So, how do we resolve what I have called, The Goldwater Conundrum – the challenge Republicans face in matching the Democrats’ built-in force of paid campaign help – without using the Nutjob Gambit to mobilize people? What can we do to consistently turn out committed volunteers without deception, hysteria, and divisiveness?
I don’t know.
It’s going to sound like a cop-out, but it’s the truth. Having all the answers would be fantastic, but if I did, you wouldn’t be reading this for free. You get what you pay for.
There are some ideas that sound promising, but none of them is a silver bullet. Perhaps they can inspire conversation. We could:
- Embrace rational, responsible solutions to problems. This sounds boring to an almost Al Gore-ian extreme, but it really might be helpful. Seventy years after the New Deal the Democrats still have nothing to talk about besides: 1) what they can give you with the money they rip from your pocket, 2) why American power and capitalism are a corrupting influence abroad. Their ideological bankruptcy creates a political vacuum we could potentially exploit with the simplest imaginable methods – honesty and integrity. Crazy, I know. We’ll move on.
- Here’s one from the Bush II playbook – Faith Based Initiatives. Basically, it’s an effort to build a patronage engine in the Democratic model around a constituency Republicans still pretend they can control. The worst of the many problems with this strategy is that it undermines the basic ideological priorities that people still appreciate in Republicans. The last thing America needs is a vast new collage of organizations sucking up public dollars to deliver partisan-tinged “services” in our communities. A Republican ACORN is not something we want. Again, we need to avoid strategies that will win battles but lose the war.
- Make better use of technology to improve the effectiveness of local Party organizations. This is something Republicans have already been able to do with some success. The get out the vote effort in the 2004 election was particularly impressive. This should be promising, but there’s a problem. Traditionally, the local Party cells on which this strategy would depend are supposed to be one of the best disciplined elements of our political organization. But I would argue that developments over the past decade have made it more unreliable. Particularly in the South, county and precinct organizations have since ’94, been growing more and more daffy. Unless they are fed a steady diet of nutjob politics many of these groups would atrophy, and some could be counted on to revolt.
- Perhaps the Goldwater Conundrum is overplayed, or downright invalid. I do think that Republican strategists are too obsessed with Democrats’ ability to field paid volunteers. Staff, just like money, does not necessarily translate into votes. But for the Republican campaign consultants and coordinators out there, this is a built-in disadvantage that complicates their lives. It may matter less than they think to the balance of political power on the whole, but it is a tremendous nuisance to them personally. It may not be a dominant problem, but I think the Goldwater Conundrum is real and has to be addressed in some way.
Harping so consistently on a problem to which I don’t have a solution is uncomfortable. You know, “if you can’t say something nice…” But the use of nutjob tactics has become so pervasive that it is absolutely eating the Party from the inside. At this moment in history, it is far more important that we halt the nutjob tide than that we win any individual election. Until we rise above these tactics we will have little useful to offer the country.