Sunday, April 17, 2011

Winning The Public Relations Wars

The biggest problem Republicans (and conservatives) have is getting their message across. For as long as I can remember, Republicans have been poor at explaining what they believe, why their beliefs work, and defending themselves against the Democrats. They’ve been particularly bad at the media wars. How do we fix this?

1. Learn To Advocate: It amazes me that a group of people whose careers are based on communicating are so poor at communication. I suspect this is the result of two problems coming together. First, most Republicans don’t know or understand their own beliefs. They are faking it on an issue by issue basis. Thus, they don’t know how to explain what they "believe." Secondly, they don’t grasp the nature of politics. Republicans seem to think politics is about policy, when politics really is about sales. It doesn’t matter how great your ideas are if you can’t sell them.

To solve the first problem, Republicans need to learn what they believe. The key to explaining something is understanding it. It is clear to me that too many Republicans, e.g. John McCain, don’t understand why free markets work, why tax increases hurt jobs and productivity, why rule of law trumps “fairness,” etc. How can people like that be expected to explain or defend those beliefs? This means establishing schools to explain conservatism to Republicans and requiring attendance.

Secondly, the Republicans need to realize that the public has the attention span of a bumbersticker. The public does not read political blogs, does not study economics, and does not want to hear some dude in a suit droning on. The Republicans need to learn to turn their beliefs into meaningful slogans. They need to learn to use hyperbole. They need to learn the value of useful analogy, i.e. analogy based on things everyone already understands. And they need to learn the importance of imagery: visceral feeling will trump logic every time in politics.

To solve the second problem, Republicans need to grasp that politics is not what they think it is. Too many Republicans think of politics as a high school debate, where each side gets equal turns at presenting carefully thought out arguments. That’s false. Politics is a verbal blood-sport. Politics has no rules. Republicans need to stop assuming good faith on the part of the Democrats and the media, and they need to learn to attack the people on the left as well as their ideas. If a journalist is a leftist, boycott them or call them on it. If they are married to a Democrat, call them on it. If they give money to leftist causes, call them on it. Republicans need to learn they can never relax or assume that the public will see through the other side’s attacks, and they need to start pointing out the other side's bias.

2. Get Ahead of the Curve: The Republicans almost always respond to events, they never lead the agenda. It’s time to start planning ahead. They need to come up with their goals for the next 2-5 years and then lay the groundwork by developing talking points, commissioning research that will be needed, and starting “a buzz” long before introducing the legislation. Not only will this let them set the terms of the debate, but it will let them decide what will be debated.

3. Fight The Digital Wars: It’s time for Republicans to grasp that everything is political these days and it’s important to fight on all fronts. Consider Roger Ebert. Ebert is a leftist hack, yet the Republicans would never think of countering his influence. Thus, he is free to slander movies like Atlas Shrugged for purely political reasons and to criticize Republican policies in the process without consequences. Republicans need to start flooding his comment streams with criticisms, pointing out each of his flaws and making fun of him, i.e. they need to learn the art of the digital shoutdown, even if that means paying people to cruise the net and engage in this kind of information warfare. Even more importantly, Republicans need to learn to label these people as leftists every time they are mentioned. They need do the same with every other leftist actor, journalist or company: label them, stop praising them, attack their views, and slap them at every opportunity. These people are the opposition and Republicans need to stop letting them spout their views unchallenged and without the public thinking they are unbiased or apolitical.

4. Media Wars: A couple weeks back, there was an interesting article about the state of conservative media. The article pointed out that even though a lot of money has been invested, conservatives have little to show for their efforts. I think the problem is (1) these efforts are too unfocused to be useful, (2) these groups do little to generate information, i.e. they only collect it, and (3) these groups are openly political and thus their releases are easy to dismiss.

A better model would be the creation of a “Memory Alpha” (for our Trek fans out there) of conservatism. This would be a single institution whose role would be to (1) act as a repository of conservative knowledge/information, and (2) coordinate groups who are generating conservative information.

In terms of collecting information, I’m talking about creating a massive database of quotes by Democrats (video and written), collecting evidence of their hypocrisies, arrest records, complete resumes, voting records, lists of contributors, comparisons of Democratic voting records against their contributors, connections to leftwing think tanks and other organizations, and what lobbyists they employ and/or are related/married to. I would also like to see candidates provide their opposition research on Democrats once elections are done. The idea is to keep them from hiding their true affiliations and to keep them from escaping their pasts.

The same information would be kept on journalists and talking heads who are married to Democrats or notable leftists or who belong to leftist political organizations so they can no longer hide their political affiliations and pretend to be “unbiased journalists.”

This institution also would be a place to put policy papers, talking points, studies, polls, etc., anything that explains, outlines or defends conservatism, or anything that debunks liberalism. In terms of research, this organization would commission research and polls, would act as a coordinating organization for legal foundations (sort of a conservative ACLU) where these groups could share briefs and coordinate their efforts, offer journalist and researcher training, etc. They should even do things like coordinate the creation of documentaries, like we were talking about the other day with an Is It Real debunking liberalism.

Finally, their role would be strictly limited to gathering and sourcing this information, not advocacy; exploiting it would be left to other organizations. That avoids the problems of groups like Media Research Center who release their own information and are seen as lacking credibility because they are clearly political. This Conservative Memory Alpha would be essentially a behind-the-scenes nonprofit, whose purpose would be to feed information to other sources, so they could do the fighting. This is a similar model used by the left, which allows them to present groups like Media Matters as "a nonprofit research organization."

This is what it would take for conservatives to start winning the information war. Thoughts?


Ed said...

I like the Memory Alpha idea. We need a place where we can store information for conservatives to access easily. That way, the next time Pelosi says something like "you are supporting rich oil companies," we can all pull up her contributors and see right away how many oil dollars she takes and how many oil lobbyists she employs.

I also like the idea of doing investigative journalism. It's time conservatives got into that game.

Nice article.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, That is exactly the point, to create a resource where conservatives could (1) go to get information they need and (2) add to the sum total of conservative knowledge.

This would be very handy to help conservatives deal with leftists because they would have necessary information at their finger tips both to defend their own views, but also to help them point out the bias of the particular leftist they are dealing with.

Also, I think coordinating the research efforts would go a long way to improve the return on investment.

ScottDS said...

This is completely rhetorical but, at the end of the day, who gets to claim the moral high ground? Maybe I'm biased because I'm not registered with either party but, all things being equal, I'd like to vote for the adult in the room. (Apologies if that came off as smug.)

P.S. Nice nod to Memory Alpha. :-) There's also Memory Beta for non-canon Trek works (like the novels) but it's not nearly as comprehensive.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, A couple responses.

First, the moral high ground is irrelevant in politics because the public does not award points for that, they only award points for winning.

Secondly, how is it surrendering the moral high ground to fight back and point out that a journalist who is acting like they are independent while taking shots at you happens to be married to the heard of the DNC, used to work for Clinton, and gives generously to Democratic-sympathizer groups?

And if you mean attacking people like Ebert, where is the moral high ground in letting others attack you without response?

Finally, how is it surrendering the moral high ground to create a place to coordinate conservative efforts?

I figured you'd like the Memory Alpha reference. I didn't know about Memory Beta, but then I'm not really concerned about cannon v. non-cannon.

ScottDS said...

Re: a place to coordinate, I'm totally game with that idea. In fact, there have been times where even I wish I had one big repository of knowledge that I could access (similar to your series of articles on conservatism... a nice newbie primer, so to speak).

And, yes, I can't argue with you and if I were a full-blooded Red Stater, I'd certainly take umbrage at people insulting me and mine without fighting back. I suppose it goes back to the usual criticisms we've talked about re: other websites and people, where snark is used instead of legit (and factual) criticism and they come off simply as mirror images of everything they claim to despise.

Don't just mimic the other side... be better then them! It's the difference between one of your well-written, well-thought out articles and someone leaving a comment, simply saying, "Obama sucks!"

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: I agree on all points. It's sometimes amazing how efficient Republicans can be at governing (particularly conservatives) but amateurish at getting their message across and getting elected.

I will say that one thing that is great for public perception is the number of young Republican faces we now see in leadership and other prominent positions. At long last the party looks a lot less like the party of geezers and fuddy-duddies than it has in a very long time. Youth is not a substitute for wisdom, but a vigorous, more youthful party counters the argument that Democrats represent the future and Democrats represent the past. Perception is at least as important as reality in politics.

JG said...

May I add something? A minor subpoint: stop throwing each other under the bus. It's Reagan's 11th commandment: Never speak ill of another Republican - unless they're actually doing something wrong. Yet, as we saw with the CR debate, rather than plugging the accomplishments of the negotiations, leadership of both the establishment and Tea Party variety were bashing the deal as a whole and giving ammo to the liberals. We undercut our own message so often, too often. With friends like these....we don't need help generating bad PR. We do plenty of it on our own.

Was it CPAC 2009 that Glenn Beck was the keynote speaker? I remember the day after listening to Rush and all these people had called in saying they didn't like the speech and wanted his opinion. In a nutshell, without directly pointing a finger at Beck, he used the first hour of his program to say, the last thing we need right now are people going around poking holes in each other. Whenever you have the opportunity, stout plugging accomplishments and encouragements. We do not do that. Instead, we think there's some kind of higher valor in getting out there and saying, "I would not have voted for the CR because, even if there is other good stuff in it, it didn't address this one specific thing, so it's a total fail, and everyone who votes for it is a traitor to our cause." Well, yeah, that rallies the troops, doesn't it?

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Scott, I'm glad you like my articles! I prefer to discuss things logically and I think that's the best way to win people over in the long run -- to explain to them why they should believe the same things we believe. :-)

I see what you're saying, but that's not really what I'm suggesting. I'm not saying Republicans should get into the "you suck" game. What I am saying is Republicans have serious communications problems because they don't know what they are talking about. They don't understand conservatism or why it works, and thus can't explain it to average people. And since they don't know how to do that, they end up standing around looking like idiots when the Democrats attack them because they have no idea how to counter those attacks. That's what needs to change.

For example, I can explain to you in a few simple sentences with very easy analogies and simple ideas why free markets are vastly superior. I don't think John McCain (or most of the establishment) could explain that in anything less than a text book, and even then half of what they say would be wrong. That's what needs to change. What I'm suggesting is teaching these people the principles and how to communicate those effectively to other people whose attention spans are limited to a few minutes of nightly news or a television ad. After all, the key to winning any argument is to be able to distill the vital points of what you are saying and explain them in simple, easy to grasp ways that people can internalize. When you speak in terms of theory and long sentences full of accounting and economic jargon, you simply can't convince anyone who doesn't already believe.

To do that, we need to train these idiots in what they believe so that they understand what they are arguing about.


AndrewPrice said...

BUT we also need to give them the information they need to fight back. When the other side has no theory (and liberals don't -- and no, that's not hyperbole), they fall back on personal attacks. In politics, personal attacks can be very effective unless they are countered. The best way to counter them is to fire back with the person's own biases and hypocrisy. That's why I say to collect this information and to make sure that any attack by them is met with a devastating counter attack.

For example, if the Politico is going to run a series of hit pieces, it's perfectly fair to keep pointing out their connections to George Soros and how several of their reporters have gone through his training schools. It's also fair to point out how Chuck Schumer who blasts Republicans for being "the party of the rich" gets his money from Wall Street and does their bidding. That's the kind of information that needs to be easy to access and should be pointed out every time the left begins some hypocritical attack.

That's what I'm talking about, not training Republicans to climb down into the "you suck" gutter or abandoning higher argument. There is room for both higher argument and simpler advertising techniques.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I couldn't agree more. For decades, every single Republican leader was some 100 year old white guy. That made it very easy to mis-characterize the party as the part of old white people. I think the youth invasion and the minority invasion has been very good at ending that stereotype. I also think that's helped refresh the message as these people are all much newer to politics and aren't jaded yet.

And I agree that it is very depressing to see how bad so many Republicans are at getting their messages across, even as they are good at governing. I think a lot of the newer people are finally breaking that trend. And it's about time!

AndrewPrice said...

JG, I agree completely. Republicans need to learn the difference between destructive and constructive criticism. Constructive criticism respects the person and provides suggestions on how to improve. Destructive criticism just tears things down. And too often, that's what Republicans do to each other. In fact, I can't think of a single issue that has ever come up in my lifetime where some Republicans didn't run right away to a microphone and all but slander the other Republicans involved. It's despicable -- and you don't see it on the left.

Now, that said, I think the left is very poor at policing its own people and it accepts far too much graft, kookiness, racism, hate, etc. in its ranks. They really do need to start ridding their party of the likes of a Charlie Rangel.

Republicans are much better at this. BUT, again, they also carry it too far. It's time to learn (1) to wait until the facts are in before condemning each other, (2) make sure that we only condemn each other for serious offenses and never just for disagreement, (3) learn the art of constructive criticism, and (4) learn the art of team work -- just because you didn't get everything you want is no reason to blast the team.

That really is a problem for Republicans that needs to be fixed.

By the way, on Beck, Beck is a classic example of a guy who doesn't care about the party or the ideology, but cares only about himself. So it is not surprising when his speeches blast everyone else no matter how unfair and without regard to whatever damage he may do.

Ed said...

Andrew, I think coordination always works better than everyone trying their own thing because you don't end up remaking the wheel over and over. Plus, in this case, a coordinated response is necessary.

Like you, I don't really see any loss of the high ground here unless Republicans start to use personal attacks. I think pointing out bias, voting history, outside influence and the such is very valid. In fact, I think it should be considered a violation of their rules of ethics that journalists don't report their prior affiliations.

Ed said...

Oh, and I agree with JG. Republicans need to stop attacking each other. It's amazing that they don't get this!

JG said...

Oh, I agree, calling out the reprobates is essential. But as you say, Republicans go overboard.

T_Rav said...

Andrew, I agree that a lot of our problem is the lack of certainty about conservatism, what it stands for, and why it works. However, I would point out that this is not only an establishment problem but something that plagues the entire movement. It's easy to demonstrate why socialism and central planning don't work; we have history to show for that. Even most leftists won't openly advocate anything more than a "mixed economy." But we're still dealing with a liberal value system, one which sees redistribution of wealth and "at some point, you've earned enough money" as positive ideas. We have to make people understand why those are unfair and inherently totalitarian ideas.

Also, much as some libertarians might not like it, I do think that at some point, we're going to have to re-open the whole moral/cultural thing. True enough, it's not too popular with a large segment of the population these days--and that's precisely the problem. Jim DeMint got in a lot of trouble last year for saying you couldn't be a fiscal conservative without being a social conservative. Obviously, that's not strictly true, but I think he was making a broader point, that ultimately, the two pillars are mutually supporting. Without the limited government side of the equation, social conservatism won't last, but without a God and morality-oriented social dimension, fiscal conservatism can't stand, either. For practical reasons, I think this part can (and perhaps should be) kicked down the road for a little while longer, but at some point, it's going to have to come up.

Also, I think the Memory Alpha thing is a great idea. Are you recommending Commentarama for that purpose?

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, Coordination is good when you're trying to advocate, it's not good when you're trying to innovate. In this case, innovation can still be done outside of this institute, but this institute will give Republicans a place to coordinate, which would be invaluable -- kind of like a Republican College.

AndrewPrice said...

JG, I agree, the Republicans go way overboard because they throw people away at the first sign of trouble and too often they attack each other for no reason other than disagreement -- both of which are bad.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, It absolutely affects the entire movement -- just look at the threads on what makes a conservative film and you'll see that people have no idea what constitutes conservatism.

Unfortunately, I can't agree that it's that easy to show why socialism doesn't work because people keep believing in it. Even now, people are praising China's "socialist" economy, even though the parts that are growing are much more capitalist than ours. This is where things like conservative documentaries could come in so handy, as they expose what happened in other countries under socialism, how Britain's health care system is failing under soft-socialism, and even how our economic strength has changed depending on the level of government interference. It also would be really helpful to see someone take down the idea that Wall Street and Big Business are capitalist -- they aren't. They are at best big-government crony capitalists or quasi-socialists.

On libertarianism v. social conservatism, I think the problem is that both sides will need to settle for a middle ground. The libertarians must divorce themselves from the libertines who think libertarianism means "no values" and "anything goes," and the social conservatives will need to divorce themselves from the ideas that you need to be Christian to be a social conservative and that government power should be used to force these views. But that probably requires more thought than I can give it in this comment.

It would be hard for Commentarama to become the Conservative Memory Alpha as we're just a blog. But there are people out there who are capable of creating such a structure, they just haven't done it. What needs to happen is for someone to create the idea and get the donors interested. Right now there are millions of dollars donated each year to individual groups that just don't produce much because they lack the vision, so what they do is too narrow, and they don't seem to want to work together, so what they do is too limited and gets ignored by the others. In other words, there are too many competitors and not enough collaborators.

Tennessee Jed said...

Some of the leadership is able to convey a message, but they don't seem to understand the game, just as you suggest. Bush Administration tried to stay above the fray, and never responded to criticism. Obama administration learned from that, although they some times overdo it so that after a while, people quit listening. Pelosi and Reid and Chuck-U Schumer are always responding to the press.

The right is still somewhat hampered, of course, by the fact newspapers, networks, and cable news excepting Fox are pro-Dem. Thus, the AP, will tend to treat the Democrats responses more favorably. Usually, the Republican side of things in buried deep in a story. Even Google and Yahoo are in the tank for the Dem.'s

I think the fact the House is full of relatively young guns and has to fend off the WH and Senate may actually help our guys learn the art of demanding time from the t.v. news by being out there every day on every issue. Right now our job is to rip and remind where as Obama' has to defend. That doesn't mean I disagree with your notion we should at the same time be pushing our own agenda. When you do that, however, you allow the incumbant party to get off defense and attack your alternatives. I just want to see our side not let up for a second on B.O. every fricking time he lies (e.g. every time he opens his mouth.)

I like your idea of a data base, carefully labled for almost any issue. I also don't know if Lexus/Nexus would help, but I find it hard to go back and get stories or speeches from a few years back. The bit about Obama breaking his promise to not end run Congress is priceless. One last thought; there are some really good advocates out there like Steve Hayes. Maybe the Repubs need to hire him to coach our leaders.

Anyway, a good and timely post.

Tennessee Jed said...

T-Rav: don't know how many knew that. I happen to be a huge history guy and own and read a biography of Andrew Jackson that belonged to my grandfather, so I am very familiar with the feud. I also was lucky to go through a school with a fantastic academic reputation (well earned at that.) I later became disenchanted with the public school system as my eldest son went through. I am proud to say, my youngest never spent a day in a public school. He started at a for-profit elementary school in Minnesota, went to private schools through his bachelors degree and only went to a state supported school for his M.B.A. Of course , the latter is not the same thing as public education. Talk about my tax dollars at work :-)

Tennessee Jed said...

whoops, thought I posted that last one (response to T-Rav) on Hawk's voice of the people thread. Sorry about that

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Jed. I think the fact that the MSM is in the tank for the Democrats definitely hurts. But the even bigger problem is that Republicans aren't good at taking advantage of the moments they are given. Take the debates for example. It was depressing watching our candidates barely able to pronounce their names, much less be able to articulate simple conservative ideas. And a lot of them seem to go on television for the sole purpose of praising the people who are beating them up. That's all got to change.

Also, too often the first instinct of Republicans seems to be to give the Democrats deference and to trust that the media will present it all equally -- which of course, we know they won't.

I'm hoping the young guns finally realize this and start to change the rules of the game. I guess we'll see.

I think a central database would be incredibly useful. It is very hard to find quotes or speeches. That shouldn't be the case given the power of the internet. It's just a matter of hiring people to start gathering the information. And being able to call that up for the next news cycle would be incredibly useful for all Republican-supporting pundits.

There are definitely some great advocates out there that the Republicans should hire to train them. A little but of guidance could go a long way.

Likewise, I'd like to see them swap out their advertising people, who generally are pretty horrible. They need to change the way they see politics to grasp that winning the public's support is all about the sales part.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, P.S. Don't worry about putting it in the wrong thread, I'm sure T-Rav will be by soon enough. :-)

T-Rav said...

And so I am!

Firstly, Andrew, I could also write a long time on the thorny issue of social conservatism's place in the country. To steer back to the subject of your original post, though, my main purpose was to point out that before we can go forward, we need to spell out some common ideals of conservatism, and I mean some really high theoretical stuff, like human nature, change vs. continuity in society, etc. That won't immediately help us on more practical issues, but it will give us a bedrock of political thought for the future.

In regard to the Memory Alpha thing, I figured you'd say that, but the idea sounded a lot like your proposal for a conservative HuffPo, so I had to tweak you a bit. Who knows, though--if no one else will do it...

T-Rav said...

Jed, I suspect I had a much different public school experience than your son would have had. But I got lucky, by which I mean I had teachers who actually cared about educating kids and had the common sense to know not everyone was the same. That's how I learned about Franklin when I was still in elementary school. Shocking, huh? :-)

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, I agree and I somewhat disagree.

I agree in this way. I think it would be very useful for "conservatives" to get together and figure out where their common principles lie -- and where the differences are. That would give us an excellent idea of why we are all allied and it might help us all forge a common theoretical policy basis.

It might also help reach some deals. Take abortion, for example. Assuming libertarians are generally pro-abortion (and I don't know that they are), and social conservatives are fairly strictly opposed, they could at least reach some sort of agreement that they would both push for restrictions and lack of government funding. There probably wouldn't be any agreement beyond that, but at least having some portion of an agreement would be better than nothing.

And to the extent there are disagreements (this is where I disagree somewhat), I think this conservative Memory Alpha (CMA) should not discriminate against one strand of conservatism or another in the types of information it collects or disseminates.

That may sound like a cop-out, but keep in mind the CMA's job would just be to (1) gather information for others to use and (2) coordinate efforts by various conservative groups. So there's no reason it couldn't accept some contradictory positions, since it would be up to other to determine how to use it.

In terms of me creating the CMA, I'd love to do it, but I don't have the technical skills or the financial contacts to get something like that started. Maybe the thing to do would be to put together a proposal and send it to various people?

patti said...

#3. that's the job i want. to get paid to hammer the left? delightful! and as important as most anything. the left is a bunch of cowards; they woouldn't now what to do with that kind of shock and awe.

we need an angel to fund this movement. seriously.

AndrewPrice said...

Patti, True on all points. The left are cowards, and so far they've gotten along by whining whenever anyone has attacked them and, sadly, people have fallen for that.

There are some huge donors out there, the problem is that their money ends up wasted because it goes to organizations that don't think very strategically.

rlaWTX said...

I've thought for a while that we needed a depository of conservative info. It is honestly too time consuming for me to go and find that tidbit I heard the other day that proves my point exactly whenI am trying to explain something political to a friend. It would be awesome to have a search engine or grain silo or something! But it'd have to be impersonal - no taking sides, just a conservative perspective vs liberal agenda (ex: no dittoheads or even commentarama-ites running things tilted).

and because I'm weird - I love the idea of a "theoretical" discussion!

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, I agree, it would need to be unbiased -- just present the information without supporting one group of conservatives over another, and then let people make of the information what they want. It should definitely not be an advocate for either one type of conservatism over another or for any particular candidate. That's the only way that it could gain the trust of all conservatives (and probably a good number of independents as well).

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