Jonathan Till, a veteran GOP operative who has worked for numerous campaigns and elected officials including Congresswoman Sandy Adams and State Representative Bryan Nelson submitted this 911 report on the state of the local GOP. Food for thought, will the local GOP listen or go extinct?
By Jonathan Till
“The problem was not that millions of people in Britain thought the Conservative Party wasn’t like them and didn’t understand them; the problem was that they were right” (Aschroft)
The above quotation comes from a report by Lord Michael Ashcroft, former Treasurer for the British Conservative Party and pollster. In 2005, the British public was dissatisfied with Tony Blair and the Labour Party. The Conservative Party, running on issues such as restricting immigration and lowering taxes, suffered a disappointing defeat. This was the third election in a row that the Conservatives offered a narrowly right-wing alternative to the Labour Party, and the third time in a row that it was defeated.
The Republican Party is in many ways in a similar position to the Conservatives after 2005:
- We have lost two elections in a row.
- We have lost Florida twice.
- Orange County has gone from being a purple county to one that is overwhelmingly blue.
- Our Party is having difficulty attracting new members.
- People say we are out of touch, intolerant, old-fashioned, or incompetent.
- Minority voters do not listen to our Party.
- Moderate and independent voters do not vote for our candidates. Young voters think we offer them nothing.
- We continuously invoke Ronald Reagan in a country where the youngest person who could have voted for Reagan is at least 47 years old.
- Many Republicans do not feel like they are welcome in our Party because they are not “pure enough”.
- People who were accepted yesterday are “RINO’s” today.
- Bitter disagreements over strategy, policy, ideology and tactics are aired in the open, often unpleasantly so.
This is not good for the Republican Party or for America. This country needs a center-right alternative to the Democrats’ vision of an ever-expanding, all-encompassing government. Losing in 2008 and 2012 gave this nation a stimulus that did not stimulate, health-care reform that is a disaster, a foreign policy in ruins, two liberal Supreme Court Justices, and increasing debts that future generations will have to sacrifice in order to pay for. Neither the Republican Party nor the nation can afford another Democratic victory in 2016.
This report is meant as a wake-up call. History shows that political parties usually do not change course until after losing three elections. For the reasons listed above, this cannot happen. The Republican Party would be neglecting its duty to America to lose another election and not change its ways.
The situation by the numbers:
Margin of Victory in Florida:
2000: George W. Bush defeats Al Gore by 537 votes, 48.85% to 48.84%
2012: Barack Obama defeats Mitt Romney by 74,309 votes, 49.90% to 49.03%
Margin of Victory in Orange County:
2000: Al Gore defeats George W. Bush by 5,705 votes, 50.06% to 48.02%
2012: Barack Obama defeats Mitt Romney by 85,076 votes, 58.56% to 40.36%
“Democrats have ignored their fundamental problems. Instead of facing reality they have embraced the politics of evasion. They have focused on fundraising and technology, media and momentum, personality and tactics. Worse, they have manufactured excuses for their presidential disasters — excuses built on faulty data and false assumptions, excuses designed to avoid tough questions. In place of reality they have offered wishful thinking; in place of analysis, myth.” (Galston and Kamarck)
The above is from the report The Politics of Evasion written by the centrist Democrat Leadership Council after the third Democrat defeat in a row in 1988. Galston and Kamarck confronted their party about what they believe had gone wrong in the previous cycles.
After two defeats, comforting myths have arisen to explain our losses. Many people in the party believe these myths because the solutions they present lead us down the path of least resistance. Below are two of the most persistent myths that have risen:
“Romney wasn’t conservative enough. We need a purer, more conservative candidate to energize the base.”
This thought has been particularly comforting to those who demand a more rigid, ideological Republican Party. However, the facts indicate a different story. According to CNN’s 2012 exit polls, Romney got nearly 80% of the voters in Florida who identified themselves as conservative. He also received over 90% of voters who identified themselves as Republicans. These margins are similar to those received by President Obama, who received 86% of the liberal vote and 90% of the Democratic vote. Among self-identified independents, Romney lost by 3%, 50%-47%. But, the real loss for Romney came among self-described moderate voters, who voted for President Obama 53%-46%.
Other groups show similarly dispiriting results. While Romney carried male voters 52-47, female voters went for the President 53%-46%. Voters aged 18-30 went for the President by 66%-32%, a two-to-one margin. In fact, it is only when voters are 45 and older did Romney carry a majority of them. Even though Romney overwhelmingly won voters 65 and older, he did not carry them by the same number as President Obama carried younger voters. Voters 65 and older went for Romney by a 58%-41% margin. Among ethnic minorities, Romney was crushed, losing black voters 95%-5% and Florida’s Latino voters by a 60%-40% margin. The Latino vote is important because it also includes Cuban-Americans, who are more Republican than other Latinos. As has been widely reported, Romney won less than 30% of the Latino vote nationwide. Asian-American voters also went for the President by a substantial margin.
“Our voters were not enthusiastic about Romney. There were Republicans and conservatives who stayed home.”
Below is the number of votes received by the Democratic nominee in Orange County for the 2004, 2008 and 2012 elections:
2004: Kerry- 193,354
2008: Obama- 273,009
2012: Obama- 273,665
And here are the number of votes received by the Republican nominee:
2004: Bush- 192,539
2008: McCain- 186,832
2012: Romney- 188,589
As you can see, the Republican vote has remained static, while it is the Democratic vote that has increased substantially. In 2004 George W. Bush received 192,539 votes in Orange County, nearly enough to win. Mitt Romney won 188,589 votes, a 4,000 vote difference than President Bush. However, the Democrats increased their share of the vote from 193,354 for John Kerry to 273,665 for President Obama, an increase of over 80,000 votes. Even if the 4,000 voters who supported George W. Bush had come out and voted for Mitt Romney, he would have still lost Orange County by 81,126 votes.
So what can be done to reverse this depressing slide in Republican fortunes?
It must be noted that we Republicans have proven successful at running local elections and winning local campaigns. Five out of the six County Commissioners are Republicans. So are Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Comptroller Martha Haynie and the late Lydia Gardner, our Clerk of Courts. Republican candidates can win elections in Orange County, but we must be smarter and more innovative than ever before.
In this age where the Republican Party is the minority party in Orange County, we cannot take any vote for granted or discount any vote. County Commissioner Pete Clarke for instance, won in a heavily Hispanic district by making the time, effort and investment to reach out to those voters. To its credit, OCREC also aided Commissioner Clarke in his election. The 3rd District County Commission race is a good example of when a strong candidate, a good campaign operation, outreach to minority voters and some assistance from OCREC can accomplish. This is the model that needs to be adopted by OCREC for all future races.
There are other models that OCREC could embrace. When it comes to minority outreach, a good example comes out of an effort in Nevada from the former Chairman of the California GOP:
“Another example, last year Fong and I created the Nevada Plan. We realized that despite the millions pouring into Nevada via Romney and the RNC, no effort for the APA (Asian Pacific American) vote would take place. We raised the $50,000 needed to fund 2 mailers in English and four native languages promoting Romney, and engaged a bilingual telephone bank to call the same voters. That effort made a significant difference. Romney attracted only 26 % of the national APA vote, per the New York Times; in Nevada, exit polls show that Romney garnered an astonishing 47% of the state’s APA voters” (Steel)
Or from a recent special election in California, where Republican Andy Vidak won an upset election for the California State Senate in a heavily Hispanic district:
“Fresno cherry farmer and cattle rancher Andy Vidak, who is fluent in Spanish, said he captured the state Senate seat in last week’s closely watched runoff vote by connecting with Hispanic voters with a “common-sense” approach that focused on job creation, affordable energy and opposition to big government. He even cooked menudo, a cow-stomach soup and a Mexican favorite, at a Hispanic Chamber of Commerce event at the Bakersfield fairgrounds where 10,000 Hispanics turned out.
He got a big assist from other GOP officeholders and hundreds of Spanish-speaking Republican volunteers going door to door, making pitches in Spanish where necessary in the 60 percent Hispanic district. Mr. Vidak also managed to create a little political daylight from hard-liners in his party on the issue of eventually granting citizenship to illegal immigrants.
“We talked to them in their homes, where they are most comfortable on the issues that matter most to them: improving the economy, lower taxes, less government interference with small business,” Republican Assemblyman Travis Allen said.” (Hallow)
Commissioner Pete Clarke’s victory in District 3, the success of the Romney-Ryan ticket in capturing a near majority of the Asian Pacific American vote in Nevada, and Vidak’s success in California’s Senate District 16 shows that it is not a lost cause for Republicans to win minority voters. But, and it must be emphasized yet again, the Republican Party and our candidates must put in the time, effort and financial resources to attract these voters.
Ideas for OCREC
The following are several different ways that OCREC can begin to modernize itself:
A poll of OCREC members: For any sort of modernization to be accepted by the members of OCREC, it is important for them to be consulted. A poll like the one below can give members the chance to suggest whatever changes and reforms they feel are necessary and it will make whatever reforms that are adopted more accepted.
21 Tips: Based around ideas offered to other political parties that were in the wilderness, these are helpful tips for both candidates and party activists.
Six ways to go forward: Based on exit poll data, historical information and my own instincts, these are six specific ideas and solutions for OCREC to do now and during the next election cycle.
Poll Questions for OCREC Members
The purpose of this poll is to get the feedback of OCREC Members about what needs to change within OCREC and the Republican Party:
- Which description best fits you?
- Economic Conservative/Socially Moderate Republican
- Economic and Social Conservative Republican
- Libertarian Republican
- Do you consider yourself a member of the Tea Party?
- Excluding Mitt Romney, why do you think the Republican Party lost races in Orange County in 2012?
- Poor quality of candidates
- Inadequate resources
- Unable to reach out to minority voters
- Candidates weren’t conservative enough
- Democrats did better at turning out their voters
- Other (please specify)
- Broadly speaking, what do you think is the best path for the Republican Party going forward?
- Continue to espouse a Reaganite conservatism
- Change and modernize the Party
- What was the best part of OCREC’s 2012 campaign mechanics?
- What part of OCREC’s campaign mechanics needs the most assistance?
- How do you think the Republican Party should reach out to new voters?
- What do you think is most important for the Republican Party to do heading forward?
Modernizing the Republican Party- 21 Tips
Some of these tips are my own; others have been adopted from similar ideas presented to the British Conservative Party after their loss in 2005. Under the modernizing leadership of David Cameron, the Conservatives were able to once again become the largest party in the British Parliament, for the first time in 13 years:
- Always try to see ourselves through the voters’ eyes.
- Talk about the issues that matter to voters, not the issues we’re most comfortable with.
- Tell people what we stand for, not just what is wrong with the Democrats. Voters need a reason to support us.
- Repetition is vital.
- Respect modern America. If we don’t like the way America looks and sounds, they won’t like us.
- Accept the voters as they are, not as we want them to be.
- Don’t be shrill or strident. Do you talk or act that way normally?
- Remember that whatever we are talking about, the most important message is what we are saying about ourselves.
- Face the fact that we’ve lost people’s trust because of how we behave as well as what we do.
- Focus on the voters we need to win. Don’t preach to the converted.
- Be disciplined and consistent.
- Focus on winning elections. Our best policies can’t be implemented unless we win.
- Be optimistic- people rarely vote for those who say that everything is going wrong.
- Talk about how we would make things better, not how the Democrats made it worse. If the Democrats have done a bad job, the voters will know that. What they want to hear is what we are going to do.
- Understand that the times have changed. It is not 1980 anymore, or 2000. We need to talk to voters as life is in 2013.
- Stop focusing on the past. This makes us seem backwards. Focus on the future.
- Abstract concepts are hard for voters to relate to. Give them real-world applications.
- Escape from the echo chamber. Listening to people who think the way we think and talk the way we talk will give us a distorted view of how the swing voters are thinking.
- Don’t complain about press bias, especially to voters. Yes it is there, but Republicans have been talking about it for a long time and the voters think it sounds like whining.
- Use liberal rhetoric to sell conservative ideas. Words like “fairness” and “compassion” are not owned by the left. If using liberal language helps sell conservative policies, don’t be afraid to do it.
- Don’t fall for the purity test. Not everyone in our Party will believe the same thing on every issue. As President Reagan said “Our 80% friend is not our 20% enemy.”
- Adopt a Precinct: Many members of OCREC come from the same precincts and there are many precincts that do not have precinct committee members. OCREC should start a program where if committeeman or committeewoman can adopt another precinct as well as their own. The “adopted” precinct should be one that has no committeeman or committeewoman. This program could help expand the reach of OCREC members and give them a chance to work and monitor a swing precinct in addition to their own.
- Review and Outreach Committees: OCREC should establish two separate select committees. One, a Review Committee, should study what OCREC did in the 2012 election. This is not necessarily about criticism; the Committee should identify what worked and what didn’t work in the 2012 Election. The poll listed above can aid and abet this Committee. They would make recommendations to OCREC about how to go forward into the 2014 and 2016 cycle. The other Committee would be an Outreach Committee. The goal of this Committee would be to find ways to reach out to communities and groups that don’t vote for Republicans and find ways to persuade them to give the GOP another look.
- Refuse to Indulge Extremists: Part of the Republican Party’s image problem is the idea that we allow or even welcome people who are viewed as extremists. Conspiracy theories such as Agenda 21 or the “Birther” movement damage the credibility of those with legitimate criticisms of the Obama Administration. Our Committee should institute a policy where speakers who promote or advocate extremist ideas or conspiracy theories are not invited to OCREC-sanctioned events. While the Republican Party and OCREC believe in free speech, there is no reason to give credibility to extremists by associating OCREC’s name with them. The press certainly won’t make any distinctions between extremists who seem to be endorsed by OCREC and OCREC itself.
- First Time Candidate School: OCREC should start a program that includes a series of workshops for Republicans who are thinking about running for office. Have it on a Saturday and invite elected officials who have experience in winning difficult races (Congressman Webster, Mayor Jacobs, etc.), and political consultants who have worked on campaigns and have them discuss what happens in an election. This workshop can help prospective candidates learn about what to expect and thus make them more prepared if they do decide to run. This would not be about ideology or issues; it would be about the nuts and bolts of running for office, covering such issues as fundraising, organizing, and voter turnout.
- Response Cards: We know the media is biased against Republicans, and this makes it very difficult for us to get our message out to voters. What can be done would be to have OCREC, during the campaign, have palm cards printed taking on the top two or three controversies of the campaign season. For instance, if the Democrats and/or media are pushing lies about the Republican position on tax, the party should have the Democrats talking point and then have one or two quotes from Republican leaders (such as Congressman Paul Ryan or Speaker John Boehner) that directly refute this charge. These should be on the ready in every OCREC office and there should be one for the most prominent local, state and federal controversy that the Democrats are pushing.
- Campaign Materials in Multiple Languages: 17.3% of the people in Orange County speak Spanish as their first language and 1.7% of people speak French Creole. We should have campaign materials available and distributed to those voters in their first language. This is an easy change that can help connect Republican candidates with voters.
The challenges confronting the Republican Party are many and they will not be overcome all at once. Rather, it will take dedication, effort and time. Most importantly, it will take the buy-in from the members of OCREC and our Republican voters. If there is a valid criticism of David Cameron’s efforts to modernize the Conservative Party, it is that the members of the party did not fully buy into the need for modernization. If there is no buy in from the members of OCREC, then every appropriate decision to modernize the Party will be questioned, second-guessed and criticized. The need to modernize is plain for all to see. The only question is whether or not the will to do it is there too.