The election is over.
Mid-term losses can be brushed aside as historical imperatives, but that’s too simplistic an explanation.
National Republicans made lemonade from lemons, losing the House while making small gains in the Senate. However, we Republicans here in Colorado lost ground.
But now is not the time for Republicans to retreat into navel-gazing, sitting “upon the ground, telling sad stories about the death of kings.”
Now is not the time for sulking or for recriminations. Many will fall victim to the finger-pointing game, and nothing will be learned — another election cycle lost.
We as Republicans need to evaluate the how’s and why’s of our campaigns.
We need to look to Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln was many things in his life, but part of his formative years in Illinois politics was spent as a successful party activist — dare I say a community organizer — for the Whig Party.
In January 1840, Lincoln wrote a letter to the Whig campaign committee, before the party state convention. In the letter Lincoln outlined a four-step process that has defined Republican political campaigns ever since.
It would do our party well — indeed it would do all conservatives well who care about the future of our country, our state, and sound public policy — to study and understand these rules again.
The rules are simple and memorialized for many of us by the Leadership Institute’s incomparable Morton Blackwell.
Lincoln’s rules, or “four steps” go like this:
- Obtain a complete list of all the voters.
- Ascertain with certainty for whom each will vote.
- Have the undecided spoken to by those in whom they have the most confidence.
- On Election Day, make sure every Whig gets to the polls.
Simple, huh? Technology has changed since the days of Lincoln, but in some ways our so-called advances in cheap, mass communications have made us — conservative candidates, committees, and public policy non-profits — lazy and ineffective.
The first two “steps” cover data and voter identification work, which is important, but self-explanatory.
Lincoln knew communications from trusted sources and Get-Out-The-Vote (GOTV) operations are the foundations of campaign success.
In his third “step,” Lincoln exhorted the Whigs to contact the undecided voters with messages from those in whom they had the most trust. Trust is not easily earned, and never if the reader believes the author distains them.
Voters aren’t stupid like many in the mainstream media would have you believe. Maybe they don’t obsessively follow the political news, compulsively checking Twitter and cable news like many of us in the consulting class do, but that doesn’t mean they’re dumb. They have real lives, families, and businesses that they’re focused on.
These undecided voters care about issues more than personalities, and certainly more than partisan victories. We must make our case to them on the issues that matter to them — especially on the issues where conservative public policy wins the day.
Lastly, and most especially in mid-term elections, a fundamentally sound campaign must ensure their voters get to the polls, or Lincoln’s fourth step. Put simply, the base cannot be ignored. The ignored base stays home, and sways elections.
The 2010 election is a prime example of this problem. The Republican gubernatorial nominee Dan Maes, an after-thought of a candidate if there ever was one, was unprepared to pilot the GOP turnout machine.
His lackluster campaign failed to energize the Republican base and fuel the GOTV operations. Maes’ anemic campaign cost Ken Buck a U.S. Senate seat, and even more painfully, three Republican state Senate candidates lost their races by a combined 1,000 votes, with Republicans falling just short of control of the upper chamber.
Republicans shouldn’t be afraid of complicated or so-called “controversial” issues. Voters respond to them — both the conservative leaning unaffiliateds who tend to sit out elections and their counter parts in the Republican base who feel forgotten by their elected officials. These important issues motivate and mobilize the Republican and conservative base.
During the coming months, as conservatives reflect on the results of this mid-term election, let us not retreat into sulking recriminations, or myth making.
Rather, I urge my fellow conservatives to recharge, and look to Lincoln’s Four Step plan as a way to refocus our party, our state, and our country.
Lucius O’Dell is the founder and principle of Five Tool Strategies, a conservative consultingfirm. @TheLuciusODelfirm.