Sunday, December 21, 2008

But seriously, folks . . .

My earlier suggestion that RNC Chairman Mike Duncan has slipped a cog and needs to be shipped to an asylum got linked by my old NoVaTownhall buddy Joe Budzinski. That suggestion was occasioned by Duncan's letter proposing the creation of an in-house RNC think tank (I've cribbed the text of the letter from TPM and pasted it below).

Jocularity aside -- although, really, Duncan probably could use some stress-free relaxation --your chairman's idea of creating a DC-based RNC policy shop is 180 degrees out of phase with what really needs to be done to fix the Republican Party. The party's problems have nothing to do with a shortage of "new ideas," but rather have to do with systemic and structural problems that prevent the party from acting effectively on the good ideas it already has (which are not really "new ideas").
  • First and foremost, the GOP needs to abandon the top-down methods that have prevailed during the Bush years. The national party leadership and committees must stop interfering in GOP primaries. Go back to 2006, when the NRSC spent money defending Lincoln Chafee against Steve Laffey's primary challenge. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Republican incumbents must be told bluntly that NRSC and NRCC won't defend them against primary challengers. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. The national leadership has also interfered in open-primary situations, showing favoritism toward certain "approved" candidates, for example, favoring Johnny Isakson over Herman Cain in the 2004 Georgia Senate primary.
  • Second, the GOP needs to update its fund-raising mechanism, especially in terms of online contributions and small-donor development. Patrick Ruffini, Jon Henke and Soren Dayton have been pushing on the online front at Next Right, and the party needs to pay attention to those guys. In that regard, I'd also like to mention my own "Old School in the New Media" philosophy, namely that online activism works best when it is combined with old-fashioned face-to-face contact. The rise of the Internet has actually put a premium on "face time," and the GOP could enhance its fundraising by creating opportunities for online donors to have direct face-to-face interactions with elected officials and party leaders.
  • Third, the party needs to improve its programs for targeting key races, both offensively and defensively. The GOP needs to study the role of the "compete everywhere" strategy in the Democrats' recent comeback. And RNC HQ needs to get some people who can see the importance of supporting a candidate like Allen West, whose entirely viable campaign was neglected by the national leadership until after Labor Day. In terms of candidate recruitment, rather than the national party bigfooting into contested primaries, they need to work with state and local officials to organize more grassroots-level recruitment efforts.
  • Fourth, the party needs to rethink its media strategy. There is no reason in the world why the party of Ronald Reagan should allow its media operations to be run by people who don't know anything about the media. As I've said before, the GOP spent something like $900 million in the 2008 cycle and can't buy a fucking clue about media. People outside the news industry don't realize the extent to which "media bias" against Republicans is caused by the assholes who run the GOP. The Tucker Bounds Syndrome -- putting campaign hacks who've never worked a day in a newsroom in charge of media operations -- must end. Media relations is about relationships, and the standard GOP campaign playbook of treating reporters like crap is a big part of why the party enjoys such a horrible image.
  • Finally, don't overthink it. The Republican Party (a) nominated a 72-year-old bald guy for president and (b) lost. You don't need a policy wonk to tell you that (a) might have something to do with (b). The current woeful state of the GOP has many sources, but most of them involve routine political incompetence. Just one example: Mark Foley. Do you realize that Foley had wanted to retire in 2006, but that Karl Rove pressured him to run for re-election anyway? When a reputed "genius" like Rove is making bonehead moves like that, Republicans deserve to lose.
Political incompetence can't be solved by hiring a bunch of wonks, which is why Duncan's "Center for Republican Renewal" is such a lousy idea. The problems of the GOP are not policy problems.

The Duncan Memo
Republican National Committee
To: RNC National Committee Members
Fr: Chairman Robert M. "Mike" Duncan
Re: The Center for Republican Renewal
Date: Friday, December 19
I am pleased today to announce the creation of the Center for Republican Renewal, a new office of the Republican National Committee that will identify, generate, and promote public policies that advance Republican principles of sound governance. I began exploring this idea in the days immediately following the November election. I would like to take this opportunity to explain the concept and how you as a Committee Member can participate in this exciting new endeavor.
Background and Context: Pre-Reagan and Pre-1994
The Center for Republican Renewal is a natural development given the political landscape and follows on previous efforts in this vein after the elections of 1976 and 1992. In each of those years, a Democrat was elected president with vague promises of change and came to power with strong Congressional majorities and a majority of governorships. Moreover, the Republican "brand" was in trouble due, in large part, to self-inflicted wounds.
As we all know, circumstances quickly shifted in our favor. In 1980, the party rebounded and we had Ronald Reagan in the White House, a Republican Senate, and several new Republican governors. In the historic 1994 election, we gained control of both houses of Congress and a majority of governorships - after earning only 36 percent of the presidential vote just two years prior.
Those quick comebacks in 1980 and 1994 did not just happen. They took hard work and smart thinking - not only from the standpoint of candidate recruitment, fundraising, and political strategy, but also from the standpoint of ideas. Put simply, Republicans gave voters a reason to elect them, and that reason was better policy. Each time, the driving force behind the resurgence of our Party was the Republican National Committee.
In 1977, RNC Chairman Bill Brock pushed the party into the work of ideas with twin endeavors: first, the creation of a quarterly public policy magazine, Commonsense, which embraced serious policy discussion as a vehicle for innovative policies and breakthrough ideas; and second, the formation of "Policy Councils," groups of public policy experts from across the nation who advised the party and its leaders on the best approaches to the nation's problems. These efforts were central to backing up
the claim that Republicans were the "party of ideas," and were a precursor to the Reagan Revolution in 1980.
In 1993, RNC Chairman Haley Barbour responded to the previous year's defeats by committing the party to intellectual engagement, reviving the Commonsense magazine and going so far as to create a separate entity to develop policy alternatives. He explained this decision through "three premises: that fundamentally, ideas make a difference in politics; that, traditionally, ideas which make a difference have been associated with political parties; and, that currently, such ideas are less
likely to be found inside the Washington beltway - and its thinking - than outside." The RNC's enthusiasm for debate and intellectual engagement fed directly into the development of the Contract with America and the Republican Revolution of 1994.
The common thread of these two periods - pre-1980 and pre-1994 - was that the Republican Party showed it was confident enough with its principles and core values that it could embrace debate and even disagreement in the pursuit of superior public policy solutions.
The Decision to Create the Center for Republican Renewal
It was in light of this history that I decided in early November to commit the RNC to a similar, policy-focused effort. Republicans have grown accustomed to having our party recognized as the "Party of Ideas," but we must acknowledge that many Americans today believe the party is stale and does not deserve that label. This is not a critique of our principles of a strong national defense, growth-focused economics, constitutionally-limited government, and a defense of traditional values. Rather, it is a reflection that we have not used our principles to provide solutions to the kitchen table concerns of middle-class America.
We must recognize that being the "Party of Ideas" requires daily effort to apply principles to the particular public policy questions of the day. All Republicans have an obligation to develop principled solutions rather than falling back on ideology alone; we must show how our ideology can be applied to solve problems.
When we have a Republican President, that challenge falls to the White House and Congress. However, when the table is set as it is today, the RNC must play an enhanced role.
I believe we have an opportunity - and an obligation - to regain the American people's trust by showing them that it is the Republican Party that will provide the principled policies that will better improve the lives of all Americans. To do that, we must:
* Always bear in mind that good policy is good politics and that the Party should play a fruitful role in identifying and generating innovative ideas.
* Seek solutions outside of Washington, D.C. - listening directly to the American people and learning from those who are grappling with real problems.
* Remember that the laboratories for Republican policymaking are in the states, counties, cities, and towns of our nation, not in the halls of a Democrat-dominated Congress.
* Help coordinate policy approaches and alternatives between Congress, the Governors, and state and local officials.
* Be open to principled solutions no matter where they originate.
* Use new technologies to better create communities of support and innovation, and build those communities around shared ideas.

The Republican Party must not cede the policy field to the Democrats, and it must use the tools at its disposal to expand the portfolio of ideas that our candidates will have in the next cycle. As former Chairman Brock wrote in 1977, "the contest for votes must also be a contest for ideas." The Center for Republican Renewal will be dedicated to that proposition.
Structure and Leadership of the Center for Republican Renewal
The Center will be a division within the RNC and will operate from our national headquarters. Its budget has been approved by the RNC Budget Committee. At the outset, we anticipate a staff of approximately ten dedicated employees.
The executive director of the Center will be Steven J. Duffield. Many of you know Steven as the executive director of the 2008 Platform Committee, which produced a platform that was praised widely as being concise, principled, and forward-looking. Steven came to the Platform Committee after serving as a leadership policy advisor and chief counsel to Senator Jon Kyl (AZ) at the Senate Republican Policy Committee.
We will also be recruiting RNC Members and other conservative leaders to assist the Center with strategic planning and guidance as a Board of Advisors to the Center. In addition to RNC Members, this Board will include former Cabinet Secretaries, current and former Governors and Members of Congress, leaders of conservative Policy groups, and other Republican leaders.
Overview of Projected Activities
The Center will be aggressive and very active in the policy community. In general terms, we can group its projected activities into three areas: 1) increased policy focus through RNC activities; 2) nationwide policy outreach; and, 3) extensive policy debate and discussion.
First, the Center will be a resource to you as a Member of the Republican National Committee and to other Republicans because we will now have in-house experts on current policy issues and debates. The Center's analysts will create detailed policy products, from fact sheets and backgrounders to critiques of proposed legislation, which will be fact-intensive and professionally crafted to ensure
accuracy. These products will be useful to RNC members, to our new Speaker's Bureau, to our Communications team, and to Republicans across the nation. This written product will be developed in cooperation with Republican elected officials both in Washington and in the states.
Second, the Center will engage in aggressive policy outreach throughout the nation. This will be one of many opportunities for your direct involvement with the Center. This outreach will include the reestablishment of the Policy Councils so that we can draw on the substantive expertise of policy experts who work with Republican Governors and legislators, Congressional leaders, and think tanks nationwide. The goal is to learn constantly and ensure that potential applications of our Republican
principles are fully understood, shared, and promoted.
Third, the Center will be committed to the debate and discussion of ideas. We believe that it is best to have policy discussions within the party and that we should not fear disagreement. To that end, the Center will build on the 1977 and 1993 efforts with Commonsense by developing a new website devoted to public policy. We will invite original content from experts and then encourage debate. This will be another opportunity for Member involvement with the Center. The website also will host policy blogs that will provide forums for substantive analysis of the key issues facing the nation, and input from the public will be gathered on a systematic basis. Our goal is to grow a community founded on common goals and aspirations.
As the months pass, we anticipate the Center branching into other areas and finding other tools and tactics that will advance our ideas. It will be a nimble operation that is quick to shift when circumstances demand it.
I am very excited about the Center for Republican Renewal because I believe it is an integral part of our rebuilding process. I look forward to your suggestions on how to make the most of this new endeavor.

1 comment:

  1. Your tactical suggestions are not bad, but, halfway through Who Killed Homer? what I think matters in the longer term is that somebody GOP, Libertarians, (don't care), recall What Actually Matters, as shown by history.
    As Wallison discusses, novel theories draw vacuum.