House Majority Leader Eric Cantor presented a new vision for Republican strategy in the second Obama term today. The Virginia Republican, speaking to the American Enterprise Institute, emphasized that Republicans needed to learn to work with President Barack Obama, and should emphasize policies that improve Americans' lives, while compromising on contentious issues such as citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants.
Yet before conveying an eagerness to work with Democrats, perhaps Republican leaders ought to consider that President Barack Obama and his party did not build public support by talking about areas of agreement with the opposition. Rather, they sharpened their contrasts with Republicans, and--with the help of the mainstream media--convinced voters that Democrats cared more about them, even though their record proves otherwise.
Conversely, the strong conservative opposition to Democrat policies--including, but not limited to, Obamacare--helped propel Republicans to victory in 2010. It is because of that victory that the Republican Party regained power in the House of Representatives. The GOP is eager to copy Democrats' ideas and tactics, but has failed to learn from Democrats' successes--or their defeats. Here are ten key lessons that they seem to have missed:
Lessons from Democratic victories:
1. Voters do not reward opposition parties for compromises, but for confrontations. Do voters punish Democrats for blocking necessary entitlement reforms? No. Did voters punish Republicans for opposing Obamacare? No. Did they punish Democrats who supported the war on terror? You bet they did.
2. It is critical to identify a long-term vision, not just short-term electoral goals. The left is clear that its long-term goal is a government-managed society and radical redistribution of wealth. The limit of Republican ambitions thus far is preserving the Democrats' entitlement programs from their own profligacy.
3. The best way to fix a damaged brand is not to change it but how you sell it. Democrats did not moderate their policies after 2004, nor did Obama move to the center after 2010. Rather, they improved their tactics, and won. Put another way: it is better to be loved than hated, but better to be hated than merely liked.
4. Technical tools are a complement to, not a substitute for, traditional organizing. Democrats have the digital advantage but still rely on shoe leather. Republicans invest heavily in expensive social media campaigns and faulty get-out-the-vote apps that fail where old-fashioned canvassing might succeed.
5. Voters do not vote on economics alone, but on values linked to economic issues. President Obama was re-elected despite a dismal economic performance because he was able to appeal to passions for "fairness." Mitt Romney was the perfect foil for that tactic, even before his "47 percent" comment emerged.
Lessons from Democratic defeats:
1. People are not herd animals and will protect their rights, values and interests. During the Obamacare debate, Democrats tried to inflame public hysteria against doctors and insurance companies. But people reacted more to practical concerns that they would lose the coverage and the doctor they already had.
2. It is more difficult to convince voters to support changes than to oppose them. Democrats learned in the Obamacare debate what Republicans learned in the debate over Social Security reform in 2005. Obama's re-launch of many of his failed first-term priorities need not be as successful as Republicans expect.
3. State and local political victories may be more important than national victories. The midterm elections of 2010 permitted Republicans to redraw congressional districts and to enact labor and budget reforms that the left could not stop. Those successes should set a positive national agenda for Republicans.
4. The great weakness of the left is that it is always surprised by true conviction. Cantor's own stand against the stimulus in 2009 set the tone for conservative revival. The fact that Republicans now seem so eager to compromise--even after voters re-elected them to lead the House--is sending the opposite signal.
5. The biggest lies the left tells are about itself, so conservatives must tell the truth. The left has convinced itself, that its intentions are pure and that it wants to bring power to the people. Conservatives must focus on corruption, abuses of power, and failures that are the inevitable result of statist policies.