Several of our great commentors have wondered what could be accomplished by shifting money away from candidate-focused Super PACs to campaigns that focus on issues rather than people running for office. And what institutions are supposed to do all this anyway? Those are both good points.
My first response is that public opinion is often ambiguous and the ground on which politics is conducted matters a great deal. There is a reason why radical pro-abortion types and their allies in the national Democratic Party like to steer the conversation toward cases of rape and away from publicly-funded partial-birth abortion. Maybe they know that the public is with us on those issues and they lose ground whenever the conversation turns to late-term abortion. That we aren’t able to focus the debate on those points where we are strongest is on us.
But can people be made to care about the at-will termination of late-term fetuses or Obama voting to let newborns who survived botched die without medical care? To a large extent, salience is about awareness and drama. People didn’t know or care much about Todd Akin and abortion in the case of rape until he put his foot in his mouth. Late-term fetuses sure look like little humans. There is a reason why pro-abortion radicals would like to keep voters from thinking about those fetuses as humans in the context of the abortion debate. Maybe even the best produced ninety second commercials would not move many voters. That would be on them. But those voters do not know about Obama’s vote on medical care for newborns They have surely never seen a powerful message on the issue. Instead, we have the dreck produced by Karl Rove’s Crossroads operation in the 2012 cycle, and the disgrace of the Ben Carson-branded scam PACs. That is on us.
Repetition matters. It you hear about an ugly fact once about a person (or faction) you generally like, it is easy to push the thought to the back of your mind. If you are confronted with the fact over and over again, it sinks in and tends to change your perception of the person or group. It makes you a little more ready to listen to the other side. Obama’s speeches in which he talks about his infinite courageous compassion sound different if you know about his record on late-term fetuses and newborn babies.
It also matters who brings up an issue. Candidates for office naturally want to be liked. No one is going to thank a candidate who brings up that his opponent voted to let a newborn die gasping for air without medical attention. That means that the message is better spread by third parties who don’t have to worry whether they are personally liked. The message still gets out, and when the information is widely available, it becomes easier for candidates to talk about it.
This dynamic already exists on the left. Ideas and attacks are introduced and spread by the “mainstream” news media and the entertainment media, and Democratic candidates can keep their distance until it is safe to intervene. There are no analogous conservative institutions for reaching the average nonpolitical person.
What would these initiations look like? I’ll start with the populist conservatives. You would need a combination of social trust (among small conservative donors) and savvy (about reaching persuadables.) I would start with a former politician who has a reputation for principle and integrity, and a youngish political activist (not much older than thirty and preferably younger) who has a feel for contemporary opinion and an innate understanding of digital media.
I’m thinking something like Rick Santorum along with some bright, young, thing from Liberty University. Santorum could reach and reassure the conservative donors, but the younger activists would focus on reaching people who do not think of themselves and conservatives and who do not consume conservative media. Populist conservative donors would also have to become more discerning about where their money goes.
I’m less worried about the elite donors. They already have most of the GOP’s political talent at their disposal and they literally have more money than they can spend effectively. They just need to realize that they are being taken, by a decadent and burned out Republican consultant class and give some new blood (and some new strategies) a chance.