.

(2) This news bleeds out online overnight, leading to rampant speculation — which builds anticipation.  The chattering class on Morning Joe and Fox & Friends debate what might the afternoon might have in store.  Media outlets set up shop outside the Capitol, with reporters doing live hits throughout the day.

(3) By early afternoon, designated staffers begin to offer the press a few morsels about the details of the announcement, fueling the hype.

(4) At 3pm ET (when the actual letter was made public yesterday), Speaker Boehner and his leadership team stride out onto the steps of the Capitol building and gather around a bank of microphones.  Perhaps they’re flanked by a few small business owners.  With cameras rolling — several of the cable news channels even pick up the live feed — Boehner holds up the exact same letter, and says something like:

“I hold in my hand a letter we’ve just sent to the White House.  The American people are demanding a bipartisan compromise to avoid the fiscal cliff and the threat of another painful recession, and we Republicans have decided to take the lead in heeding the will of the people.  Today, we are announcing our support for a deal originally outlined by a Democrat named Erskine Bowles — President Clinton’s chief of staff and the co-chairman of President Obama’s fiscal commission.  It includes some elements that we don’t like very much, quite frankly, including $800 Billion in new revenues.  It also makes absolutely necessary spending reductions, which the American people have said must be the biggest element of any ‘balanced’ plan.  The Bowles plan is balanced, reasonable, and fair, which is why — despite some of our misgivings — we are embracing it, and we urge the White House and our friends across the aisle to join us.”

(5) Boehner cedes the microphone to the requisite merry-go-round of leaders standing behind him (presumably the signatories of the letter, including Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan and Cathy McMorris Rodgers), each of whom makes a brief statement hammering home three or four key messaging points for Republicans.  “The Bowles plan.”  “Bipartisan compromise.”  “$800 Billion in new revenues.”  Etc.

(6) These images and key soundbytes dominate the next news cycle.  Even if Democrats instantly reject the proposal, there’s a much higher level of awareness that it exists (an improvement over the status quo) and some people might even ask a few tough questions about why Democrats were so flippant and dismissive about a major overture from Republicans.

My aim here is not to pour more opprobrium on the beleaguered House Republican leadership.  They’re facing a very difficult dilemma, with limited leverage, and bad-faith actors sitting across the table.  But surely the GOP can reconsider its messaging and public relations strategy, which has been falling short for months.  Boehner’s counteroffer isn’t a flawless document, but while conservatives are fighting internally about substance, most Democrats are happily focused on political positioning.  That might be cynical and reckless, but it’s reality.  Even if Republicans managed to craft the perfect compromise, it wouldn’t matter if the public never heard about it in a context that could help shift their superficial assumptions about which side is acting responsibly.  Democrats are absolutely fine sitting back and letting the GOP negotiate against itself, so long as Republicans remain on the hook for blame if the Howard Dean endorsed cliff-dive transpires.  Conservatives need a game changer; sending off a letter  doesn’t quite qualify, to put it mildly.

– The perfect companion piece, via the Headlines:

While 53 percent of those surveyed say the GOP would (and should) lose the fiscal cliff blame game, just 27 percent say President Obama would be deserving of more of the blame. Roughly one in 10 (12 percent) volunteer that both sides would be equally to blame. Those numbers are largely unchanged from a Post-Pew survey conducted three weeks ago and suggest that for all of the back and forth in Washington on the fiscal cliff, there has been little movement in public perception. The numbers also explain why Republicans privately fret about the political dangers of going over the cliff, while Democrats are more sanguine about such a prospect.


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portlandon on December 4, 2012 at 3:33 PM

I think messaging and who gets the blame should be the last thing on the GOPs mind. Either make a real bargain that has a chance of saving the country – cuts and delays to O-care a minimum prerequisite there – or walk away. Maybe we’ll get the blame… and then what? We’ll lose an election?

Until the culture has changed enough that conservative ideals are winning without perfect messaging, this whole nation is going over the cliff. The only difference is speed. The left’s messaging has been terrible too. Their whole campaign last year was filled with embarrassments… but they’re still winning, with the help of a media propaganda machine Goebbels and Molotov would envy. Voters solidly believe that everybody – right and left – is out of ideas and yet the conservative movement has had their same ideas for years. We can’t make the nation listen, they’ll just have to learn the hard way.

Gingotts on December 4, 2012 at 3:45 PM

To start with, if you’re going to refer to it as the “Bowles” plan, Bowles himself ought to be willing to concede that fact. He refuted it instead.

John Boehner and the other Republicans have no clue about marketing. None. Nor do their people.

beatcanvas on December 4, 2012 at 3:48 PM

All this is meaningless… Let the taxes increase on the job creators and let the economy suffer… Obama wanted the tax increase so let him get it and let him own it… What the f*** is going to say when the economy goes down, it was the Republicans faults because they did not stop me from taxing the rich? Let him go this route of destruction…

mnjg on December 4, 2012 at 3:58 PM

I am torn between cliff diving and letting Obama have EXCACTLY what he wanted by bringing up his bill to a vote and letting dems pass it alone. No Rs voting. Than watch the Senate dems vote on the tax increases.

There just isn’t much left to fight for. Let them have it.

earlgrey133 on December 4, 2012 at 4:01 PM

Yes, and it’s largely why the general election was lost.

Messaging. TruCons can whine about Romney being a faux conservative but that wasn’t the issue. Messaging was – explaining to America exactly how bad things are, how bad they will be, tying it effectively to the DogEater, and SELLING Romney.

Most people are not into politics let alone political philosophy. In a nation that takes Dancing with the Stars and Justin Bieber seriously, you have to find a way to get the message through. Barky certainly got his message through – it might have been a pack of lies but his people sold it.

More proof that they just aren’t up to the job.

CorporatePiggy on December 4, 2012 at 4:01 PM

Tell me about it. I was reduced to calling Boehner and Cantor’s office last week in unmitigated fury (during the #My2K twitter propaganda war waged by BO) pleading with them to fix their messaging, asking how it is they’re letting BO get away with the claim we’re holding Americans hostage over the BUSH TAX CUTS. Just maddening!

Pat Caddell is also urging us to make a big deal out of BO’s desire to take away the right of the House to vote on the debt ceiling. Dictatorial…overreach….thumbing his nose at Constitution, separation of powers.

Buy Danish on December 4, 2012 at 4:10 PM

beatcanvas: In fairness, this is essentially the ‘Bowles plan,’ as outlined in November 2011. Lefty websites like TPM reported on it at the time. But he does have some wiggle room to claim that it’s not really, truly his. Embracing Simpson/Bowles as a finished product would have foreclosed this possibility, but would probably have infuriated the right flank even more. Bad options all around for the GOP.

Guy Benson on December 4, 2012 at 4:18 PM

You people still don’t get it! This election was decided by a bunch of morons that didn’t know there was an election until THAT VERY DAY! I watch these idiots on Facebook, Twitter, etc. They can’t spell. They have numerous children by numerous “baby daddies” and “baby mamas”. They get their “news” from Maury Povich. They know NOTHING about any of this. And they are becoming the majority. All of this time and effort, wasted. Pearls before swine. This country is dying and you people still think we can turn things around?

Kakalak Pundit on December 4, 2012 at 4:57 PM

Their problem starts way befor messaging. It starts with basic negotiations. Republicans in DC are talking about taxes when they should be talking about cuts. Big cuts. Like elimination of entire bureaucracies like OSHA and the EPA – both of which were created by Nixon, a Republican president. And worse that that, Boehner goes in with his best offer first. How dumb is that!?? And then there is the bigger question of how did we get to a place where if we go over the “cliff” the Dems get everything in their wildest dreams: higher taxes on everyone, huge cuts to the military and imaginary, minuscule “cuts” to ” discretionary” spending…whatever that is. We the people may have to take control and organize a nationwide taxpayer revolt….

devan95 on December 4, 2012 at 4:59 PM

You people still don’t get it! This election was decided by a bunch of morons that didn’t know there was an election until THAT VERY DAY! I watch these idiots on Facebook, Twitter, etc. They can’t spell. They have numerous children by numerous “baby daddies” and “baby mamas”. They get their “news” from Maury Povich. They know NOTHING about any of this. And they are becoming the majority. All of this time and effort, wasted. Pearls before swine. This country is dying and you people still think we can turn things around?

What would you suggest people do?

earlgrey133 on December 4, 2012 at 5:05 PM

I’ve become convinced that the ongoing Republican PR mess is not due to lack of marketing ability or intelligence, but lack of a moral core.

The Left, i.e., Obama & the Dems, know who they are and what their agenda is. They know what they want to push so they go all out to get it.

Republicans OTOH are riddled with cognitive dissonance between who they are and what they want to appear to be. They’re not conservative, but they want the appearance of fiscal responsibility. They want what the Dems want, only not to the same extent.

If the Republicans were sold on conservative principles, then they would go all out to present them and sell them. They would be so committed to it that they would be working night and day to make their point to the public. But they’re not, so they can’t.

INC on December 4, 2012 at 5:41 PM

CorporatePiggy on December 4, 2012 at 4:01 PM

As a TrueCon conservativism was the issue. We’re not about selling a man, we’re about convincing people of principles.

INC on December 4, 2012 at 5:43 PM

What would you suggest people do?

earlgrey133 on December 4, 2012 at 5:05 PM

People with attitudes like Kakalak Pundit’s have been around for a long time.

Did you know that when Thomas Paine tried to get the American Crisis printed, he found Philadelphia is a state of panic and it took him nine days to get it into a newspaper on December 19th?

Did you know that on December 18th Washington wrote two relatives that is, “if every nerve is not strain’d to recruit the New Army with all possible expedition, I think the game is pretty near up”?

Neither one of them decided to lay down and die or mire in contempt for his countrymen.

“…the acts and choices of ordinary people…”

There are any number of times the game was pretty near up for this country. And it would have been, but for the character of those who persevered.

The American Crisis: November 2012

Whether we succeed or fail, we at least need to remember who we are, what our heritage is and use what influence we do have, no matter how insignificant we think it may be.

INC on December 4, 2012 at 5:56 PM

In The Answerable Courage of William Bradford (governor of Plymouth Colony) Jeffrey Lord detailed the setbacks and trials the Pilgrims had of simply getting to Cape Cod, let alone going through their adversities in establishing a home in an unfamiliar land. William Bradford and his fellow Pilgrims answered their challenges with courage—a courage that remains one of their most significant legacies to us. It is not merely a legacy of the benefits we have known because of their courage, it is a legacy that is both example and challenge. To encourage is to inspire with courage, and their perseverance in the face of severe suffering is truly one of the most moving, inspiring and humbling examples of courage in our nation’s history.

Their courage is also a challenge that asks several questions of us. How will we answer their courage? How will we answer our own setbacks and trials? How would we even be able to find courage comparable to theirs? We each must learn the answer ourselves to the first two questions. The Pilgrims have left us the answer to the last.

The monument at the grave of William Bradford has one inscription in Hebrew, that translates, “Jehovah is Our Help,” and another in Latin, “What our fathers with so much difficulty secured, do not basely relinquish.”

I won’t quibble that Obama voters haven’t been all for relinquishing a freedom they barely understand, but those who do nothing but carp, complain and demoralize also basely relinquish what our fathers secured for us with their lives and their suffering.

INC on December 4, 2012 at 6:01 PM

It’s not the messaging. It’s a lack of faith in conservative principles. People who stand for nothing, fall for anything. Tax cuts are just a political plank to be bartered with. Again stop wit the “messaging” canard.

AH_C on December 4, 2012 at 6:38 PM

They’re gutless. They’re scared to death of calling Harry Reid a lying, sack-of-s*** weasel, to say nothing of Obama. I wish Boehner would crash Harry Reid’s next press conference, call him an economic terrorist and fiscal child abuser and until he and his malignant toadie Chuck U. Schumer pass a budget and explain EXACTLY how it is that they plan on paying for all of the insane spending that they want to do, there will be no further increases to the debt ceiling. AND STICK TO IT.

DocinPA on December 4, 2012 at 6:54 PM

Can we start a third party yet?

redware on December 4, 2012 at 8:19 PM

After 2004 the Dems became more hardline and radical. In 2008 they won it all.

Go hardline, go over the cliff, there is no point in negotiating with socialists. If America wants to elect socialism, then so be it.

WisCon on December 4, 2012 at 8:47 PM

If the present GOP would have been at the Alamo they would have lined themselves up against a wall, donned kerchiefs over their eyes and patiently waited for Santa Ana.

When you are in a untenable, losing position, you make sure the enemy gets plenty bloodied before you go down.

The Donks will have their San Jacinto, but later rather than sooner if a Crockett or Travis don’t show up pronto.

Bruno Strozek on December 4, 2012 at 11:11 PM

Th Republicans need to pass 3 seperate bills, then go home!

1) A permanent fix to the AMT.

2) A permanent extension of ALL the Bush tax cuts.

3) A 100 billion increase in the debt ceiling. (Opening shot across the bows that indicates MONTHLY debt spending debates from now until the end of the Obama spending spree!)

Obama and Reid can pass any of these 3 or choose to ignore them all. No matter what they do, the Democrats will then be responsible.

Freddy on December 5, 2012 at 2:05 AM

Maybe we need to start calling him “Reactin’ John” Boehner: he certainly doesn’t seem to have any tendency to take the initiative.

PersonFromPorlock on December 5, 2012 at 7:08 AM

The Republican Party is dead to me…they died when they nominated mittens for president.

Pragmatic on December 5, 2012 at 7:28 AM

Why does the GOP have to craft anything, any proposal? Let the Marxists do it? Let them have it and when they fail we can get rid of them permanently.

bgibbs1000 on December 5, 2012 at 8:22 AM

Well… Idk anymore… Conservatism is not popular, we love in tweeter immigrant society…#teamfreeshit on December 5, 2012 at 9:43 AM

All this is meaningless… Let the taxes increase on the job creators and let the economy suffer… Obama wanted the tax increase so let him get it and let him own it… What the f*** is going to say when the economy goes down, it was the Republicans faults because they did not stop me from taxing the rich? Let him go this route of destruction…

mnjg on December 4, 2012 at 3:58 PM

Obama and the Democrats haven’t owned one bad thing from the economy yet, what makes you think they are going to start now? No matter what the Republicans do they are going to get the blame. You want Obama to own it however the Democrats and the media have other plans. What will happen when this fails and hurts the economy further will be the Republicans will be blamed for dragging this out so long and causing uncertainty. Also, due to their fighting this, the tax increases wern’t big enough (hey, class warfare has worked good for them – think they are just going to give it up).

Deets on December 5, 2012 at 11:20 AM

Boehner has mismanaged this horribly from the start. It’s time to make the tax cuts permanent (nothing wrong with that!), let the upper tier increase, and raise the debt ceiling. We’ve lost the battle and don’t need to lose the war (midterms). It’s time to retreat and regroup. Going over the cliff could do untold damage to the Republican party.

Republicans should also beat the drum that Obama and democrats want to go over the cliff.

The conservatives have much better messaging. But it’s like the old establishment republicans have silenced them….and the old idiocy is returning.

FreeManOtis on December 5, 2012 at 12:08 PM

Absolutely right, Mr. Benson. And you touch on an issue much deeper than this fiscal mess for Republicans. Their (lack of) message.

Republicans blame young people, minorities, almost everybody who voted Democrat in 2012 for voting against their own best interests, vaguely suggesting they’re all stupid or brainwashed.

Do Republican’s have any understanding of the image of their party in the larger body politic? Would they be shocked at the results of a massive man-in-the-street poll to see if anyone knows the fundamental, guiding principles of the Republican Party? Would anyone like to hazard a guess as to how that poll would turn out?

It’s fun to interview young people in line to vote in Boston and laugh at their answers. Try asking those same young people (or any at a ‘smart kid’ campus – Princeton, Harvard, Berkley, Michigan, Cal Tech) what the Republican Party stands for and see if you get as big a chuckle from those answers. And the response, “Uh, they should do their homework and find out, rather than take what they’re told at face value.” Right, it’s their responsibility to sell themselves on your product. In which universe does that concept work?

Uh, how are young people to know all the wonderful things waiting for them in the Republican tent when Republicans themselves are too distracted or clueless to bother telling them? Branding and messaging might sound like things better suited to breakfast cereal, but they are not. They’re fundamental concepts of any enterprise that seeks members, supporters, favorable opinion, you name it. Particularly politics in this century.

You know one thing Barack Obama has going for him? He’s not an old fart. And he’s not telling them what to do. [Right you are – he really is – and he’s locking them in economic shackles right in front of their eyes – but, we’re talking perception. See what I mean?]

This letter to the President thing is only one example of the complete bumble-headed leadership of a party perhaps on its way to the history books, cross-referenced to “Whig Party.”

IndieDogg on December 5, 2012 at 1:29 PM

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