I keep hearing that the GOP needs to get better at making use of social media, and the Internet in general. And better at raising and spending money.
But looking at the mass of campaign literature in my burn box, it occurs to me that a party only needs things like web sites and social media pages and a ton of cash for mailings and yard signs if people don’t already know what it stands for.
Unfortunately, that’s a pretty accurate description of the current state of the Republican Party.
Right now, if I tell you that I’m a Republican, it tells you almost nothing about me, except that I think my chances of getting elected are better with an ‘R’ next to my name on the ballot.
I could be pro-gun or anti-gun. I could be pro-choice or pro-life. I could be in favor of creating new taxes, or reducing existing ones. I could be for or against school choice. I could prefer more federal influence within the state, or less. And so on. You just don’t know. You’d have to check my web site, or my Facebook page, or wait for me (or my opponent) to send you something in the mail.
And so when it happens that we have a government in which ‘Republicans’ control both houses of the legislature and the governor’s office, and they vote for expanding Medicaid while voting against expanding school choice, Republican voters are justifiably confused. And angry. And not inclined to vote for more of the same.
That’s not a marketing problem. That’s an inconsistency problem. That’s a focus problem. That’s a problem you have when you forget what the point of having a political party is in the first place.
A political party is a way to focus time, effort, energy, and money so that they don’t get dissipated. It’s a way of saying, ‘Instead of chasing all these rabbits, and not getting any of them, let’s just chase this one’.
There are two ways to grow a party. One is by diluting the platform — letting just about anyone, who believes just about anything, call himself a Republican in order to avoid having to collect signatures to get on the ballot. The other is by distilling the platform, only including those items where there is 95% agreement on what should (and shouldn’t) be done.
In the end, the best way to have a big tent is to have a small platform. Not coincidentally, that’s also the best way to end up with laws that people want to obey, as opposed to laws that half the people think are being forced on them by the other half.
If people know that ‘Republican’ means less government interference in both your personal life and your business (and not just ‘slower growth of government’, or ‘more behavioral restrictions along with some economic incentives’, or ‘pretty much the same thing as Democrat, except on guns’, or whatever people think it means now), then what’s there to advertise?
If I feel comfortable with the party platform, and confident that the people nominated by the party will support that platform (without straying from it), then I’m willing to just mark every name with an ‘R’ next to it, whether I know the person or not, and political advertising becomes irrelevant to me.
Unfortunately, the current method of using primaries to nominate candidates goes in precisely the opposite direction. Looking for candidates with the widest popular appeal it makes the candidate into the standard, which is backwards. The candidate is supposed to be the standard-bearer. The party should be fielding candidates who can be trusted to adhere to the platform, and it’s hard to think of a worse way to find them than relying on primaries.
As a voter, if I have to figure out who thinks what about which issues, sorting through information with very little signal and a lot of noise, then it’s just a race to the lowest common denominator, dominated by name recognition and name-calling, where the person with the most lawn signs and the least mud sticking to him by election day wins.
That’s a game Republicans can’t win, and really shouldn’t want to.