GOP Needs a Clear Midterm Message to Counter Obama's

GOP Needs a Clear Midterm Message to Counter Obama's

By Richard Benedetto - May 19, 2014

While the Republican game plan for winning back the Senate and adding to its majority in the House of Representatives this November still seems a fuzzy work in progress, President Obama is following a sharply focused Democratic blueprint to prevent that from happening.

It is no secret plan. It’s been out there in bits and pieces for months. But in a speech last Wednesday at a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fundraiser in New York City, the president neatly tied it into a simple overarching message:

I am working hard to rebuild the economy and improve the lives of every American, but those nasty Republicans are trying to stop me every step of the way.

Or in his own words, “The challenge we've got is very simple: Washington doesn’t work. It's not as if we've got no good ideas on policy. We've got tons of them. I've got a drawer full of things that we know would create jobs, help our middle class, boost incomes, make us more competitive. But we have a party on the other side that has been captured by an ideology that says no to everything because they cling to a rigid theory that the only way to grow the economy is for government to be dismantled and let the market sort things out, and folks at the top doing very well will somehow automatically trickle down to everybody else.”

Then, in this speech (and in many others before it), he went on to tick off all those things he is for and he says the GOP is against: increasing the minimum wage, immigration reform, reducing the cost of college, rebuilding infrastructure to put people to work, improving Americans’ health care, grappling with climate change, narrowing income inequality, equal pay for women, cleaning the air, reforming the tax code to boost the middle class, revitalizing education, rewarding businesses that create jobs.

He believes that this is a winning message because, he says, the people are with him.

“The good news is, on every issue that you and I care about, the country is actually on our side,” Obama said Wednesday. “Immigration reform -- a majority of the country agrees with us. Raise the minimum wage -- a majority of the country agrees with us. Investing in basic research -- check. Rebuilding our infrastructure and putting our folks back to work -- agree with it. Revamping our tax code so that we're rewarding companies that are investing here in the United States -- they’re with us.”

If there’s a problem, he added, it is that Democrats tend not to vote as much in congressional elections as they do in presidential elections. Therefore, he said, the task is to communicate this message and encourage Democrats to go to the polls.

It isn’t just talk. For months, he has hopscotched around the country and repeated the message, touching down in places such as San Jose, Calif., Tarrytown, N.Y., Ann Arbor, Mich., and Orlando, Fla. Agree or disagree with its contents, it is an organized election strategy with a detailed plan.

Contrast that with the Republicans, who have yet to articulate a unified 2014 message that lays the groundwork for putting the GOP in charge of both houses of Congress. If there is a theme, it is based on the notions that Obamacare is a mess, the administration is riddled with scandal and the president has flopped on the world stage. But that is a negative message. Winning election campaigns are mostly built upon positives -- people vote for you and your policies, and not just against the other guys. Two recent examples should give Republicans pause:

-- In 1998, the GOP counted on the Monica Lewinsky scandal and efforts to impeach President Clinton to spur huge Republican gains in Congress. They lost four seats in the House and made no gains in the Senate.

-- In 2004, a majority of people who voted for Democrat John Kerry said they were not voting for Kerry, but mostly against the policies of President George W. Bush. Kerry lost.

Holding hearings on Benghazi and the IRS are all well and good, and should strongly motivate Republicans to get out and vote. But barring any smoking guns before Election Day that implicate people in the White House for malfeasance, what beyond scandal will trigger the independents who swing elections in key states and districts to vote Republican? How will Republicans manage the nation better than Democrats? That is what the GOP has yet to figure out and tie into one coherent message. 

Richard Benedetto is a retired USA Today White House correspondent and columnist. He now teaches politics and journalism at American University and in The Fund for American Studies at George Mason University. You can follow him on Twitter at @benedettopress.


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