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Ray Haynes

We Have Met The Enemy…Part III…Fundamentally Rethinking How We Run Campaigns

To honestly assess our assets to figure out a way forward, we must next look at our candidates’ addiction to political consultants. Political consultants are necessary for a campaign, but we must figure out their proper role in a campaign. In one post mortem on the last campaign, I read the following quote:

Brulte argues that there is no voter fraud and that he and others had been educating the national party and California GOP candidates on the new election rules that took place this year. Yes, we can dislike the college football overtime rules but they are what they are and have to be prepared. Unfortunately, while Democrats were developing a ground game for two years after their 2016 heartbreak, Republicans–driven by consultants who work on commission–were more focused on raising SuperPAC money for ad wars rather than the ballots themselves.California Democrats have voter numbers in their favor, the voting system changes have favored them, and they had far more money to drive ground turnout. As the former political Republicans opine, the party needs to staunch the bleed of party registration and invest more in voter targeting using information technology the way Democrats did to “harvest ballots” of friendly independents.

Exactly. And the fact that didn’t happen for Republicans is a crime.

I get it. Democrats hire their consultants full time for a year to 18 months on the taxpayers’ dime, and then give them time off to earn the real money in the political game. Republican consultants have to make enough election to election to survive for two years. Republican consultants get so focused on the fifteen percent commission they earn on television and mail ads that they forget they also have a duty to stay up on election law, and generate a GOTV program based on that law. There is no a whole lot of money in that, but there is a lot less money in losing. Republican consultants in California have a lot fewer clients now, and therefore, the potential for a lot less income, because they did not do a good job in this last election.

Second, consultants CANNOT, I repeat, CANNOT drive the Republican political agenda. A consultant’s job is to develop a political strategy and “ad campaign” to sell what Republicans have to offer. Having consultants, like the ones who wrote the letter complaining about Donald Trump, define what our principles ought to be, is like having the advertising company tell the advertiser what the product ought to be. No advertising company tells Chevrolet or Coke what their product is or ought to be. The advertiser makes the product, and the advertising company figures out the best way to sell it to the public. That is what our consultants should do. Take the ideas, the right public policy, of the Republicans, and persuade people that is what is best for their lives and families. The question must first be “what is right” not “what is popular.”

Polls and focus groups are great at telling us how to market our ideas, they are horrible at telling us what our ideas ought to be. Leaving aside the fact that allowing our political agenda to be driven by polls and focus groups demonstrates a lack of leadership, which leads people to believe that we should not be entrusted with any position in which leadership is a necessary component, it also is pointless politics. Why have power if not to implement our ideas? If we have no ideas, then we want power for power’s sake, and the voters will reject us. People know, consciously or unconsciously, when we are pursuing power for selfish purposes, that is, power for power’s sake, and they want no part of it. Consultants take the world for what it is, and should help politicians shape and change public opinion in order to implement the “right” public policy, rather than accept the status quo as static.

Too often, our elected Republicans think they should shape their agenda to reflect public opinion. That may be what is easy for consultants. It is not, however, what is right for the state and our country. Either our ideas are right or wrong. If they are wrong, we deserve to lose. If they are right, but not popular, then we must act to persuade, to convince the voters of the rightness of our cause. That is the hard work of politics. If we do the right thing, the politics will work itself out. If we do the wrong thing to obtain power, we do not deserve the power we obtain.

How do we fundamentally change how we run campaigns? Put consultants in their right role. First, develop a campaign plan that is based on winning, not on maximizing the consultants’ income. Second, persuade voters that our principles, our values are what is right for the state and country. That persuasive process is a full time job, but that is what the electeds get paid to do. We have spent too much time, money and effort letting consultants define our agenda. That needs to change.