Hi there. If you’re a conservative billionaire or even just a right wing multimillionaire (don’t worry, you’ll get there…) who’s been parted from a handsome chunk of money this election cycle, by Ralph Reed or Karl Rove, or any of the other GOP consultants who promised you they’d rid this country of Barack Obama and his evil socialist agenda, you’re probably pretty pissed right now. Not to worry – there’s still hope.
And by “hope,” I mean there will be other election cycles. Just two years from now, Republicans will again be vowing to take the Senate and hold the House, while vowing to replace Democratic governors all over the country with good old fashioned, rock ribbed conservatives who’ll eliminate public sector unions, drop the average wage in their state to sub-India level and eliminate corporate taxes, all with the goal of bringing the Third World work ethic home to the good old U.S.A. And in four short years, it will be Jeb Bush for President time. So get it together, Richie Rich! Those consultants will be back.
And when they show up at your office, with binders full of promises, you need to be ready, because there’s gonna be a lot of B.S. thrown your way.
Below are TRR’s tried and true tips to help you avoid getting snookered in the next midterm, and the next presidential election…
1. Pennsylvania is a blue state in presidential cycles. If some smarty pants young consultant in a crisp suit and a G-man haircut tells you they can deliver Pennsylvania for the Republican presidential nominee, they’re lying to you. In a midterm? Sure, since pretty much only old, white people vote in midterms — and God knows Pennsylvania has a lot of old, white people. It’s got more, in fact, than Florida. Can you believe that? It’s true!
So if that consultant offers to trade your cash for a GOP governor, or maybe a Senator? Fork it over. If they promise to deliver it to a President Mike Huckabee? Call 911. They’re trying to rob you. Pennsylvania is a blue state in presidential years, just like New Jersey and Michigan. It is not — I repeat NOT — a swing state.
2. Midterms are NOT relevant to presidential elections. If it’s 2016 and old Karl is telling you to just think back to 2010 (or 2014) and the great turnout and demographic mix the GOP saw in that election, stop him. Maybe even smack him. Several Republican “thinkers,” including Rove and (snicker away, here…) his fellow Fox News commentator Dick Morris, claim they got 2012 wrong because they thought 2012 would have a demography more like 2010 than 2008, which they saw as an aberration, in terms of black and Hispanic and young voter turnout. They should have known better, assuming they know anything about politics.
As outlined in “Pennsylvania is a lie” above, midterm elections bring out a completely different demography — older, whiter, and smaller in size. Why is that? Because midterms, by their very nature, are not a single, unified, national event, like the election of the president. They are a series of statewide and local elections for both congressional and state-limited seats. And not all states have the same number over caliber of races. The only thing that unifies the experience is that members of congress are up for re-election all over the country. Be that as it may, each of these smaller elections generates varying levels of interest and participation, depending on the quality of the state parties involved, the amount of money spent by interested parties within the state, and the national partisan committees, etc.
For example, the 2010 midterms, which so many Republicans continue to cling to like a child’s blankie, brought out 66,191,137 Americans to vote for members of the United States Senate, and 86,784,957 to vote for members of the House. Notice the difference? It’s because every House member was up for re-election, but not every Senator, or every governor. By contrast, Barack Obama won more than 62 million votes by himself in retaking the White House — nearly as much as the entire 2010 House popular vote combined. In 2008, he got more than 69 million votes — 3 million votes more than voted for the entire House delegation in the GOP’s favorite election year.
Overall voter turnout in 2010 was approximately 41 percent of all registered voters. In 2008, it was 61 percent, and in 2012, it will be close to 60 percent — with nearly 123 million people voting in 2012 when all is said and done. See the difference?
And because historically (and unfortunately for Democrats,) younger voters, and voters of color tend to stay home in droves during midterms, those off-year elections tend to be much more reflective of what older, white voters think and want. And particularly when they are “wave” elections, a la 2006 and 2010, they give considerably more authority to “swing” voters, than presidential year elections do.
What they do NOT do — and you can tell your young consultant friend this, and the boys at Gallup while you’re at it — is tell you what a presidential election year voter demography will look like. When you hear a consultant, or a media person say “voters in 2008 said this, and then changed their minds in 2010 and said that…” they are either being willfully ignorant or they are actually ignorant. These two electorates are not one and the same.
3. More is not better when it comes to TV advertising - There is such a thing as media saturation. You know you’ve reached it when literally every ad that comes on during your favorite show — or even shows you hate — is a political ad. In swing states, this point is generally reached in October. After that, for every dollar you spend on television, you get a sliding percentage of a dollar in value. By Election Day, your ad dollar is probably not buying you a plug nickel’s worth of voter persuasion.
Crossroads GPS, and the other GOP super PACS blew incredible amounts of cash on TV ads, which make it easy to dupe rich dummies who want to see the slick product their money is buying, but really hard to win elections. To do the latter, you need to spend your campaign money on field operations, to get your voters out. Just ask that guy in the White House, um what’s his name again? Oh, yeah, Barack Obama.
By the way, black media have been mad at Team Obama for four years over their lack of spending on radio and newspaper advertising during their campaigns. But there’s a reason the Obama folks don’t spend money on TV and radio — because they spend most of their money on field, including a GOTV operation for young, black and brown voters that is unrivaled by anything Republican consultants have cooked up.
Oh, and the saturation thing? It also goes for direct mail. Just sayin.
4. All the strategy in the world won’t help you add voters if your message scares unlike minds away – Republican voters are in a sense, easier to persuade, because conservative persuasion is a 24-7, 365 day affair, on talk radio, Fox News, and on right wing blogs. The indoctrination is constant, and so “enthusiasm” tends to show up among Republican voters in advance of elections, in things like (really bad) polling/likely voter models.
However, actual persuasion in the GOTV phase of a campaign means taking people who are not fully indoctrinated, and getting them to come out and vote for you. That’s harder — especially for Democrats, who unlike Republicans, are not dealing with a relatively homogeneous base in terms of ideology and ethnicity. But Democrats know this, and so they are better at it, at least in presidential years. They haven’t figured out how to make the magic work in midterms, which is why Republicans remain in the game in terms of governorships, House and Senate composition.
Republicans have disadvantaged themselves by not practicing divergent persuasion — even their minority members adopt the same hard right ideology as their white base, so they don’t need to adapt their messaging to various demographics. That was fine when the electorate was only 15, or 20, or even 25 percent minority. But the electorate has been 26 percent (2008) and 28 percent (2012) in the last two presidential cycles. And at the present growth rate, it will be 30 percent in 2016. Any GOP consultant who tells you the party can hold onto its hard right message and ideology and still add voters outside the white base is committing gross malpractice — or they’re just trying to stroke your right wing ego and take your money.
5. He who gets mad first, loses – The same rule that applies in debates applies in elections. People don’t like angry people. The person in a debate who has a meltdown or starts yelling is the loser of the debate, regardless of the substance (see Rick Santorum — Republican primary 2012) and the candidate who seems angry loses the election. Just ask grumpy John McCain, whose cranky image was made worse by his erratic vice presidential pick. The same goes for that candidate’s base. At present, Republicans have a reputation for being mean and angry — scowling, gun-toting tea partiers in funny colonial hats, yelling at kids to get off their lawn and ordering women to lay back and get this vaginal probe, or have babies and shut up. There may be 58 million people who are cool with that sort of thing, but there aren’t 60 million, and that’s why Barack Obama, who won the “cares about people like me” question against Mitt Romney hands down, was more appealing to a wider array of voters.
Sure the occasional Nixon will squeak through, but in general, Americans prefer their Republicans to be more Reagany (remember, he beat that grumpy gus in the sweater, who would have actually done something about global warming… and Americans actually liked George W. “Goofy” Bush, even when he was wrecking the world. Go figure!) Until the party of “I Like Ike” finds its inner happy warrior again, it will be very, very hard to win the White House.
If a consultant seems to be feeding your anger — encouraging you to fire off chain emails about Obama’s birth certificate or some other madhouse conspiracy theory while writing him checks? Put down your pen, put your checkbook in your smoking jacket pocket and run. Because he knows you’re a crazy old sucker, and he’s about to take your money.