By Steve Haner
You know Virginia has changed when being labeled a socialist by your opponent is less damaging than being labeled a Republican.
That’s the opening line for my short essay on what happened November 5, which as far as I can tell has already been analyzed 345 other times in various publications, including several times here on Bacon’s Rebellion. Most of the authors have never written or executed a campaign plan. But I said I’d share my thoughts.
The bottom line is Democrats had a message about what their election would mean for Virginia. Republicans then ran against that message, amplifying it substantially, and thereby assured a huge turnout of the most liberal Democrats. At the same time, Republicans offered no message to turn out their own less-motivated supporters or excite their potential donors, state or national. They certainly offered no vision to woo swing voters.
President Trump looming across the Potomac provided an additional booster rocket to Democratic turnout, but he stayed away, and Republicans barely even mentioned him. Yet it was a net plus to one endangered Republican Senate candidate that she was tagged (by her opponent’s ad) as a Trump supporter, and Vice President Mike Pence’s late visit to Hampton Roads probably helped several campaigns there.
This isn’t rocket science, people. If the voters who hate Trump are going to show up no matter what you do, go ahead and do your best to turn out the voters who love Trump. Why pay the price and avoid what upside exists? What should the message have been? Well, that’s when it gets messy. The Republican Party apparatus is now heavily populated by unforgiving ideologues who consider compromise on various issues to be worthy of an execution like that depicted for William Wallace. But it is possible to work around that.
A year ago, the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy built a coalition around a Virginia tax bill that mimicked some of the best elements of the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The centerpiece was a big increase in the standard deduction, similar to the federal change. Imagine this as a campaign message:
“We just aligned Virginia’s tax code to (Trump’s) new federal tax law. We doubled the amount of money every Virginian can earn tax free, and if you re-elect us, we’ll double it again in the next term. This helps you working stiffs, not rich folks with deductions. Where the federal law eliminated special tax breaks and loopholes, we did too.”
No, instead we got those stupid $220 checks which voters had long forgotten on election day. Every single change the Republicans made to the tax code benefited special interests – corporations with foreign income or large interest expenses, and people facing large property tax bills. They topped it with the whipped cream of a wealth tax. Soon-to-be former Del. Tim Hugo fought to restore the property tax deduction for his wealthy district, and still lost. Might a tax cut for every family taking the standard deduction have played better? I think so.
But what do I know? I’ve spent years in their offices begging them to stop selling out Dominion Energy Virginia ratepayers (a.k.a. their constituents). Imagine this as a 2019 campaign message:
“We ordered the State Corporation Commission to audit Dominion’s books every two years, with any and all excess profits returned to customers at the earliest available time. You saw that refund in your bill last January and will see it again. We maintained the SCC’s full authority to make sure every energy investment, including those popular with environmentalists, is reasonable, prudent and done with full competition to get the best price.”
Instead, they didn’t even promise to behave that way in the future or seek to explain their failures on that front in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2018. The many Republicans who share my skepticism over the monopoly utility heard from only Democrats on that issue.
Even a little tiny issue I worked on (also unsuccessfully) would have been a campaign message highlight: The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals bill to prohibit tethering dogs outside in bad weather. Let me repeat that, the bill only applied in bad weather. If you think the GOP is tone deaf on gun regulations (it is), too many of them wouldn’t even do something simple for dogs tethered in a storm!
There you go, three winning issue positions that would not alienate the Tea Party or those who make the Tea Party look like Nelson Rockefeller supporters. I honestly think Republicans opposed the tethering bill simply because it was a PETA bill and thus suspect (and me suspect for taking them on as clients, which I remain proud of). Former Speaker Bill Howell threw me out of his office on hearing they were my client. Soon-to-be former Speaker Kirk Cox missed his big chance to create a wonderful magnet issue for Democrat-leaning and independent dog lovers.
PETA will get its bill next year without the Republicans.
Giving great advice, which is totally ignored, playing Cassandra in the middle of a Monty Python sketch, those are not fun activities. I’m going to work on this for a while longer, but only to make sure there is no vacuum. Can we revitalize the Thomas Jefferson Institute and return a focus on policy? Only if somebody in the next generation comes forward to accept the inevitable baton pass. Only if once the swelling goes down more Republican activists are willing to listen and do what is needed to win. Early signs are not positive.There are currently no comments highlighted.