There Was No Republican Message. None.

From Blue Virginia at the end. Without dispute, he is best Democratic turnout generator in history.

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.

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18 responses to “There Was No Republican Message. None.

  1. following…………

  2. I was with you until I read this on the TJI website:

    “I am deeply proud of what the House of Delegates has accomplished during the last two decades. We balanced the budget, protected our AAA bond-rating through a major recession, passed four teacher pay raises in six years, froze college tuition, made major reforms to our transportation system, secured our state’s pension system for the future, and guided Virginia to the nation’s top state for business.”

    Balanced the budget? Isn’t that a constitutional requirement? Also, when time got tough McDonnell allowed underfunding of pensions which means the budget was balanced in name only.

    Protected the AAA bond rating? How did the dems try to lower the bond rating?

    Passed four teacher pay raises in six years? But isn’t per pupil spending lower now (adjusted for inflation) than it was in 2008?

    Made major reforms to our transportation system? Wow, that’s a whopper. Opposing Metro expansion while allowing sky high tools without any increase in capacity on the tolled road? We can’t take many more of his “reforms”.

    Secured the pension fund? Either Jim Bacon has been hallucinating or this is another whopper.

    Froze college tuition? For what … an hour?

    Top state for business? According to who? Not any poll I’ve read in the last 5 years.

    I agree that the Republicans didn’t have a message. That’s because they don’t actually stand for anything other than hating abortion and loving guns. The only messages would have to be fabrications like the ones Cox was babbling on election night.

    Your point on Trump was well taken. I never thought of that but I see the logic. Republicans will be pained as Trump devotees regardless – theyt might as well try to appeal to Trump supporters.

    • The “best state for business” ranking came from CNBC, which has some credibility. On the college tuition freeze, I would have coupled that with a promise to keep it up if re-elected (not something Dem’s mentioned.) Backbench Democrats ran on the teacher pay raises, usually with the phrase “I passed…” as if their vote was crucial….I didn’t say Cox’s summary was perfect but it was better than anything I saw during the campaign, except here and there in individual campaigns. And of course against the “conventional wisdom” Cox did win. It wasn’t a great outcome, but it wasn’t a blowout. Absent the re-drawn map, the House would be as close as the Senate. A recount might yet thin the margin.

  3. The question is – are the things that Steve named the things the urban and suburban voters want or are they the things the GOP wants?

    Health care is a biggie. Some folks have pre-existing conditions. Others work in jobs were the employer does not provide it. Virtually every one is paying higher deductibles and high prices for prescription drugs.

    You have young folks who are aging out of the 26 year level and don’t have health insurance. Virtually every family has a member or close friends who are having this issue.

    Education. People want more and more programs in K-12 including Pre-K and they want help for college.

    People are concerned about climate change, burning fossil fuels, greener energy.

    They want more tolerance of social issues whether it’s immigration or gender issues and less white supremacy and bullying in the schools.

    They want some common sense gun restrictions.

    These are the things that the GOP has to do something about if they want to win back voters IMHO.

    It’s not that they have to capitulate to the far left – but they DO have to show more willingness to compromise and find some middle ground.

  4. I don’t think we got our $220 check yet…

    • TBill, it would be interesting to know how many had cleared by Nov. 5. But I’m sure that most voters had no idea what it was, and didn’t feel terribly appreciative. The Tax Department was flooded with calls from the confused.

      Larry, you are a typical Democratic advocate – no matter what the GOP does on any of those issues, you will say Democrats have a better answer and the Republicans don’t get it. On higher ed, the tuition freeze was clearly a GOP initiative. The GOP caucus is populated by as many public school teachers as the Democratic Caucus, and all are great advocates for the public schools (those SOLs were a GOP initiative, controversial but an effort to push quality.) On health care, considering the beating they were taking over those alternative plans, I was stunned they didn’t push back and defend them. What was being said, including by you, was flat false. I practically wrote the “only pay for what you need” response for them. 🙂

      Perhaps my instincts fail me, and the polling indicated that would have been a failed effort. I just wish, going into the election, voters had some idea of some list of three or four things that a refreshed Republican majority would have done, not just things it would oppose. Another untold story (these days it is mostly untold stories) is the deep alienation between the House and Senate Republicans. Being in the minority might wake them up on that. It was one caucus when I was director, House and Senate. Ancient times….

      • Steve – geeze guy. You can’t “pay for what you need” if one has a pre-existing condition and they will not insure you or they will but you cannot afford it! So the GOP/Your response to this is non-responsive to the problem! Once again – you give your ideas and ignore what voters want!

        Urban/Suburban folks want universal pre-school not that we cannot afford it… figure out priorities but make that one!

        they want to stop burning coal and start using wind/solar to the extent it is possible WITHOUT the GOP saying that it cannot be done without endangering reliability or the Grid. That’s just bogus and demonizing those who want it as wacko greenies is impuging the very voters you GOP guys need!

        The GOP responses to a lot of these is to NOT seek the middle or compromise but instead to defiantly reject it outright by falsely saying that it’s an all or nothing proposition – they purposely avoid middle ground!

        That’s NOT responsive! It’s basically a recitation of your own views and principles… and a rejection of what you disagree with and it’s NOT representative of voters views!

        The bottom line here is that you must represent the voters – you cannot impose your beliefs and views on them and impugn their views!

        That’s not a “Democratic” idea even if you claim it is because it’s basically what the GOP refuses to do!

        So, I’ll finish once more asking what do urban/suburban voters want and say that, no, it’s not what the GOP would like to “think” they want. You have to stop reciting your own beliefs as what voters OUGHT TO WANT!

      • There have always been rivalries between the two houses of the GA, but Steve is correct that it was particularly deep with the Republicans in recent years. A lot of it goes back to the 2018 Session, when a large group of House Republicans supported Medicaid expansion (you could argue that they saw the handwriting on the wall). The House took over the budget and, with Hanger’s help, passed its version with no Senate input. From what I heard, that was mostly due to Norment’s refusal to cooperate. Then House members and staff were bitter because they thought Norment lied about it on the floor.

      • …or maybe the powers-that-be were reading my BR contributions and decided to hold my $220 check back?

        Maybe Jim turned me in.

  5. Let me get back here. These behaviors are also found in the Dems at times. The difference is what happens when voters demographics and attitudes shift – what does the party do? Does it revert to representing those in their party or does it try to represent the changing voters ?

    You cannot “fix” health care by telling people that the market is “supposed” to fix it not government. If voters hear that message from you – you’re toast.

  6. Let me give another example. We know how many in the GOP feel about abortion. We also know have many voters feel about it in urban and suburban districts.

    So if you are a GOP how would your portray yourself to urban/suburban voters on that issue in terms of how you would represent their views if you are elected to the GA?

    That’s the dilemma, right? Are you as a GOP candidate going to tell voters in those urban/suburban districts that you essentially will not represent them in Richmond or will you essentially try to evade that issue with them?

    The Dems BTW have a similar problem in rural/more conservative districts – right?

    Will the GOP in Virginia allow more moderation of views on that issue – as a party or will it insist that all GOP must adopt that position or leave the party?

    Making issues like this “wedge” issues tells voters something about the possibility of moderation… it’s a no go……. If you are GOP and on the wrong side of a wedge issue – you are out.

    That kind of party cannot survive in urban/suburban Virginia.

  7. Cool poster! Where can i get one?

  8. Good article in the WaPo – lots of quotes (basically saying what I have said) from Republicans.. like Bill Bolling…

    Bottom Line – the Va GOP has to decide IF – they REALLY want to actually represent voters in the urban/suburban regions. To this point in time until this election – they have been openly derisive of the values and principles of urban/suburban voters. That leads us back to the question – does the GOP really want to represent the interests of urban/suburban voters or not?

  9. Lest we get too carried away – the GOP is far from toast and is still a significant force in the legislature and if past is any guide – the Dems will screw up and the GOp will take back over.

    I’m actually a little surprised at the “diversity” thing as quite a few immigrants are basically fiscally and socially conservative, big on character and individual responsibility (whch are also liberal values despite the opposite claims).

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