By Jonathon Moseley
Much of what is happening in the Delaware Republican Party is driven by two sharply-conflicting strategies for how to win elections. In a Democrat-dominated State with 297,112 registered Democrats (47.4%), 180,542 registered Republicans (28.8%) and 148,695 registered “Other” (23.7%), how can a Republican win?
STRATEGY # 1 (the Echo Strategy): For a Republican to win (other than in a GOP dominated R.D. or if no serious Democrat is running) the Republican nominee must be similar to a Democrat. If the voters like Democrats, then the Republican must also be just like a Democrat.
STRATEGY #2 (the Difference Strategy): To attract Democrats and Independents, a Republican must offer something different – a choice. Voters who want what Democrats are offering will simply vote for the Democrat. They can vote for the real thing, not an imitation of a Democrat.
Reagan won two landslides running on a strategy of “Bold colors, no pale pastels” following the theme “A Choice Not an Echo.”
Strategy #2 accepts that a Republican can only win if some Democrats are disaffected and vulnerable to persuasion. So if Delaware’s 297,112 Democrats (47.4%) are happy with their nominee, ain’t nuttin gonna get a Republican elected. That’s life.
But “a choice not an echo” offers a ghost of chance. Ronald Reagan proved that a clear contrast can peel away enough Democrats to win.
The Echo Strategy (#1) is simplistic. Someone who goes to all the trouble to register Democrat will probably vote for their own party. Democrats need a compelling reason to cross over and vote against their own party.
The Echo Strategy never considers WHY a Democrat might vote for a Republican. It just assumes that Democrats will inexplicably vote for a copycat.
Suppose everyone loves Taco Bell. So you open a copy-cat. Why should anyone buy your tacos when they can continue eating at Taco Bell? Worse, you might not really understand what people actually like about Taco Bell. Attempts at imitation may fail if you don’t truly understand people’s motivations.
However, no strategy will work until the DEGOP resolves this dispute over strategy. The founder of our party, Abraham Lincoln said that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Squabbling drives away independents and Democrat cross-over voters.
WHY are so many Delawareans registering as Democrats? Suppose you open a Taco Bell copy-cat. But when people walk in, they find the cook screaming at the manager and vice versa, and counter staff squabbling. People will go to Taco Bell, absent the screaming. Delicious tacos won’t cure that.
Activists are trying to weaken the other faction’s argument with pot shots about side shows. This nasty proxy war of personal attacks does not help anyone and only poisons the well. That won’t resolve the debate.
The stakes are high. What Republicans are really fighting about is the future, using examples from the past to try to win cheap points – instead of debating the actual substance of the strategic choice. And just like a warm Summer ocean drives a hurricane, the unsettled debate drives all sorts of accusations, recriminations, and smears.
Strategy #2 emphasizes drawing contrasts and pointing out differences between the Republican and Democrat nominees. Proponents of Strategy #1 are upset when a Republican points out the differences between candidates.
The goal of Strategy #1 is to elect any Republican no matter what they stand for. It doesn’t matter what they do in office. Just being elected is enough. Proponents of Strategy #2 want to elect candidates to office for a reason – to accomplish specific goals. There is no point electing a candidate if they won’t actually vote and act differently in office than a Democrat.
Strategy # 1 seeks being popular rather than right. Strategy # 2 assumes it is more important to be right than to be popular. Winning is losing if your candidate won’t do in office what needs to be done.
Proponents of Strategy #1 respond that a Republican who votes right most of the time is better than electing a Democrat. Proponents of Strategy #2 would agree with that – except they have been burned too many times. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” The Big Tenters spin a good story… but they have burned up their trust by breaking their word too often. It might have been a fine argument once upon a time but now it is tattered and worn out. It hurts when people just don’t trust you anymore.
Strategy # 2 means giving voters a reason to vote for Republicans. A candidate must explain to the voters why Republican policies are better. Proponents are looking for a leader not a follower.
Strategy #2 assumes that minds can be changed. Strategy # 1 assumes that no one ever changes their mind. Proponents are offended by the attempt. Since voters never change their minds, candidates have to compromise their principles to fit the voters’ unchanging and unchangeable views.
Strategy # 1 emphasizes the candidate and therefore downplays the importance of running an effective campaign. Proponents do not study election techniques as thoroughly. Strategy #1 proponents cannot imagine how a contrast candidate can win. Strategy #2 assumes that a good candidate persuades and wins over voters. Therefore, running an effective campaign is very important. They believe in Strategy #2 because they know how to run and win effective campaigns, having diligently studied campaign techniques in depth.
These two dramatically different perspectives seem impossible to reconcile. But these ideas need to be discussed meaningfully. Trading smears and personal attacks will never forge consensus. An infinite number of ad hominem personal attacks will not win this debate. “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still,” my Swedish Grandfather taught me. The pot shots must stop. Mature, open-minded discussion on substance is required.