Political Hay

Headless Elephants

A deficit of smarts and principles is hamstringing the GOP when America needs it most.

By 7.29.14

Wikimedia Commons: Gage Skidmore
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Last week, amid alarm bells going off in Gaza, Ukraine, and on the Texas border, and while he golfed and attended campaign fundraisers, President Barack Obama saw his approval rating as measured by Gallup drop to 39 percent. Some 54 percent of the venerable polling firm’s respondents registered active disapproval of the president’s job performance, an indication that America is coming to a consensus around the idea that Obama is a failure in office.

This comes with a flurry of mainstream media reports speculating that Obama has checked out of his job, and a growing acceptance of the narrative that the president simply doesn’t care anymore.

Isn’t this something new in American history? Jimmy Carter was an abject failure just like Obama is, but nobody complained during the denouement of his presidency that he didn’t care. Woodrow Wilson’s disastrous presidency ended in his convalescence following a stroke, but Wilson succumbed while in the midst of a whistle-stop campaign attempting to build support for the League of Nations. George W. Bush left office with little or no political capital left, but few thought he was disengaged amidst the financial crisis that descended in the final months of his presidency.

In Obama, America has a president the country sees as both incompetent (or worse) and phoning it in.

The opposition party should be seeing its coffers swell and its electoral fortunes shimmering, no?

And yet, while these are hardly the worst of times for Republicans, the party’s ascendance is not the story. Instead, the GOP has suffered from a troubling inability to galvanize its current and former supporters.

The mission for the party, its base voters, and the nearly 60 percent of the public who say Obama is a failure in office is obvious. Republicans need to take back the Senate, and they need to take it back with candidates who are both competent legislators and principled conservatives. This is an attainable mission; analysts like the New York Times’s Nate Silver and Roll Call’s Stu Rothenberg are calling Senate control either a toss-up or a slight likelihood for the Grand Old Party.

It’s apparent the party’s brass understands the mission as well. Last week the RNC rolled out a campaign to “Fire Reid,” a reference to the villainous Senate majority leader rated numerous times as the most hated man in Washington. Eviscerating red-state Democratic senators like Mark Begich, Mary Landrieu, and Mark Pryor isn’t very difficult when they have voting records and financial paper trails tying them to Reid and his policies and, in the case of Landrieu, actual statements of support for his continued leadership. Nationalizing the Senate race is a smart idea, and personalizing it around Reid is praiseworthy as a bit of Alinskyite blowback against the Left.

But the #FireReid message isn’t going to get through to the GOP's key audiences if it isn’t clearly articulated, and clear articulation is not what people perceive when the party sends fundraising messages which say nothing about its core mission for this cycle.

Just as the #FireReid message should have been in full rollout, the Republican National Committee decided to send a fundraising message which sucked all the energy out of its supporters. Instead of asking for help to take over the Senate, it said this:

Did you abandon the Republican Party?

Chairman Priebus has written to you aleady this year asking you to contribute to the RNC and renew your membership. But we haven't received your financial support yet this year.

Your past support has shown us that you believe in the Republican Party and the conservative principles we stand for. That's why we still believe you haven't given up on the Republican Party yet.

So we are giving you one more chance to renew your membership with the Republican National Committee.

Right now you are handing the advantage over to the Democrats. That's exactly what President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid want you to do. With committed Republicans like you sitting out in 2014, the Democrats are able to continue their liberal rampage on conservative principles.

2014 is our last chance to step in, step up, and take back the Senate to regain Republican control in Washington. Don't turn your back on the Republican Party now.

Renew your membership with the Republican National Committee now and support our fight to defeat liberal Democrats.

Thanks,

Tony Parker

RNC Teasurer

The reaction to such a scolding, insulting message (which, by the way, never even mentions #FireReid and references the Senate majority only in the second-to-last paragraph) was less than the RNC hoped.

It isn’t just an inability to stay on message or fundraise without irritating party supporters that has the GOP struggling to take advantage of its current opportunities. The party’s deafening silence surrounding the mess in Mississippi has depressed allegiances as well.

Last week conservative activist and Iowa primary power-broker Steve Deace took to the pages of the Washington Times to beg RNC Chairman Reince Priebus to do something about what very well might be a stolen Republican primary election by incumbent Republican Thad Cochran with the help of RNC member Henry Barbour. Deace specifically decried the use of race-baiting ads trashing challenger Chris McDaniel on black radio stations throughout Mississippi paid for by Republican senators through PACs controlled by the Barbour machine in that state. And Deace wasn’t the first to cry foul over Mississippi—Missouri GOP Chairman Ed Martin has been very public in demanding an investigation of the Cochran/Barbour tactics, as has former TAS columnist Quin Hillyer.

Priebus doesn’t have to denounce Cochran, and he doesn’t have to attack Barbour. What he does need to do is to show that he cares about the concerns raised in Mississippi, and to show that his is a party with some standards as to how it conducts business. Thanking his supporters rather than ignoring them when he isn’t scolding them and demanding their lunch money would be nice as well.

The GOP needs to apologize for the inane fundraising letter and start asking for money specifically to get rid of Harry Reid. Then it should appoint some neutral arbiters to get to the bottom of the Mississippi primary with an iron promise that if there was illegality or unethical behavior something concrete will be done about it.

There is time to fix this problem, and it’s not impossible to take the Senate even with a rudderless party (the GOP took the House in 2010, after all, amid the chaos of Michael Steele’s leadership). But this ought to be a wave election and Republican ascendance amid the disaster of Obama ought to be the accepted wisdom. And it isn’t, because of a perceived lack of leadership at the top.

It’s time for Priebus to clean up his party’s act.

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About the Author

Scott McKay is publisher of the Hayride, which offers news and commentary on Louisiana and national politics.