'Conservative Message Deficiency' Syndrome (CMD)

November 7, 2012 - 4:34 PM

The first step in solving a problem is to first recognize that it exists.  An article in the Washington Post titled The Strategy That Paved a Winning Path provides insider information and insights that might help conservatives to address problems in the next presidential race.

Mitt Romney is a good man who ran a vigorous campaign, but like Senators Bob Dole and John McCain before him, Romney seemed reluctant to express a clear conservative message, and to confront the liberal record of Barack Obama.  In 2012 the campaign's "conservative message deficiency" (CMD) syndrome played out in several ways.

Washington Post writers Scott Wilson and Philip Rucker, who said they spoke on background with key leaders in both presidential camps, reported how the Obama campaign developed its demonizing attacks on Bain Capital and businessman Mitt Romney, even after the Republicans thought those issues had been put to rest during the primaries.  Romney's campaign complained about factually inaccurate articles, but advisers chose not to air a number of positive testimonials from business leaders that were lined up on the governor's behalf.

The campaign lacked money, Wilson and Rucker wrote, "and did not want to distract from the candidate’s core case against Obama’s economic record."  They continued, "The Republican super PACs, sitting on millions of dollars, also decided not to defend Romney at a time when the campaign could not afford to defend itself.  This became a source of deep frustration for some campaign strategists in Boston, who were legally barred from coordinating with the outside groups. One senior campaign adviser lamented, 'We didn’t have any of our allies providing us any kind of cover.' "

Alas, the Romney team fell into the trap of preparing to defend Bain Capital, in the same way that they leapt to defend Massachusetts' health care system.  Instead of focusing on long-ago business decisions, it would have been better to hone a clear message that a black woman in Chicago, still a supporter of Obama, clearly stated in a video that Rebel Pundit produced for Breitbart:  "People, not government, creates jobs."  That clarity was lost when Romney promised to "create" thousands of jobs himself.

President Ronald Reagan used to identify the "gov'mint" as the problem.  Many supporters expected Romney to attack the job-killing consequences of big-government spending with conviction, but that did not happen often enough.  Obama got away with driving up the debt to send out "stimulus" money that went to favored recipients and did not create new jobs.

Conservative social issues in the platform, including those affecting the military, did not harm Romney, but the lack of contrast with Obama's liberal record did.  The campaign said almost nothing when the president's campaign nailed down single female voters with national convention speeches and commercials presenting young women obsessed with government-subsidized contraceptives.  The Republican National Platform defended traditional marriage and religious liberty, especially in the military, but such issues were rarely mentioned during the campaign.

Obamacare, which was key to Republicans taking control of the House in 2010, became a near-phantom issue.  Betsy McCaughey of New York, the Cassandra-like expert on Obamacare, always does her homework but in 2012 the pros did not listen.

Young mothers were not told how they will have to wait in long lines to get their babies and children in to see fewer pediatricians under Obamacare.  Nor did Romney drive home key points: Medicare cuts will soon kick in for seniors; funding for medical devices that today's baby boomers will soon need will be cut; and the 15-member Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), an Obamacare government agency, will use its power to ration health care.

Barack Obama and Joe Biden repeatedly used the negative word "voucher" without challenge, while Romney framed his intent to repeal Obamacare as an afterthought, often preceded with "Oh, by the way."

Young people today are going to pay a huge price for Obamacare, and for the loss of good, high-paying jobs, which will continue.  Vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan burst on the national scene with an effective comment about young adults living in their parents' home staring at old Obama posters.  We only heard that once − Ryan's message was muffled, inexplicably.

Conservatives often focus on fawning pro-Obama media and anti-conservative statements from the likes of Katie Couric and unhinged leftists on TV.  Time and again major media diluted or mischaracterized Romney's message, while repeating false Obama claims without challenge.  Conservatives need to confront falsehoods, but also find a way to overcome media blackouts, such as the Benghazi, Libya, story that networks other than Fox News refused to cover.  Passive/aggressive bias is just as deadly as the aggressive kind.

Political technology can target messages house-by-house, but that won't solve the problems evident on Election Day 2012.  A man on the Chicago video summarized a message that needed to be heard: "I tell you that the liberal agenda is not the black agenda.  It is not the family agenda; it's not the American agenda." Conservatives should recognize this reality and respond with a message that is conservative, consistent, clear, and unafraid.

Editor's Note: Elaine Donnelly is President of the Center for Military Readiness.

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