OPINION: How The GOP Can Channel Reagan To Keep Majorities This November

Lyall Swim | Managing Partner, Junto Strategy

With Labor Day in the rearview mirror, campaign season has “officially” begun, and this year everyone in Washington, D.C., has one number on their minds: 45.

No, I am not referring to our 45th president, Donald Trump. I’m referring to the number of seats that political experts believe are up for grabs this November as Democrats attempt to retake control of the House, and from most accounts, the Democrats are well on their way.

Democrats are out-raising the GOP. The Cook Report paints an ever bleaker picture with each passing day. The Democrats hold a double-digit lead on the generic ballot. And even GOP leaders seemed consigned to the fact that they’ll lose and so have shifted to a strategy of loss minimization.

Amid all the GOP doom and gloom, the Republicans, however, have a real chance to not only hold their majorities but also increase them, particularly in the Senate. And they don’t even need to out-raise Democrats to do it.

In fact, I’d argue that Democrats could out-raise Republicans by a 2:1 margin, and the GOP could still win in November.

But to win in November, Republicans are going to have to campaign much differently than the way they seem to be campaigning right now. More specifically, they need to use a much different messaging strategy this year.

First, the GOP needs to town down the fear-mongering and scare tactics and instead take a page from President Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” campaign. The power of Reagan’s campaign (and frankly President Obama’s in 2008) was its ability to sell hope — that life was going to be better than it was under the previous administration.

Given the way the economy is growing, the record stock market highs, the improved employment rates for minorities, and more money in the pockets of middle-class families because of the tax reform bill, the GOP has a lot of hope to sell.

For this election cycle, hope and change isn’t just a catchy slogan like it ended up being under the Obama Administration, which left America with significantly higher levels of debt and millions of blue-collar workers, middle-class families and minorities languishing with stagnant wages or in unemployment lines. More like the Reagan revolution, today’s GOP can sell hope and change on real improvements where more and more Americans are finding employment and can keep more of what they earn.

Second, the GOP needs to master the art of the non-political, political campaign the way a GOP challenger did in a little known House race in Utah did in 2010.

The Cook Report’s list of 2010 competitive races didn’t even mention Utah’s Fourth District (R+16), which was held by Representative Jim Matheson, a blue-dog Democrat. Matheson had major name ID and was popular — especially with independents and moderate Republicans. So even in a “red wave” year, the Cook Report believed that Matheson’s seat was safe while predicting huge GOP gains elsewhere.

Figure 1 – Rep. Matheson’s ElectionHistoryshows how Matheson had beaten previous GOP candidates by ever wider margins in four consecutive elections. Given these election results, it was easy to wonder how 2010 would be any different, especially when Matheson’s opponent was a little known candidate with virtually no money?

Figure 1 – Rep. Matheson’s Election History(2002-2010)
YEAR 2002 2004 2006 2008 2010
Margin of Victory 0.7% 11.6% 21.7% 28.9% 4.4%

The power of Philpot’s campaign was that it threw the traditional, campaign-message playbook out the window. There were no scary voices in the campaign ads. There were no pictures of the opponent that made them look angry or terrifying to children.

The ads were intentionally non-political, political ads. The ads used humor, poignant visuals, and meaning-based messaging. The ads often felt more like an Apple commercial than the normal political campaign ad.

And Utah’s independent, moderate GOP voters, and the media took notice. Philpot was able to shift election results by a whopping 24 percent while being outspent by Matheson 6:1.

Unfortunately, it appears that the GOP is unwilling to part with its current messaging and campaigning strategy, which most likely ensures that November will be everything the pundits and mainstream media predict it will be — a massive blue wave.

But it doesn’t need to happen.

Two months is plenty of time for a shift in strategy. If the GOP can get its campaign act together and learn from the Reagan and Philpot campaigns, November’s election could mean two more years of continued economic progress and opportunity for Americans.

Dr. Lyall Swim, is a former policy fellow for Senator Mike Lee and the managing partner of Junto Strategy.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

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