Unifying Narratives Work. Microtrends Fail.

David All argues that the proliferation of competing “agendas” now emanating from individual Republican House members misses the point. I agree, but for very different reasons than David. His essential argument is that Republicans should ditch any hope for a Contract-style agenda:

Gone are the days of Newt Gingrich’s Contract for America, a plan which every Republican got behind and backed. A unified agenda back in 1994 was possible because of Newt Gingrich’s intoxicating personality and strong leadership style; but it was also a different time, a time before the Internet inspired a culture of choice and information.

Today, thanks to the Internet, each Member of Congress can and should be fighting in the trenches for the hundreds of issues which drive their voters to the polls under the banner of the Republican Party. The Internet provides a medium to distribute our message like never before. We can fight on thousands of fronts.

Rather than being forced to to pick a few, limited set of agenda items, House Republicans should change the game and act more like iTunes and NetFlix — offering conservative, libertarian, and independent voters a lot of different choices — all of which can only be found under the larger brand — Republican.

This overlooks the most salient example: Obama, the epitome of the new net-centric candidate. Obama has actually thrived on a very strong, unified message.   

Change. Hope. 

This is not an agenda. It’s deliberately vague. But the message is as clear and unifying as Reagan’s optimism. Those who celebrate the bottom-up nature of the Obama campaign can’t deny its top-down, cult of personality, aggressive brand management aspects.

I was recently discussing the difference between the Clinton and Obama campaigns with a GOP pollster in town. In the conversation, an interesting point came up: that Obama has beat Clinton because he’s refused the play the small-bore, microtargeting game epitomized by her ex-strategist (and Microtrends author) Mark Penn. Obama has run on a big, national message of generational change in both red and blue states and it’s worked.

Democratic voters have latched on to this narrative. There may not have been a mass market for a 46-year old guy named Barack as President a year ago — but now there is. He created it. That takes a big, aspirational message that’s bigger than the sum total of a bunch of issue positions and demographic segments. The Internet doesn’t change that. It actually amplifies the success of popular messages at the head of the long tail. The common thread of Internet success stories is that they tend to be really big success stories, the enhanced variety offered by the long tail notwithstanding. Think of Google, Apple, and Obama.

What Obama has done for change represents what the Republican Revolutionaries did with the Contract with America. They married the Republican brand to the idea of Reform. Republicans may have won in 1994 without the Contract, but they would have governed a whole lot differently without it. Without a well-branded agenda, they would have more quickly drifted into a boring, piecemeal floor schedule.

The problem with the current “agendas” on offer is that they’re small-bore. They act as though we were still in the majority and our job was to fine-tune the workings of government. It’s not. In the minority, our job is to 1) make the majority’s life miserable, grinding the House and Senate floors to a halt, and building a narrative of the Democrats as broken and incompetent, and 2) offer big, bold alternatives to this mess like the Contract did in 1994.

We’ll be discussing more of what these agenda items might be over at The Next Right, but I imagine it would be things on this scale:

  • A total ban on earmarks
  • Let the half of Federal workers due to retire in the next few years retire – and don’t replace them
  • Personal Social Security accounts
  • A 50% cut in farm subsidies (yeah, good luck on that after this week)
  • McCain’s idea of replacing supplementing the UN with a league of democracies

There’s a market for this kind of change. When Tom Cole posted a few of the incrementalist agenda items to the NRCC blog, I couldn’t count a single positive comment in favor of the nearly 2,000 posted. This shows the disconnect between Washington and the grassroots. Instead of boldness, many members still think a 1998-style litany of “practical solutions” will work for a party that could be headed into the wilderness without a shock to the system.

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Banging Heads Together

Patrick you're correct about the NRCC, I read much of it and did not bother to post a reply.  What is it going to take to get some outside the Beltway thinkers to sit down with the abysmal leadership and explain how the cow ate the cabbage to them?  The leadership is not just out of touch but totally clueless on how to right a sinking ship.  There is not any 1 person on the Hill in or out of a leadership oosition that understands PR.  We need to have a daily message of the day, or a bad bill of the messae day each and every day when Congress is in session.  You don't hear any of our leaders on a regular basis exposing the Dems on the Hill for their creative ways of conducting legislative business.  We need some PR people on the Hill with a stiff spine to go out daily and make these statements.  If they can focus on 2 or 3 very specific words and just keep beating the drums with those few words it will make a large difference. 

The 5 items you've listed are a great start....they can be boiled down to keywords easily.

Sign me up

I am a firm believer of taking the cancer of political correctness and nuking it.

The Internet Doesn't Change Everything

I have to disagree with David All. He makes a mistake that alot of analysts have lately by basically assuming the internet changes everything. It doesn't. It is great for raising cash, getting out a message, but at the end of the day its offline activity that wins elections and changes policy.

Handwritten letters trump emails. A knock on the door trumps an eCard. A coherent message trumps some YouTube video.

We don't need all our congressman working on pet projects. A fight on "thousands" of fronts as David recommends is a fight to lose on all fronts. It is a classic tactical mistake and confuses internet buzzwords for the reality of fighting in the trenches of campaigns and national issue messaging. We need to have a broad reform agenda that explains to the people what we will do.

The resurgence of the Conservative Party in the UK wasn't due to fighting on thousands of fronts (or the right in Italy) but to indicting the opposition as corrupt, incompetent, etc and providing a legitimate alternative. 


David All's NetFlix Strategy is the Right Path

I have to disagree with eBurke and add my thoughts to All's idea... the strategy I see developing is that we have one bold unified movement/message/campaign- that is comprised of ten thousand individual good ideas and issues. It goes lower than a micro trend flat out to a personalized agenda. It's a hard analogy to make because the apples of politcal language to the oranges of technology language. David, in my opinion, is not talking about tactics- but a strategy that delivers a million objectives which together are the goal.

We have been left with many legacy systems of "chunks" of poltical and govermental system. My favorite chunk to hate is the county system, from the days of agrarian-based economies- yet they are still prevalent in places like NJ (where I am originally from). NJ is designated an urban area from High Point to Cape May. I currently live in Missouri, where counties make more sense, but really have been made irrelevant by an overall population density which makes townships, even in rural areas, strong enough and connected enough to be able to get rid of an entire layer of government across our nation.

I use the obvious outdatedness of the county concept to illustrate what I interpret as David's point that the "sound byte" "30 Second" "3 issue, 5 bullet point a piece" campaign has been replaced by what is already next- although our collective structural thinking as political operatives has not changed enough. Check out his NetFlix analogy and see if you agree with me.




Big vs Small

In theory, I agree with Patrick.  But in practice, I wonder if maybe the right strategy for 2008-2009 isn't to revive tempermental conservatism:  a preference for incremental change over huge, sweeping reforms.  An element of Bush's unpopularity, like Clinton's in 1993-94, seems to stem from a sense that he bit off more than the country could chew, from Iraq to Social Security reform.  In health care, in particular, I think we can think all the bold thoughts we want, but our salvation will come from offering more modest reforms as an alternative to Democratic proposals to blow up the system and start over.  Especially if Obama wins the election, our critique will have to begin with the idea that he's overreaching.

re: Unifying Narratives Work

I agree. I also agree that we need to stop talking about "branding" the GOP like it was a bar of soap.

Our unifying narrative needs to include:

  • Strong Defence
  • Fiscal Discipline
  • The Elimination of Earmarks and the inevitable corruption they breed

If you focus on those key items and tie all other issues to them you end up with the unifying narrative that Pat mentions.

An example on Fiscal Discipline. While there is much discussion about the price of oil these days, I haven't heard about the easiest way to bring down the price. It is not drilling in ANWAR or OCS. Restore trust in government and reduce our need to borrow internationally and thus restore the value of the dollar. It is not that the price of oil has risen in price as much as it is that the currency that it is denominated in has fallen.

The issue is the price of gas. The Unifying Narrative or Theme is FIscal Discipline.


Thank you Mr President-elect

Dear President-elect,


Thank you for allowing me (Frenchman, mason, 65 years of age) to live such a tremendous progress for America and its meaning in the whole world.

Tears in my eyes -I couldn't help that-  and a lot of renewed hope in humanity's capacity to leap forward.

Never again will I be frowned upon in the USA for shaking hands with a colored man!

Long life, Godspeed (I am beginning to belive in some God again, thanks to your election).

We love you.

JCC Villin .'.

What makes Obama the winner

What makes Obama the winner is his determination and courage that America will turn into a better nation. The change he wanted for the country is a great thing for people to trust him as a whole. We cannot see any negative perspective and goal that he manifested. But as a whole he is much confident that the economy and the world would turn around for everybody's benefits. Right now, other countries are getting their bids in line to host the next one, in 2014, and Henry Kissinger is among those trying to get the U.S. bid a top seed, although Nixon wasn't aware of it.   Doubtless that many would gladly get short term loans to go to the World Cup.