The latest public tussle between Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh vs. Colin Powell has been the source of more frustration from the GOP base. Many wonder why the GOP is drawn into such fights and long for the day of the Reagan and the ’94 Revolution where Republican leaders seemed to speak with a unified message that resonated beyond the base to Independents.
Those days seem a long ways away lately, eh?
We skipped class.
Confused? You should be. Let me back up.
The late 90s and 2000s have seen a dramatic surge in the diversity, intensity and quantity of communication mediums. Web pages. Twitter. Youtube. Multiple cable news channels. Blogs. Text messaging. And on and on and on.
And the problem now is not that Republicans don’t know how to use these mediums…it’s that they don’t know how to use them properly.
So how did this happen? In the late 90s Republicans controlled Congress and had clear opposition in President Clinton. This enabled, and more importantly, forced them to speak with a unified voice in order to effectively challenge the President’s policies. In the 2000s the Bush team spoke for the RNC, White House Staff, Cabinet and Vice President’s office. And Congress, no thanks to 9/11 and the Iraq War, laid down in support of a war time President. We didn’t need mutiple communication mediums because we already had the strongest tool in the land – the Press Secretary’s podium. Make no mistake, there is no greater tool to shape the debate than the White House itself.
In the meantime, Democrats were the opposition Party. And they needed alternatives to communicate their message. It just so happened to coincide with the massive influx of communication mediums which provided liberal Congressional leadership, Party Leaders, think tanks, and strategists an opportunity to learn how they best work without the responsibility of making policy or running a war.
In short, Republicans had the bully pulpit. Democrats had time to rehearse using everything else.
So now, with situations reversed and Republicans still used to being in power or having their message muted by a Republican White House, our Party message is all over the damn place. Egos aren’t kept in check and we have a seemingly infinite number of communication mediums to be exploited. And all without any real idea about how best to utilize them.
So, how do we fix it?
First, egos must be left at the door. This will take time as the Party makes up its mind who it wants to listen to. In the latest Powell/Cheney/Limbaugh tiff, Cheney and Limbaugh clearly came out ahead. As I posted months ago, our Party needs a statesman leader…not a radio host, talking head or even a former VP. (not that there isn’t a clear use for Cheney, but he isn’t the future face of the Party)
We need a young, conservative leader with credentials and an articulate nature…someone like Eric Cantor.
Second, we must be patient. It’s going to take time for things to shake out. But we need to know we’re still relevant, and that’s why the gubernatorial races in the now blue states of Virginia and New Jersey this fall are so important. With Republican victories in both, which at this point seem likely, the Party will have momentum going into the all-important races of 2010. Sure, we won’t retake Congress, but we can make a serious dent and hopefully swing some Gov races our way at the same time.
Finally, it will take a dedicated effort by our leadership to better coordinate the message. With all these opportunities to be heard, Republicans want to use them all. That’s fine, but it needs to be done intelligently and in a unified voice.
Just leave your egos at the door.