Republicans: Stop being Ross Perot

One of the toughest parts of being a political consultant is seeing the obvious.

Presidential elections aren’t won or lost on small things. They are won on big things. Republicans had the wind in their faces from the get-go this year. Incumbent Presidents almost always win, and when they don’t, they have primary challengers and a divided base. Obama had none of that, but he did have a horrible job performance and a rotten economy under his policies.

He still won.

It is remarkably tough to get Americans to admit they made a mistake in the first election. It almost never happens. When it does, the base jumps ship first.

But Republicans have got to stop running on unpopular things!

Remember Ross Perot? He was the Tea Party of the 90s.

He campaigned on eliminating our national debt and cutting spending. Cut Cut Cut Cut Cut.

He got 19% of the vote, zero states, got 8% of the vote four years later and is a footnote now.

Pundits are convinced the Republican Party needs to grow demographically. Might be true, but that’s not the problem. That’s the symptom of the problem.

The problem is that our hyper-focus on debt, deficits and budgets make us pretty unpopular choices for a large swath of Americans.

Let’s wander through the list of candidates who campaigned against deficits and debt. Walter Mondale. Mike Dukakis. Ross Perot. John Kerry. John McCain. Mitt Romney.

Clinton’s balanced budgets came after his two winning elections, and not before, and he campaigned against balanced budgets every step of the way, winning both times. George W. Bush racked up the debt on his way to two winning elections, and Obama doubled down and got his eight years.

Did Ronald Reagan spend all his time worrying about budget deficits as he won 49 states in 1984?

Say what you want about the “47 percent” remark in this campaign, but if your major campaign platform message is to cut all government spending, you’re giving 47% of the vote away at the starting line.

Ask people if the budget should be balanced, they say yes. Ask them if to do so we should cut programs their parents rely on, and people aren’t rushing to the polls to do so.

That’s just reality. People see their parents needing Social Security and Medicare and politicians running on cutting them aren’t scoring at the ballot box.

We’re in a rotten economy, with more people relying on government than in recent history. And we’re telling people now is the time to cut government? And we expect them to like us for it?

Ronald Reagan had it right, and I still can’t believe we need to go back 30 years to learn the same lessons. Deficits matter, but as campaign issues, the debt and deficit has never won a campaign. Never. Democrats ran against the national debt for decades and complained as Reagan/Bush rolled over them in election after election.

We have to stop being the Ross Perot of politics and think it is our duty to deliver the bad news to the voters, expecting them to thank us for it.

You can’t win popular votes promoting unpopular things, and the Tea Party fixation on the national debt is, and always has been, a losing strategy in electoral politics.

  • One small problem:

    Republicans can’t win without the Ross Perots of the world. Or the Ron Paul’s of the world.

    So long as establishment Republicans continue to jettison the “problematic” portions of the party — social conservatives, libertarians, Tea Party, reformers, gold bugs, etc. — the fallacy of addition by subtraction is going to continue to plague the GOP.

    Free minds, free markets, and a free society. Rather than sharpening our pencils, we should be looking for very broad themes (though not so broad as “hope and change”) that apply across a spectrum, then let individuals or groups infer their own roles in that definition.

    The math is simple. Yet Republicans seem to have a talent for killing their own and excising their allies rather than asking themselves how our philosophy could be explained in terms more applicable to the here-and-now. Of course, it’s easier to swat the gadfly…

    • Brian Kirwin

      You call 2012 a win?

      • You think 2012 offered the broad vision that allowed every element of the coalition to buy into the campaign?

        • Coalition.. lol Thought you don’t like coalitions?

  • Well, you’ve told us what Romney did and why it didn’t work. Now, take a shot at telling us what he ought to have done, how it could have worked, and– most importantly– how it would have continued to differentiate his message from Obama’s.

    • I would’ve avoided universal entitlements, not picked Paul Ryan, Picked a Governor and made it about jobs, not the budget.

    • He should have done like Bolling, drop back and let McDonnell run.

  • Loudoun GOPer

    So let me run down the list of things we are NOT supposed to talk about or support based on the numerous posts and discussions I have read on this site the last two days:
    1. We’re not supposed to be pro-life.
    2. We’re not supposed to be against gay marriage.
    3. We’re not supposed to be anti illegal-immigration.
    4. We’re not supposed to be religious, because we might offend a few atheists.
    4. We’re not supposed to be for using our own energy resources (according to one commenter), because we might offend the wind power supporters.
    5. Now we’re not supposed to be against debt and deficits?
    Where will that leave us as a party?
    Oh. That’s right. We’d be Democrats

    • Loudoun GOPer – You’re taking a variety of different opinions from different people and lumping it in as if it is a consensus argument; BD has a lot of voices from different people, but we certainly don’t have consensus, particularly on all those points. It’s one of the reasons why someone in the coalition is usually standing in the corner with their arms folded and a scowl on their face.

      • Loudoun GOPer

        Yes, that’s true. But I have seen posters and commenters make one or more, or all, of these points on this blog as what the GOP needs to do to start winning. They’re the same things Democrats and the media say we should do. Of course, Democrats and the media DON’T want us to win, so why would we listen to their advice?

  • Brian: Stop being Ross Perot – fine.

    Simply complaining about deficits and government spending is not enough. We need to tie government spending to a long term reduction in government handouts, long term tax increases, and a reduction in available credit. Want to buy a home? Good luck when mortgage rates start skyrocketing. Want to buy a car, better plan on a downgrade and to pay cash.

    Most importantly deficit spending needs to be tied to inflation. Inflation is the most invidious form of taxation that is inherently regressive. It hits commodities, real estate, and food. The stock market is bound to go up, but in inflation adjusted dollars it will barely provide a return.

    The sins of the parents will be visited upon generations to come.

    Fighting deficit spending has broad based appeal. It is not messaged properly. And most importantly – it was not the (only) focus of Mitt Romney’s campaign anyway.

  • EricMcGrane

    Without the tea party, the massive wins in 2010 wouldn’t have happened. Pretty weak K-dog…you can do better than this. Don’t let one election make you lift your skirt and run away. Maybe if we walk and talk just like the democrats, people will like us. And isn’t so wonderful to be liked?

    • I’ll always defer to you on expertise on skirts.

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