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Go negative? Go?

| An opinion feature in tomorrow's Washington Post invites political experts to weigh in on whether Republicans can win in November with a negative strategy.

Let's start by quarreling with the premise of the question; unless you have just returned to planet Earth from a year-long sabbatical in a black hole, you know that the decision to "go negative" was made long ago. The Party of No hasn't had a positive word to say about anything since the Obama inauguration.


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Christine Todd Whitman

Christine Todd Whitman, former governor of New Jersey and administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under Bush the screw-up, insists, "In every issue being discussed today there are Republican alternatives. Let's start there and give the voters a real choice going into November."

Puh-leeze, Christine! What alternatives? Republicans forfeited any opportunity to shape legislation by simply shouting "No" to every Democratic proposal, even those they, Republicans, had been for until Obama adopted them. The Republican alternative to healthcare reform is Don't get sick. The Republican alternative to financial reform is Don't give consumers protection against banks. The Republican alternative to budget deficits is to Spend more and cut taxes. At one time Republicans fancied themselves the party of ideas. Now they are the party of chickpeas for brains.


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Scott Keeter

Scott Keeter, director of survey research at the Pew Research Center, says "There's no indication right now that it [Republican Party strategy] is hurting them politically." He points to growing enthusiasm among Republican voters and Republican gains on which party could do a better job on important issues.

Scott, Scott, Scott! Your own data belie your conclusions. In your polls, only 46% have a favorable opinion of Republicans, and only 29% say Republicans are doing a good job offering solutions to the country's problems! Of course, he essentially dismisses the data by saying It's the economy, stupid! He says the poor economy makes the fall election "more of a referendum on the incumbent party than a choice between Democratic and Republican ideas" and contends that "what the GOP offers and how the party is viewed" will become more important to voters only if the economy rallies. While the attempt to use data is admirable, it's not a very successful one.


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Martin Frost

Martin Frost, former representative from Texas and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, opines that "Running strictly on a strategy of 'no' is dangerous for any party." However, he warns that both parties are likely to lose incumbents if they fail to come up with specific job-creation proposals and a clear vision of how to improve the economy. If they don't, says Frost, "We may see an election in which incumbents of the out party are defeated along with incumbents of the majority party. Then it will just be a question of who is left standing."

Finally, a realist! Republicans are counting on voters to punish Democrats for not accomplishing what they campaigned on, but they assume, wrongly I believe, that voters won't remember that it was Republican intransigence that created legislative gridlock in Washington.


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Newt Gingrich

Newt Gingrich, former Republican speaker of the house, wants to have it both ways: "No and yes is the winning strategy for Republicans." Of course, he's against "the left's job-killing, tax-increasing, deficit-increasing, big-bureaucracy, Washington-centered, politician-dominated vision." And of course he's for "good solutions that fit our values and principles."

It's hard to give credence to someone named after a salamander. Newt could be entertaining if he actually made sense.

  • "Litigation reform" to bring down the cost of health care — c'mon, Newt, you know that while malpractice lawsuits may be a cost factor, it is a minor factor compared to for-profit insurance, hospitals, and pharmaceuticals.
  • Saving the billions "incompetent bureaucracy pays to crooks in Medicare and Medicaid" — maybe, but it's a little inconsistent to also be against "health policemen."
  • "Drilling offshore" — Newt thought Obama's announcement about about offshore drilling was good, except he didn't like the timing, saying it should be "Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less" (tampabay.com). Florida residents protesting outside Gingrich's speech in St. Petersburg begged to differ.
  • "Trying terrorists in military tribunals. There are many things to say yes to" — now that's something that "fits our principles," sarcasm intended.

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Mark Penn

Mark Penn, pollster and advisor to the Clintons, calls running on "no" "a substitute for good ideas," rather than a strategy. He notes that "Republican leaders in Congress still have only a 36 percent approval rating in CNN polling" and points to centrist voters as the ones "most likely to want to see results over insults." On that basis, he predicts "some extreme volatility between now and November. It is the party that wins them over with ideas that is most likely to go home with their votes."

I'd like to believe that — that voters vote on the basis of ideas — but I'm skeptical, especially in a media environment that encourages shouting and discord rather than reasoned debate, and when politicans feel so free to lie. Ideas have a hard time coming to the surface.


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Heather Wilson

Heather Wilson, former Republican representative from New Mexico, contends that "While Democratic partisans will try to dismiss Republicans as just the party of "no," that's a tough sell with an informed public."

That is so wrong, including the premise about an "informed public." One thing that's become increasingly clear is how ill-informed much of the public is. Bear in mind:

  • More than a third of Americans think that 9/11 was an inside job (Wikipedia)
  • 36% of Republicans believe Obama was not born in the United States (huffingtonpost.com)
  • About a third believe in ghosts and UFOs (usatoday)
  • Seven in ten say that Sarah Palin is unqualified to be president (WashingtonPost/ABC) but still she draws big crowds wherever she goes

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Dana Perino

Dana Perino, White House press secretary for Bush the disgraced, claims Republicans are "in a strong position heading into November." She says every "no" has been followed by "what about this?"

She cites as an example, Wisconsin Rep Paul Ryan's "bold budget Road Map for America, which Democrats trashed." That's because, Dana, it deserved to be trashed! Ryan's plan "balances" the budget by privatizing the government safety net — Social Security, Medicare, and almost everything else — and issuing "vouchers" that will shift cost and risk to individuals, effectively rationing services as costs rise (Ezra Klein, Washington Post).

Last updated on Apr 13, 2018

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