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The Hopeless GOP Narrative

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08/29/2016

I wrote this back in 2015, prior to Trump’s ascendancy, describing the GOP’s absolute failure to develop a coherent narrative that might actually appeal to voters (with Trump, the GOP rolls the dice — the candidate becomes the entire message). But it still applies today, because Republicans still can’t answer two basic questions: who are you, and what do you stand for?

I'm hardly a Republican, to put it mildly. But it’s impossible not to notice the GOP’s absolutely uncanny inability to craft even a basic message. From the purely cynical perspective of a party that seeks nothing more than electoral success and power, Republicans seem utterly frozen and incapable even of lying effectively. They are mired in quicksand, and they’re losing.

All Republicans need to say, over and over, is something like this: We are for an opportunity society, not a dependency society. Government can’t do anything right. We will lower taxes and reduce regulations. We want more people to own property, businesses, and investments. We are the party of markets and capitalism, not welfare and socialism. The Democrats want government to be at the center of society, we want family to be at the center of society. Social issues are not for government to decide. The Democrats hate traditional American values. The Democrats hate religion. Mass illegal immigration from the Third World is just a cynical Democrat ploy to remake America for the worse. The Democrats are the party of Hollywood. Etc., etc.

Not a word of it needs to be true, or even believed. It just needs to be delivered consistently, repeatedly, skillfully, and effectively. And of course the GOP (like the Dems) can’t really say anything about Wall Street, the Fed, foreign policy, defense contractors, or crony capitalism — lest donors become alarmed.

The beauty and the curse of politics is that there is no truth, only perceptions. Has there ever been a modern group of politicians worse at creating positive perceptions than today’s GOP? Hillary Clinton — a humorless, amoral grifter with the soul of a hyena — is more popular than any of their likely candidates!

It’s hard for libertarians to imagine the GOP as a party of limited government, constitutional originalism, capitalism, or anything much resembling freedom. But politics is about tribalism and perceptions, not truth or “policies” or ideology. That’s why the failure of Republicans is so remarkable: even in the face of a century of collectivist horrors, Republicans still can’t win the essential “us vs. them” game. They still can’t create even the perception that they represent liberty, personal responsibility, ownership, or meritocracy. Instead, they are portrayed again and again as an aging party of angry, racist whites who resist change and pine for an outdated status quo — even when real dynamism comes from markets, not government.

By contrast, all Democrats have to do is endlessly repeat their tired mantras about equality, racism, feminism, homophobia, and “the rich.” Over and over and over.

The Republican tribe, for messaging purposes, need not be white males, blue collar workers, Southerners, Christians, or some mythical WASP power structure that hasn’t existed for decades. Instead, those old identity markers could be replaced by subtle but distinctively American themes: the party of government vs. the party of individuals, strivers vs. the indolent, rugged individuals vs. SJW whiners, aspirational, hard-boiled optimists vs. fatalists, louche coastal elites vs. stand-up middle Americans. Tradition, religion, and morality matter. The quality and intentions of immigrants matter. America is a great place, even if not always good: let’s not screw it up. It’s a story that writes itself, especially in an age of general unease with the direction of the country.

It’s remarkable, given all the money and human energy expended on politics, that simple messaging and disciplined candidates are so elusive among conservatives. But this observation yields no sadness. In fact, it’s undoubtedly healthy that Americans will soon recognize that only one party exists: the cronyist, neoconservative Democrats.

Jeff Deist is president of the Mises Institute. He previously worked as a longtime advisor and chief of staff to Congressman Ron Paul. Contact: email; twitter.

Jeff Deist is president of the Mises Institute. He previously worked as chief of staff to Congressman Ron Paul, and as an attorney for private equity clients. Contact: email; twitter.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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