Editor’s note: in contacting Scott Migli about the report, I found out it’s available from the Wilson Research Strategies website here.
Sure, I’m a bit behind the curve on this one but then I didn’t have all this polling data Scott Migli of Wilson Research Strategies shared with us during our luncheon session last Saturday after the Maryland Republican Party Fall Convention.
Migli’s presentation broke the GOP loss down into ten points. What I’m going to do here is give readers my impression on whether I felt the reason was correct and maybe the flaw in the strategy.
- This was a winnable race after the convention. Failure on the economy cost McCain and Republicans.
John McCain did not leave the Senate after he was nominated, unlike Bob Dole in 1996. Because he was still in the Senate, I think he could have taken some time out as the underdog and introduced his agenda in advance of the election in order to look proactive and like a leader. Certainly he would have better spent his time in Washington off the campaign trail talking about the bailout introducing some alternatives instead.
- We didn‘t put the mistakes of the past behind us fast enough and McCain wound up tied to them.
In illustrating this point, Migli used two pieces of data: the right track/wrong track numbers and President Bush’s approval/disapproval ratings. The Democrats and media (but I repeat myself) succeeded greatly in painting McCain as “McSame” or “Bush III” and McCain did run a fairly defensive campaign.
- McCain‘s failures on the economy killed him. A floundering embrace of a big government solution only hastened his demise.
Many say that had McCain voted against the bailout he may have won the election; after all another polling result Migli showed was a CBS News poll from early October showing 51% of Americans were against the bailout and just 31% supported it. This also goes with the next point.
- McCain failed to draw a distinction of fundamental ideological vision with Obama.
Again, voting no on the bailout would have helped him draw a distinction – Lord knows John McCain couldn’t seem to gain any traction during his debates with Barack Obama. And while we thought that Barack Obama was very liberal (based on his voting record) he successfully connected with less-informed (because they read or watch the drive-by media) voters as a moderate – 55% of voters thought his philosophy was “about right” while just 40% thought Obama was “too liberal”. The best Democrat of modern times on that score was Bill Clinton in 1992, who had 56% of voters convinced he was “just right” and he won too.
- Go Negative is not a winning strategy in and of itself. We have to give voters a reason to vote for us.
To an extent this is true, but many on the conservative side thought McCain was being TOO restrained against his Senate colleague and other Democrats. There was so much material the pajamas media and conservative commentators had come up with to engage Barack Obama on – not just his associations with Bill Ayers and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright or the dozens of “present” votes in the Illinois Senate, but directly tying him in with the Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae fiasco as a huge recipient of campaign cash from those groups. We kept waiting on McCain to name the names we knew helped cause the subprime mortgage crisis but once he did it was barely in passing. And when you compare spending $300 billion we didn’t have to buy “bad mortgages” to “a tax cut for 95% of Americans” that was no contest.
- At the Congressional level a bad year was made worse by bad apples, poor candidates, and out-of-touch incumbents.
There were a number of examples Migli used in his presentation – Tim Walberg in Michigan, Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina, Bill Sali of Idaho, and Marilyn Musgrave of Colorado were all perceived as “out of touch” or hostile to their districts, while Rick Renzi of Arizona, Vito Fosselli of New York (neither of whom ran for re-election), Tom Feeney of Florida, and Ted Stevens of Alaska were tarred by scandal.
On a local level, it seemed that Wayne Gilchrest was out of touch with his district – until he lost his primary, then it became time to avenge the defeat by sinking Andy Harris’s campaign. Suddenly he was all over campaigning for Frank Kratovil. The Democrats also did well in playing up the perceived arrogance of Andy Harris. It actually caused a possible violation of the next point.
- America remains a center-right country: when Republicans stick to conservative principles we win.
The First District was an exception to this rule to some extent, but it’s worth pointing out that Frank Kratovil only won by a plurality and not a majority. Had Georgia’s electoral rules providing for a runoff if no candidate gets a majority of the vote been in place in Maryland and a runoff occurred without Libertarian challenger Richard James Davis, the conservatives coming back home to Harris and the lack of Barack Obama on the ballot to dampen the heavy minority turnout may have shown a turnaround in the numbers.
On the other hand, conservative voters knew John McCain was a latecomer to the principles of low taxation, did not stand foursquare on the immigration issue with them, and talked openly about fighting climate change. None of these were winning positions with conservatives, who have long memories.
- On key issues a conservative position still wins. We dont need to abandon our principles, we need to stand by them.
Migli showed a number of slides on various issues bearing this out, but that’s simply intuitive based on the point above. Unfortunately, for the most part GOP candidates don’t seem to run on those principles unless they come from safe GOP districts.
We need to face a couple facts in this respect. Try as we might, conservatives will rarely get newspaper endorsements nor will they be given a fair shake in coverage. And especially in this area, the inside the Beltway crowd will do its best to mold the GOP into a Democrat-lite loyal opposition party. A candidate needs to know these things going in.
- We have to get “out of Iraq” and have bigger vision. As long as we are arguing about Iraq, we are losing.
Welcome to the drive-by media. Successes in Iraq (such as the surge) were belittled and failures (like Abu Gharab) were magnified to such a point that public opinion became negative. And woe to the person who reminded people that it was Islamofascists who executed the 9/11 attacks, and that “you’re either with us or you’re against us” in the overall fight. Democrats successfully created the perception of the overall war as simply an invasion and portrayed our troops as those sticking their noses into an Iraqi civil war.
Well, guess what folks. Just in time for the 2012 campaign, we’re going to be out of Iraq. And it wasn’t Obama who made that country safe – but it is Obama’s doing if the terrorists successfully bide their time until we leave and remake that country into a caliphate.
- In the long term we need a “50 State Strategy”, not a “50% + 1” Strategy.
I said this not too long ago – Howard Dean did much more damage to the conservative movement as DNC head than he ever would have as President. He’s the one who vowed a 50 state strategy and it paid off for Obama and the Democrats. We ceded way too much to Obama in this campaign, abandoning several states with a month to go in the faint hope to swing other states which turned out to support Obama anyway. The point Migli made is valid – by not fighting everywhere and engaging in at least a token rear guard action in certain areas we allowed Democrats to concentrate on “purple” states and swing them their way.
While some may fault the Maryland GOP for not picking the best candidates in several Congressional districts or giving them a lot of monetary support, the fact is that we at least filled the ballot in all eight Congressional districts and no Democrat got a completely free ride. Unfortunately, it’s very tough to get an entrenched Democrat incumbent to debate on the issues since they know intuitively the point above about conservative positions winning. (Living in Ohio’s Ninth District for most of my political life, we always asked the longtime Democrat incumbent Marcy Kaptur to debate the Republican candidate and were always rebuffed. Chicken. It would be worth charging admission just to see her debate Joe the Plumber, who lives in that very same district.) In looking at this critically, it’s almost like we need Barry Goldwater circa 1964 to run in those districts in the next couple cycles, except a little more in their face about it.
Since I don’t hold the copyright to the original data and don’t know if WRS wants all of it used for public consumption, I’m going to defer for the time being on a link despite the fact I have a copy of the original on my personal computer for reference. If I secure permission I’ll amend the post accordingly.
The study has been linked at the top of the page.