When congressional Republicans gather next week for a retreat in Williamsburg, Va., pollster Frank Luntz (above) will have an UNSETTLING MESSAGE for them:
Congressional Republicans are currently defined as nothing more than opponents of the president and friends of the powerful. This isn’t my opinion — it’s America’s opinion. My polling firm asked voters nationwide on election night to identify who or what the GOP was fighting for. Twice as many said “the wealthy” and “big business” than “hardworking taxpayers” or “small business.”
Their image is even worse today. The congressional Republicans’ message during the “fiscal cliff” debate last month was confused and chaotic. The debt-ceiling vote next month and the budget debate after that promise more of the same — unless House and Senate Republicans stop bickering and start coordinating and talking differently.
Just saying “no” to the president has its limits…
While the new GOP House majority is the second-largest since World War II, more people cast votes for Democratic House candidates than for Republican candidates. On the Senate side, the Democratic advantage was even larger. The GOP paid a price for its out-of-touch language in November and could pay again in 2014, just as it did in 2006, unless the party changes course.
Republicans have done little to combat the Democratic charge that they care more about chief executives in corner offices than struggling workers in factories. While Congress debated and delayed, Obama took his case to the American people. He used campaign-style rallies to extol the fairness of raising taxes on the rich and attacked Republicans for blocking progress. Voters liked what they heard — and that’s why Obama has an overwhelming 58 percent to 32 percent advantage over congressional Republicans in polls when it comes to “protecting the middle class.”
Conservatism thrives only when it’s infused with optimism — when it’s about what people can do when they’re in control. That was the secret of Ronald Reagan’s success. Republicans need to be more than just the party of people “who built it” — they should be the party of people who want to build it even better. Speak to voters’ aspirations, not just their pocketbooks, and emphasize how GOP solutions help the want-to-haves, not just the already-haves. That’s personal responsibility in action.
For example, when Republicans speak disdainfully about becoming a “food stamp nation,” it reinforces voters’ suspicions that they are callous. Instead, they should offer a positive message about how hard work, personal responsibility and earned success are better than government dependency. And instead of talking about “upward mobility,” Republicans should summarize the American dream concisely: “If you work hard and play by the rules, you should be able to get ahead.” Obama stole that line from them. It’s time to steal it back.