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Keep Calm and Argue On: The Importance of Political Marketing.

As the Republican party today is facing down President Obama in Congress over the now “shutdown” US federal government, the Conservative party is holding its annual conference in Manchester this week. Whether the Conservative party will win the election in 2015 is unclear, the polls are tight and the election is two years away. If the economy keeps improving I think they will win, but a lot can happen in two years. However, what the Conservatives are doing now is sharpening their message to build an ideological case for Conservatism. I absolutely love their slogan “for hard working people”, and I believe “for hard working people” should be the message of Conservatives not just in Great Britain, but throughout the world. The Conservative website is effective, as they put their accomplishments front and centre, and they have launched an ingenious social media campaign called #sharethefacts to make sure people know how much taxes and spending have gone down and how much more people would pay under a Labour government. http://www.conservatives.com/. While the Conservatives still have much work to do to regain UKIP defectors, this message and marketing is paying off among young people. In the past year, for example, the amount of University Conservative Associations have nearly doubled, they lead among young people in the polls (see my previous blog on Liebour) and most importantly most young people are buying the argument fiscal conservatism. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/politics/article3881644.ece. The main point, however, is the Conservative party is shouting their message from the mountain top with a coherent strategy likely molded by Lynton Crosby. I believe, that come election time, this strategy, along with an improved economy, will result in a Tory victory.

In contrast, here in America, the Republicans may have their heart in the right place, but they are having an awful time explaining why it was necessary to defund or delay implementation of Obamacare, to the point of causing a “Government shutdown”. The media in this country (with the exception of Rupert Murdoch owned outlets and talk radio who have an almost purely right wing listening base) is firmly in the Democrat party’s camp and is quickly using this “shutdown” as an excuse to revive the previously ailing political fortunes of Barack Obama. Today, in the White House Rose Garden, Obama compared his bureaucratic zoo of a healthcare law (called Obamacare) to the IOS operating system of the Apple Corporation, claiming that he, like Apple, wants to simply improve the well being of the nation and that Congress should simply “fix the glitch” rather than shutdown the entire US government. Obama lambasted the tea party wing of the US House of Representatives for “holding hostage” the American people, a message that the media has dutifully spread, nationally and even internationally. Today I was somewhat surprised to hear the Washington reporter on LBC 97.3 quoting US Senate Majority leader Harry Reid’s (D) propaganda calling the tea party “anarchists” while not quoting any Republican viewpoints. It was like I was reading the New York Times (or any other American newspaper) or watching CNN (or the BBC).

The narrative the Democrats are giving, of the Republicans holding the nation hostage and shutting down the government, is simply not true.

First of all, only “non-essential” government functions are being shut down. The military, social security (elderly pensions), welfare, food stamps, medicaid and other government handouts are still getting paid and are not being shut down. Furthermore, the lovable NSA will also not be shut down and the Obamacare government health care insurance exchange program started today with the launching (glitch filled) of the programme website! http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/10/01/us-usa-healthcare-idUSBRE98T14R20131001 The “non-essential” government functions, i.e. national parks, monuments or many agencies are what is being closed, as well as Congress not being in session, meaning the very well paid civil servants will not get paid during this time. (Washington DC is the wealthiest metro area in the country thanks to the generosity of the federal government with taxpayer money in paying their employees. http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/river-american-money-flows-dc_756600.html).  Traditionally, these shutdowns have lasted a short couple of days, or 20 years ago, 3 weeks. This is not, by any means, a unique or unprecedented event in American history. http://www.bostonglobe.com/news/nation/2013/09/30/history-government-shutdowns/JCbyamnf0ifg6DSCpEsTkK/story.html.

Secondly, it is Obama and the Senate Democrats who have refused to compromise with the Republicans over the funding of his signature legislation. But don’t take my word for it, I’ll let the President speak for himself in his interview yesterday: “Steve, when you say, “What can I offer?” — I shouldn’t have to offer anything. They’re not doing me a favor by paying for things that they have already approved for the government to do. That’s part of their basic function of government; that’s not doing me a favor. That’s doing what the American people sent them here to do, carrying out their responsibilities.” Regarding the issue of delaying the individual mandate in the healthcare law, (as he did (unilaterally) with the employer mandate) the position the Republicans offered as a compromise, Obama said: “Steve, let’s be clear: We’re not going to delay the Affordable Care Act.” http://www.npr.org/2013/10/01/227916696/transcript-and-audio-npr-interview-with-president-obama And today, Republicans of the House of Representatives tried to negotiate with Senate Democrats. Harry Reid’s answer? NO! I will not negotiate with you. http://dailycaller.com/2013/09/26/reid-no-negotiations-with-gop-on-government-funding-debt-ceiling/. So much for the Democrats wailing and gnashing of teeth over the government shutdown.

So how come everybody blames the Republicans?

Most of the Republicans, unlike the Conservatives, have a terrible time marketing themselves. They usually only do one of two things in media relations: 1. Pander to the base (by going on Fox News when they want the base’s support) or 2. Pander to the left wing media to be loved. They don’t know how to argue with the media or use the media as a channel to express their ideas. David Cameron goes on Andrew Marr, Nick Ferrari, writes editorials, and takes and gives abuse in fierce arguments once a week in the House of Commons, which is broadcasted. American politicians are usually insulated from hearing criticism and only talk to the media that supports them. And that works great for the Democrats, because by and large the media loves them unconditionally. Look at the outrage over a South Carolina congressman yelling “you lie” during the President’s state of the union speech. The poor congressman was virtually crucified for something MPs do on a regular basis. But for most Republicans, the “mainstream” media is something to either be appeased or avoided. Yesterday, while watching CNN, I witnessed the show’s anchor, Ashleigh Bansfield, verbally beat up two Republican congress members for not answering her extremely slanted and biased question. The two congress people cowered and tried to appease the furious left wing mid-morning tv hostess, trying to not seem “truly that bad”. It was pathetic. In contrast, every British politician I hear being interviewed, even by those media members sympathetic to them, will strongly argue with the media member when that member says something they don’t agree with.

If the Republican party cannot explain to the American people clearly and effectively WHY it opposes the ACA and WHY it wants fiscal restraint, it is going to have trouble winning the next election or building a base for the future. The Republicans can no longer follow the Karl Grove/George W. Bush strategy of ignoring its critics, the party has suffered immensely because of that strategy.

Personally, I would have waited another month to fight this battle for deep cuts over the debt ceiling level and fought the battle of funding over the healthcare law at that time. This would have given the Republicans a month to build its argument with the people, look responsible, and show how it is Obama who is being stringent, stubborn and arrogant over his sticking to his sacred cow Obamacare. However, instead they raised the ire of the Democrats by passing a defunding bill, being forced to retreat to passing a “delaying” bill and now they are begging the Democrats to negotiate with them at all. The government is now “shut down” and the Democrats are going to try to use this event to destroy the Republicans.  From here on out, the Republicans would be prudent to shout from the mountain top the truth about this situation. If they do not, they may be wiped out by the long knives of the Democrat party and their sympathetic media at the mid term elections; strengthening the hapless Democratic party’s hold on the country. The Republicans could use a Lynton Crosby to give them an effective message to fight this battle.

About Ted Yarbrough

Profile photo of Ted Yarbrough
Ted is the co-founder and editor of the Daily Globe. He is a long-time blogger on British politics and has written a thesis on Thatcherism. He is based in Dallas, Texas, USA.

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