Stay the course. Don’t change horses in midstream. Let them finish the job they’ve started. It’s always darkest just before dawn.
Or maybe, less pithily but more positively, this: On second thought, look around your hometown, because life may be going better than you realized.
Republicans trying desperately to hold their congressional majorities still lack a simple message that resonates with voters who usually or at least often lean right, but who this year are disaffected. They need something like (but better than) one of the examples above, something that gets voters to say, “Okay, dammit, I may not be happy with them, but I’ll give these guys one more chance. The Democrats sure haven’t given me anything to vote for, and at least these Republicans are in my general vicinity on the issues…. Yeah, dammit, okay.”
The truth is that voters who are enthusiastic about these elections are already showing up in the poll results. The challenge for Republicans is to reach out to the other voters — to the huge number of unhappy citizens out there — not by trying to make them feel an enthusiasm that just doesn’t ring true to them, but by finding them in the doubt-filled mental places where they are and convince them to vote Republican despite their doubts. There’s an electoral virtue in respecting voters enough to tacitly acknowledge their concerns.
That’s what Ronald Reagan did in his “Stay the Course” campaign in the difficult year of 1982, and while the approach wasn’t exactly inspiring, it did serve to help his party keep a majority in the Senate.
At an American Spectator breakfast on Monday, Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Ken Mehlman said that the simple message Republicans would stress is that they are better than the Democrats on keeping taxes low, on keeping the homeland and American interests safe, and on appointing good judges. Well, let it be acknowledged that Mehlman is one of the most impressive and talented political operatives in the country — but that while his RNC operation is a wonder to behold, this message doesn’t quite do the trick. The reality is that voters are starting to doubt how safe the world is and that Republicans have done a terrible job this year of fighting for good judges or even of highlighting the issue. And they certainly haven’t done the necessary work to explain how anything they would do would actually affect voters’ individual lives for the better.
And speaking of individual lives, that’s what matters to most voters. Sectarian violence in Iraq is “over there.” What they want to know is whether their own families are safe and comfortable. And the reality is that they are.
On second thought, life right now looks pretty good.
The message needs to be delivered by a trusted and believable figure, somebody with a “common touch.” Looking straight into the camera — but interspersed with appropriate footage to reinforce the truth of the words.
Imagine Rudy Giuliani in a full one-minute commercial, or maybe Arnold Palmer, or actor Robert Duvall, saying something like this:
Fellow Americans, forget the over-hyped newscasts. Take a second look around your hometown. Life may be better than you realize.
Of those in the job market, more than 95 percent of you are working.
If you have a pension or investment plan, you’re doing well: The stock market is at an all-time high.
If you’re a homeowner, you’re in good shape: Home values are strong and steady.
Wages have been rising for months. But gas prices are falling rapidly, helping out your family budgets.
In most places in America, crime is down a lot in the past five years. And our homeland hasn’t suffered new terrorist assaults since 9/11.
Under Republican leadership, American life is pretty good. And why shouldn’t it be: We Americans are good and hearty and sensible people.
Why rock the boat? Keep a steady team in place in Washington.
Now imagine a series of commercials, all delivered by trusted people. Each commercial would start with the same first line (through the word “realize”), so that “take a second look” becomes a recognizable tagline in the campaign’s last two weeks. Each commercial would end with the same final two lines (from “under Republican leadership” on). But the middle five lines would change, as would the footage.
While most of the commercials should focus on kitchen-counter, domestic concerns, one version could perhaps remind people that Muammar Qaddafi gave up his nukes, Osama bin Laden is hiding in a cave somewhere, Saddam Hussein is overthrown and in jail, Saddam’s sons and decapitation specialist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi are dead, and, again, that our homeland has been free from terrorist assault since 9/11.
In all these advertisements, the tone of voice would be important: not rah-rah, but low-key, matter-of-fact, calm and reassuring, and delivered with the sense that the speaker himself (or herself) is taking the same second look and just now coming to the conclusions delivered. In other words, the speaker should be inviting skeptical Americans, rather than telling them, to see things in this new light.
Individual campaigns could rip into liberal opponents all they want, or stress whatever local issues they want. But a concurrent, national, mega-buy, RNC commercial run, one designed like this to soften the anger and frustration that voters now are aiming at the GOP, could go a long way toward bringing right-leaning voters home to the party they’ve been supporting in recent elections. As of now, rather than coming home politically, they are threatening to avoid the polls altogether and stay home instead. Less than three weeks remain to convince them to take that second look.
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