GOP Revival: There's An App for That

What Ramesh Ponnuru has written about Tuesday's wins is right in so many ways:

More important, a few Republican candidates have demonstrated that it is possible to transcend the party's conservative-moderate divide. In Virginia, Robert McDonnell won a landslide — the first Republican win in a governor's race there in 12 years — by running as a problem solver. Social conservatives know he is one of them. But independent voters strongly backed him too. Voters as a whole trusted him more than his Democratic opponent on everything from fixing the roads to strengthening the economy. Once he had that trust, Democrats were unable to get voters to see him as frighteningly conservative, although they tried to make hay out of a hard-right master's thesis McDonnell wrote in 1989.

[Disclosure: I consulted for the McDonnell campaign, and these are my personal views on why he won.]

In the wake of McDonnell's landslide, many observers have pointed to his brand of "pragmatism" to make the case that McDonnell -- and not Hoffman in NY-23 -- is the way forward for conservatives in 2010.

But to point to McDonnell as a subrosa moderate profoundly misses the point. McDonnell is a strong conservative who early in the campaign put Deeds on the defensive by running against Obama and Pelosi's policies, most notably card check and cap-and-trade. There was never any doubt as to McDonnell's conservative bona fides.

But even though McDonnell was in fact a true conservative, there was no need to make the election about those credentials. McDonnell's conservatism spoke for itself.

What the campaign keyed in on very early is that most voters aren't ideological. In a time of crisis, they first and foremost want problems solved -- and specifically, the problems created by too much government meddling and taxes to go away.

Wait, not ideological? So Ruffini's saying we need to run moderates? No. That is precisely the opposite of what I am saying.

Because very few independents care about ideological name-checks, they won't be swayed by scare tactics trying to persuade them that Candidate X is the ideological second-coming of Attila the Hun. We saw this with the thesis attacks. Candidates have wide latitude to run as who they actually are, so long as they can persuade voters they'll deal with the bread and butter issues (which was McDonnell's calling card).

In a purple state like Virginia, you can win by running as a liberal and a problem-solver (Kaine), as a moderate and a problem-solver (Warner), and as a strong conservative and a problem-solver (McDonnell).

Faced with that choice, why wouldn't we choose to run the conservative every time? A non-ideological electorate gives us more leeway to run conservatives in blueish/purple states, not less. To get a flavor of this in action, just look at the closing slide of McDonnell's ads:

The ubiquitous "Jobs Governor" branding and the spinning icons highlighting different issues is evocative of the desire for practical, clickable solutions to everyday problems shown in another recent marketing campaign.

Fixing Northern Virginia traffic? There's an app for that.

Jobs? There's an app for that.

Education? There's an app for that.

Essentially, whatever the issue was, Bob McDonnell wanted you he had the proverbial "app for that" -- a set of practical solutions not overtly branded as left, center, or right.

Considering the issue void that was the Creigh Deeds campaign, it was just what the doctor ordered.

Republicans in Virginia have struggled to make their prescriptions relevant to swing voters. Our issues in local elections have traditionally been issues like taxes and immigration that don't always lend themselves to policy heft. And a lack of policy heft has translated into an intangible sense that there's not enough "there there."

This was the central challenge facing the McDonnell campaign at its outset, and so it systematically sought to dismantle this critique by branding McDonnell as a practical problem solver without compromising his conservative principles.

Republicans can be specific, detailed, and confident in putting forward solutions relevant to the middle class, while also being more conservative than we have been in recent years (especially with the Bush era spending binge). There's not an either/or tradeoff between conservatism and a policy focus, something the McDonnell campaign proved in Virginia this year.

The lesson of the McDonnell campaign: Maintain your conservative principles, but make the election about policy. And whatever the issue, make sure you've got an app for that.

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 Competence - it is a hugely appealing attribute.

Problem is: if your mantra is the government is the problem, not the solution, it is difficult to put yourself across as the most competent person for the job of governance.


This common trope suggests

This common trope suggests there is only ever one "smart" answer: more government.

But more often than not, being seen as competent in the real world of business means keeping your costs low and your operations efficient.

If a business manager hiked their own spending by 20%, without a demonstrated, proven increase in value of over 20%, I would say they are anything but competent.

Sorry if I was unclear

 That is not what I was trying to say. My point is: there is  "right" size for government. As there is a "right" size of staffing for a business. What that size is depends upon the circumstances and the outlook. And there are variabilities as to the ideal deployment of resources. But the looney wing of the Republican party won't recognize these facts. There only answer is "less". Unless the situation is defense spending, in which case the answer is simply "more".

Can you imagine where our economy would be today if John McCain had won and enacted is across the board spending freeze?

So, how do we fix NOVA's transportation without spending?


Honestly, the only lesson of

Honestly, the only lesson of anything that happened in Virginia is that low voter turnout = better chances for Republicans (turnout was the lowest there it had been in 40 years). That's nothing new--we've always known it (among other things, it's why Republicans have worked so tirelessly to perfect vote suppression efforts).

Euphemisms are fun

More important, a few Republican candidates have demonstrated that it is possible to transcend the party's conservative-moderate divide.

I suppose that sounds better than "McDonnell ran away from the republican brand like it carried the plague."  It's pretty easy to transcend a divide when you pretend you don't know either side.  McDonnell ran a good campaign and won a well deserved victory.  But republicans wanting to take hope from it are in for a rude little surprise.

True, voters care more about competence, but...

> Because very few independents care about ideological name-checks,

> they won't be swayed by scare tactics trying to persuade them that

> Candidate X is the ideological second-coming of Attila the Hun.

> We saw this with the thesis attacks.


...or the Ayers/Wright stuff of the 2008 presidential elections, for that matter.

I remember how apoplectic the right wing blogosphere was, when voters seemed more concerned about the current direction of the country rather than some old left wing radical from the 1960s.


Anyway, your point is well taken -- although I would add that most Blue state voters only will consider conservative challengers if they are strongly unhappy with the current state of the economy/national affairs, and if the conservative manages to present himself to the public as a reasonable and moderate problem solver. This rule of course applies to more conservative parts of the country too. I obviously do not think Barack Obama would have managed to win if he had sounded like Jesse Jackson or if the American electorate had not been so thoroughly fed up with George W. Bush and the Republicans...





Nate Silver makes the important point(in the context of VA and NJresults: "Independent Voters and Empty Explanations") that many analysts just seem to be ignorant of when they speak about independents:

[...]Part of the problem is that 'independents' are not a particularly coherent group. At a minimum, the category of ‘independents’ includes:

1) People who are mainline Democrats or Republicans for all intents and purposes, but who reject the formality of being labeled as such;
2) People who have a mix of conservative and liberal views that don’t fit neatly onto the one-dimensional political spectrum, such as libertarians;
3) People to the extreme left or the extreme right of the political spectrum, who consider the Democratic and Republican parties to be equally contemptible;
4) People who are extremely disengaged from politics and who may not have fully-formed political views;
5) True-blue moderates;
6) Members of organized third parties.

These voters have almost nothing to do with each other and yet they all get grouped under the same umbrella as 'independents'.

But that's getting away from the point. Independent voters are treated as a cause, when all that they really are is a symptom. The key is in figuring out what ails the patient.


Fixing Northern Virginia

Fixing Northern Virginia traffic? Jobs? Education?

There's an app for that.

That app is called money.

Build roads, Create jobs, Fund schools.  McDonnell either is going to raise taxes or default on these promises.  There is no free conservative download that builds roads without funding.  You get what you pay for. 



An App for That?

Both McDonnell and Christie were triumphs of GOP branding.  My kudos to you, Patrick.

But now comes the day after.  I heard Christie on local radio; he was at a local charter school, one of his first visits following the Election, and it was clear he had no idea in the world what he was talking about.

Indeed, if you look at his platform, it was "I am not Corzine".

In McDonnell's case, it was "Trust me.  I can fix this."

Just like in Obama's win in 2008, NOW comes the hard part.  And if McDonnell or Christie ( Who I bet a friend even money is impeached before he is voted out after his first term in office) do not deliver, they are gone.

Constituencies will give you a chance, but in today's 24-hour FOX-fueled Cable News assault, they will no longer accept excuses.  See Corzine, a decent, smart, hard-working Governor in NJ, done in by an Economic situation he inherited.

Of course, for most Politicians, especially the modern GOP, the day after doesn't matter does it?  Now it's time to start writing checks from the Treasury to the people who got you into the joint, and got you a copy of the keys. 

Hope McDonnell and Christie rise above that for the sake of the hard-working people of their states, but...

Our GOP ticket?

Gee, I thought it had to be McCain or, perhaps in 2012, Bob Dole.  I think they are the ones the media will suggest and even support for GOP candidate.  After all, they are moderate, middle-of-the-roader compromisers who will accept a little bit of socialist poison just to appease and be acceptable.  We could never expect a 19th century libertarian Democrat who follows Jefferson, but must stay closer to the acceptable 20th century Democrats who follow Rousseau and Marx (see THE CHANGING FACE OF DEMOCRATS on Amazon and  Be careful, now, that Sarah Palin doesn't rise up and attract all of us individual liberty, free market, American exceptionalism types and piss off the media.

You forgot "paranoid"

 Be careful, now, that Sarah Palin doesn't rise up and attract all of us individual liberty, free market, American exceptionalism types and piss off the media.

You forgot "paranoid" from your list of attributes. This weekend Sarah Palin gave a speech in Wisconsin. Reporters were not allowed, natch, and attendees were also banned from bringing video or still cameras, tape recorders, or cell phones. Her remarks included a discourse on how there has been an AWFUL lot of “change” of late, including, shock horror, moving the phrase “In God We Trust” to the edge of the new coins.  She got this bit of wisdom from a email chain letter which ascribed it to an evil plot hatched by the, shock horror, secular Obama Administration. About which she said:

“Who calls a shot like that? Who makes a decision like that? It’s a disturbing trend.”

When, in fact, the truth is that the new coins were approved by the Republican congress of 2005 and signed off on by George Bush. 

So, yeah, you betcha, go ahead and pin your hopes on one of the stupidest national political figures ever. Who is now modeling herself on Glen Beck.

Seriously, she quit her job as Governor so that she could spend more time on Facebook and she is still so lazy she uses random emails that land in her inbox as the basis for her speeches doesn't even bother to Google a few facts?







Sarah Palin and we "individual liberty" types are enemies.

I see nothing in her that really loves personal liberty - the only liberty she champions is to be a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. Let me know when she gets around to doing something about our dreadful War on Drugs.

in god we trust pseudo-controversy

Good job cutting and pasting from HuffPo, "John Smith," on the "in god we trust" pseudo-story.  Swept all the usual politics/gossip blogs.  Looks to me like a minor passage in what was apparently a very long speech, not based on a chain e-mail as some have claimed, but on a simple fact regarding the re-positioning of the motto on the so-called "Presidential Dollar" - real enough to have prompted Brownback and Byrd to introduce a bill to move the motto back where religious people and traditionalists like it.  The only paranoia on the subject that I've seen is the paranoia of Obama-supporters who assume that it's all about him.  

Now that is the kind of brave, forward thinking leadership

 we've all been looking for. Two wars, an economy in tatters, and 45million people without access to the health care, and Sarah Palin wants to talk about the design of coins - a design approved by a Republican Congress and George W. Bush but which she wants you to think was a plot by the Obama people. And, yes, this "controversy" was inspired by a wingnut chainmail.

Great Post Patrick

You guys did an excellent job running on conservative Republican ideals without getting into ideological whizzing matches - letting the ideas speak for themselves.


BTW, the jobs created which actually help the economy are created in the private sector & require no government obtained money - just government to not punish businesses for succeeding.

Republican content

Check out the volume on this site.  Compare it to the volume of content on reasoned liberal sites like talkingpointsmemo or Yglesias.  There's no comparison.  Republicans just don't have much to say that makes sense.  Nutty content they have -- malkin, redstate, etc. 

Why is it that when you ask Republicans to make sense, they just go quiet?

Because, in the worlds of Stephen Colbert,

 reality has a well-known liberal bias.

Hoffman Un-Concedes!

Don't look now, but Conservatism is back, and it aint conceding. 


"we can't win and we don't even realize it!"