Online and on the cable nets, Marco Rubio is currently taking a hellacious beating for his answer to “GQ’s” question about the age of the Earth. And anyone who doesn’t think we’ll be revisiting Rubio’s “Earth” question in about 40 months should the Florida Senator decide to run for president, should stop right now and write a book about the bliss of ignorance.
As I mentioned in an earlier piece, the media now believes they have a winning tactic for disqualifying Republicans through the use of left-field “gotcha” questions that pit our faith and principles against immigration, gay tolerance, the lifestyle of the single woman (which sounds like a Diane Keaton movie circa 1978) , and the needs of the poor.
The problem, of course, is not our faith or our core beliefs; the problem is that too many on our side are rhetorically unprepared and regularly caught off guard when these media moments arrive. The result is a gaffe that frequently damages more than just a single campaign. As we saw during the 2012 election, the media was able to take one dumb answer from a senate candidate about rape and abortion and use it to bloody the entire GOP brand.
This is a cultural problem, not a political problem — the same type of cultural problem Democrats recently solved in their own party.
After narrowly losing the 2000 presidential election, losing seats in the 2002 midterms (which is rare when your party’s not in the White House), and then losing again to Bush in 2004, Democrats knew they had a cultural problem — and a crippling one.
There were three areas in which Democrats used to constantly commit unforced errors: Patriotism, support for the troops, and antagonizing the Christian faith. To solve this problem, Democrats not only learned how to stop marginalizing themselves on these issues, they completely changed their language in a way that embraced all three (and gave up on gun control altogether).
Today you hear Democrats (and the media) frequently frame left-wing policies in ways that support the troops or are Christian or are patriotic. Sometimes it’s all three. You can argue this is all a rhetorical trick (and it is), but it’s still a rhetorical trick that eliminated areas of weakness that plagued Democrats for generations.
Democrats solved this in three easy steps: Swallowing their pride and conceding they had a problem, figuring out how to solve the problem without abandoning core beliefs, and being very disciplined when it came to doing something about it.
Most elected Democrats and those running for office now go through actual training that teaches them how to rhetorically handle areas of weakness, especially in forums where they’re most likely to actually find themselves challenged, like Fox News.
With the same discipline and training, there’s no reason Republicans have to go through one more cycle like this last one.
Conservatives should start this training by learning or relearning the language of Jack Kemp. One reason I became a conservative is because conservatives like Kemp taught me that conservative ideas and policies were the best way to help the poor. When Kemp talked about enterprise zones and a rising tide lifting all boats, you just knew conservatism was on the side of the angels.
This also gave Kemp the moral ground necessary to tell the truth about how welfare and big government poison the poor and decimate families (especially the black family), without giving critics ammo to claim he was anti anything.
No one on our side talks this way anymore. Romney was right about his “gifts” comments, but if you only make that case, all you’re doing is alienating people. We should be flooding inner-cities and working class communities with Republicans able to speak Kemp and willing to make our case in Townhall-style forums. Even if we don’t win votes (but I believe we would), these communities would at least know we give a damn.
It’s the same with issues of abortion. We can never turn our backs on the unborn, but when it comes to liberty, which is so important to young people and single women, the GOP practically has a monopoly. But because we can’t speak the language, we’re forever toxified to these groups as the anti-freedom party even as the party they vote for taxes them, regulates them, and forces them to purchase health insurance and 16 ounce drinks.
As far as religion and Marco Rubio’s struggle with being asked the age of Earth, I’ve been a devout Christian for almost thirty years and have never found my faith in conflict with science or history. If anything, the more I learn about science and history only deepens my faith. This is why it’s so frustrating to hear a bright guy like Rubio blow such an easy one. The problem isn’t talent or smarts, it’s training.
Before every baseball game, a good shortstop is the first one out on the field warming up and practicing. This is why he’s a good shortstop; he never falls for his own press or forgets that hard work, drills, training, and the basics are what got him to where he is. And that’s our problem. Our side forgets to drill, doesn’t train, and suddenly we’re losing games because we drop pop ups.
The GOP has plenty of talent. History proves our ideas are right. Polls prove people like our ideas best.
But we’re losing rhetorically.
Obama, the media, and Democrats talk circles around us, constantly catch us off guard, and because we never seem half as prepared as they are, we drop one easy one after another — which costs us the game.
It’s time for the GOP to get organized and solve this problem. It’s going to take a lot of hard work and a lot of something Democrats are by design infinitely better at than we are (organization), but that’s what it’s going to take.
Questions about our faith, abortion, poverty, gay rights, etc. should all be drilled and drilled and drilled until we’re able to turn them into what they really are: Opportunities to spread the gospel of success, compassion, liberty, and opportunity that is conservatism.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC