Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Behind Incoherent GOP Spin

Conservative Byron York today blasts the Republicans, and Speaker Boehner in particular, for incoherent spin on the sequester.

I basically agree with him...the GOP message is that the sequester is (1) terrible and all Barack Obama's fault; and (2) better than smaller cuts, with or without additional revenues; and, (3) just a small down payment on the size of the cuts that are really needed...basically makes no sense. 

The question is: why? And I think the answer is the same as the answer for why Mitt Romney's campaign was incoherent much of the time: the effects of the GOP-aligned press and the conservative information feedback loop. Basically, it's just too easy for Republicans. They compose talking points, feed them to Fox News and the rest, and partisan Republicans eat them up. The only real danger is that someone in the GOP press seeking to one-up everyone else will deem the talking points insufficiently conservative. That's the beauty of the otherwise insipid "the sequester was Obama's idea" line: if there's one thing that's pretty safe from being labeled "RINO," it's bashing Barack Obama.

Notice that coming up with spin that might be effective outside the conservative loop not only is a lot harder -- but also risks that RINO tag. 

But mostly...as I've said before, for those who compose the talking points, it must just be so rewarding to decide today that "the sequester was Obama's idea" and then in a week see it show up "spontaneously" in the mouths of rank-and-file Republicans -- in talk-show callers, blog commenters, in letters to your boss, even in regular conversation with your conservative friends and family outside Washington. It must really feel like you've accomplished something. 

And, in turn, not only does that make picking a message that will be unquestioningly accepted by Rush Limbaugh and the rest of them very tempting, but it also removes most of the incentives for fashioning an actually persuasive message.

Now: all that said, as you may suspect I still don't think it matters very much. If the sequester hits, most of the political effect will not be determined by who has the most coherent spin. But as far as it goes, that sure seems to be what's at work.

26 comments:

  1. I think the problem goes beyond the GOP-aligned press and the feedback loop and goes to your point about the lack of conservative public policy ideas (which is directly connected to those other two problems). There is no internal pressure to develop good public policy in response to the sequester, and it seems like Republicans have spent basically all their time since the debt ceiling bill trying to convince everyone to blame Obama when the sequester hits. Congressional Republicans seem to think they're invincible and all that they need to do is sit back, let disaster happen, and blame it on Obama. Thanks to the feedback loop, they have no sense of how this could backfire on them, but they can't see any alternative because of the total absence of good faith public policy ideas in the Republican incentive structure.

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    1. Here I think you don't appreciate the problem Republicans have on the good faith public policy idea front.

      First and foremost, they must oppose Obama. He is like the devil or an opponent in war: they cannot compromise, and they cannot admit that there is value in anything he wants to do.

      Second, if they propose a useful idea that will help people in the United States, Obama will agree with them. Think market-based health insurance solutions, eliminating tax loopholes, cap and trade, or keeping guns out of criminal hands. These ideas are all without value now.

      So if you're a Republican and you have a good idea, you've got to keep it to yourself.

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    2. I agree with your statement on how Republicans view Obama as their opponent in war, but I feel that they are letting the partisanship get in the way of effectively doing their job. They are not employed by the Republican party they are employed by the American people and should be working to help us, not pushing their parties agenda, which seems to me as making Obama look as incompetent as possible.

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    3. Exactly. Demonizing one's political opponents makes it far more difficult to govern, even if it works well to promote turnout of one's highly passionate, homogenous base.

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  2. If not spin, what determines who gets blamed?

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    1. For indirect effects, structural stuff; that is, if it induces a recession, people will punish incumbents in general and the president's party in particular. It's unlikely, I think, that people will connect a recession to specific policy.

      For direct, short-term effects...I suspect what's more important than any particular spin is (1) the overall impressions of the public going in (fairly good for Obama, awful for Congressional Republicans), and perhaps secondarily (2) what David T. says below, which gets IMO more to the underlying reality of the situation -- GOP wants cuts -- than to the spin about it.

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    2. Republicans own the sequester. Contemporary comments from Ryan and Boehner make that quite plain - though now those two liars in particular are trying to pin it on BHO.

      The simple truth is that the R's have been lying about everything for over a decade. This goes far beyond the normal level of dishonesty we've come to expect from pols in general. [As an aside, I still cannot understand why you like these people]

      This is the fundamental reason why their message is incoherent. When you lie about everything, and you're motivated by hate and a desire to make somebody fail, sooner or later your lies build an incoherent structure. That it is also totally lacking in integrity is a feature, not a bug.

      JzB

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    3. ASP -

      You can't fool all of the people all of the time.

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    4. A solid rule of thumb. But does it overestimate to what degree GOP politicians are "fooling" people? Is that their game? Their task may be easier in the sense that I'm sure there are plenty of GOP supporters (of course, not all) who aren't asking to be truly fooled. And even many loosely affiliated people aren't looking for a convincing, coherent "case" to be made to them. Once they're assured of whose socioeconomic or cultural interests the party is serving, using whatever heuristic, then they know their side, and they could then not care less about the details of what the politicians say.

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    5. Ordinarily the public may blame everyone in Washington for a recession, but this time may well be different. Gallup has Obama approval at 52%, congressional GOPers at 12%. Pew has Obama at 55%. The election may not have changed Washington yet, but it has changed the electorate.

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    6. Mistakes in my previous post: the 55% approval for Obama is Bloomberg, not Pew. Pew's is 51% I think. The Gallup number for Obama was 52% in January, and I'm not sure where the 12% is from. Gallup in Feb. has overall congressional approval at 15%. I did see that 52/12 split somewhere.

      Anyway, my point still stands.

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  3. My guess is that people will blame the GOP more than Obama for the sequester for a simple reason--if cutting too much spending is really the problem, which party seems to the average American more devoted to spending cuts? The idea that the Democrats want to slash spending just doesn't fit with the popular image of the parties. (Or with reality, if that matters.)

    It's like the partial government shutdown of 1995--the GOP tried to pin it on Clinton but didn't succeed, because it was hard to picture the Democrats as the more anti-government party.

    All this of course is assuming that the public *does* blame the sequester for whatever economic problems we have. Obviously, if they blame them on the governmment still spending too much (in spite of the sequester), taxing too much, etc., that is a different story. But insofar as the sequester is blamed, it's hard for me to see Democrats getting blamed more than Republicans.

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    1. In addition to this, the simple fact that the Democratic position is that compromise is preferable to the sequester and the Republican position is that the sequester is preferable to compromise is what will really stick them with the blame.

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  4. I found the "Obama sequester" meme encouraging because I took it as a signal that the Republicans wanted to prevent it from happening. (So maybe I'm naive.)

    Isn't the basis of the current GOP dilemma the fact that (1) in the sequester they're getting exactly what they've been demanding and (2) they (or at least some of them) realize that it'll be a disaster if it happens?

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  5. It appears to me that Republicans have somehow created their own separate reality, that is immune to any outside input. They seem to believe most of the claims they make, while the rest of us see them as either crazy or disingenuous.

    This came home to me after the election, after I learned that the right was actually surprised and shocked that Romney lost. They actually believed he was going to win, as opposed to just putting up a brave front. This despite all the polls showing that Obama was never less than a 2:1 favorite.

    These guys are too detached to even make progress among the electorate.

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    1. That's why Bill Maher calls it the Republican bubble. Reality cannot penetrate.

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    2. This bubble you speak of changes hands though, sometimes every two years. The Democrats were living in a bubble prior to the 2010 mid-term elections and got their clock cleaned. Democrats were blind-sided when Bush won his second term. Republicans were surprised when Clinton beat Bush Sr. It comes down to arrogance, and whomever is holding the arrogance ball last. Republicans were/are most recently holding that ball, but could be gearing up for another win, if not in 2014, it could come in 2016. Just be aware that each party strays from their base once they become too comfortable in Washington.

      The one thing Republicans have going for them is the Tea Party influence which might be quieter now, but still strong in many states. The Tea Party forces Republicans to walk the conservative line, and they tend to gain momentum more so when incumbents play politics and settle for symbolic victories instead of more meaningful ones.

      So a weak Republican compromise now could bring in more Tea Party victories later, if not all at once, by stealing a small number of seats over time. They've certainly done a good job of keeping the House and the majority of state governorships in the red, or so to speak.

      Democrats have a very different, but equally strong (if not, stronger) backing from the mainstream media, unions and academia. When these groups are dissatisfied, they don't show up in droves as they did in 2008. When these groups are inspired, they can change the game in a very big way.

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    3. Can you point me to some specific examples of Democrats who were expecting to gain seats in 2010 and were blind-sided by the results?

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    4. Just to name a few, Evan Bayh, Kendrick Meek, Charlie Crist, Blanche Lincoln, Russ Feingold, Joe Sestak, Jack Conway, and I could go on and on. It could also be seen in any left-sided news program with participation from Democrats in office at the time.

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    5. It's actually a ridiculous challenge that you present Aiden. Just think of the many campaign contributors that invested in Democratic candidates of whom lost their elections. If they were not surprised, they would not have invested. I wouldn't try to claim that Republicans were not surprised in 2012, nor should you try to claim that Democrats were not surprised in 2010. There were surprises on both sides.

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    6. .......including Chris Matthews in 2010 :-)

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  6. G Spence, I sure hope you're right about the Tea Party influence. Electing more people from the 27% of the fringe on the right will do nothing to advance the Republican's brand with the larger voting public. You need look no further than the most recent election of that firebrand from Texas; Ted Nugent. I'm sorry that was a Freudian slip. I meant Ted Cruz. If you honestly believe that his brand of modern day McCarthyism is going to resonate with the larger voting public, God help us. For more analysis see Doghouse Riley today: http://doghouseriley.blogspot.com/2013/02/tuesday-olio-im-not-in-office-at-this.html

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  7. It seems like what is going on is that the GOP has created their own reality perpetuated by conservative pundits. They show an unwillingness to adjust in the face of evidence and facts and continue to keep buy into their own talking points.

    It doesn't bode well for the GOP

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  8. That's such a senseless argument. I mean, sure, I could easily find some right wing pundits that sensationalize the right wing cause beyond anything realistic. But what most democrats fail to realize, is that those pundits are radicals that don't represent the views of the center-right majority.

    And be careful, because this argument of "reality" can easily be reversed to show evidense of left wind pundits doing the same thing.......even worse in many cases. Chris Matthews, for example, still insists that the Benghazi attacks were related to a racial youtube video.....even though old, unreported evidence shows that those attacks were planned several weeks prior to the youtube video.

    It could also be questioned, that the Democratic gun control advocates, of whom ignore the statistics which prove that towns with well armed citizens enjoy far less crime and lower murder rates than towns or cities with strict gun control laws. Or the fact that Democrats favor rent control, when actual statistics prove how rent control favors the rich, not the poor. Or the fact that democrats favor the expiration of the Bush tax cuts which favor the middle class, not the rich (Bush W. did a poor job of explaining that one). Or the fact that the latest studies of the Laffer curve prove that federal taxes beyond 33% trickle down to the poor and middle class, and actually DECREASE revenue (proven by Obama's own economic adviser).

    Who's living in reality now?

    And hey, I don't propose that Republicans aren't out of touch with their base. In fact, that's the reason the Tea Party came about....to hold conservatives accountable for supporting the most basic conservative views.

    But to claim that Republicans are somehow creating their own reality without lumping Democrats into that claim......well, it's just disingenuous to say the least.

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  9. I think part of the misconception here is the simple fact that conservative values, on the surface, appear to be unappealing and unjust. And this is were much of the problem for Republican perception lies. Only a handful of Republicans can articulate conservative values in a way that demonstrate their true value. Reagan and JFK were the last to do so in a way that resonated with the mainstream public (JFK as a fiscal conservative). To make matters worse, many Republicans don't even understand mainstream conservative values, let alone have the ability to properly communicate them. So what you get from the party are mixed signals which sometimes don't seem very coherent.

    Rubio and Ryan understand and articulate mainstream conservative values better than most. But they often get lumped in with other, less coherent messages from their Republican peers. On top of that, left-sided media tends to discredit and demonize them, rather than try to communicate, understand, analyse or even debate what they are actually saying.

    The end result is static and distortion. IMO, it will require a great communicator to break that cycle. Rubio has that quality, as do a few other tea party conservatives. But they have to survive the gauntlet which the left wing media will put them through before they can be truly heard by the nation.

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  10. more con nonsense in a "nutshell".

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