GOP Drift Losing 'Cliff' Message Battle

GOP Drift Losing 'Cliff' Message Battle

Almost every day, President Obama meets with some new slice of the American public to pitch his side in the “fiscal cliff” negotiations. Business leaders, unions, governors, state lawmakers, etc. have all been courted as part of Obama’s push for his “balanced” approach to fix the deficit. Republicans, by contrast, talk occasionally with reporters. Predictably, Obama is turning the debt negotiations into a rout. The GOP isn’t presenting anything close to a compelling message to the voters. 

A new NBC/WSJ poll finds that 65% of adults favor a “balanced approach” to resolve the “fiscal cliff” talks. They think Republicans should accept some tax increases, and Democrats should accept some targeted cuts to entitlements like Social Security and Medicare. 

If you pay very close attention to the “fiscal cliff” talks, you realize the GOP position actually comes closest to this. But, that’s the problem. You have to be paying very close attention, and the vast majority of the public is not. That’s why Obama’s use of the bully pulpit is so damaging for Republicans. Catching a glimpse of the negotiations, the public sees Obama speaking to crowds of Americans and individual groups of people about the need for a “balanced” approach. They see the GOP whining to reporters about the Democrats.

Of course, Obama’s really only offering specific tax increases and vague rhetoric about the need to eventually trim spending. Amazingly, he is so confident in his position that he’s even offering new spending–as part of a deal to tackle the deficit. There really isn’t a lot of “balance” to his approach, but he very effectively acts as if there is. 

Any President has a natural advantage in a message war with legislators. That said, why are the Republicans not even attempting a coordinated message with the public? Why isn’t Speaker Boehner out speaking to different groups or organizations? Why aren’t individual legislators holding town-hall style meetings about the issues involved? Why isn’t the GOP doing anything to get beyond the mainstream media filter?

My colleague William Bigelow reported last night that the DCCC is aggressively pushing messages against a number of potentially vulnerable House Republicans. They are engaging the voters in these members’ districts. The NRCC is issuing press releases. 

The GOP made an epic strategic blunder by immediately offering tax hikes as their opening bid. As a result, virtually all discussions around the “fiscal cliff” have focused on tax policy, the area on which the public believes the GOP should cede ground. All the oxygen is being consumed with talks about what specific tax rates should be, rather than what the overall budget should look like. 

The GOP is doing nothing to educate the public about the stakes involved. President Obama, however, convincingly acts as if he is, and the public believes him. The GOP is tending to the weeds, while Obama tends to the forest. 

In other words, the GOP presents positions, not principle. Obama avoids positions and presents lofty visions. It is no wonder the GOP is getting clobbered. 

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