The Missed Messaging Opportunity in 2018

A new book by Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer, The Hill To Die On, is a very interesting read overall. The book is not entirely about political campaigns, but there is one particularly interesting passage about the 2018 election cycle that demonstrates why Republicans lost in 2018.

Excerpt from page 285:

McCarthy’s solution was for the party to adopt a massive messaging shift, one that would come to define the 2018 election cycle: That morning he urged the dozens of Republicans gathered to forget the positive message on the economy that the GOP had publicly been touting. Instead, he implored them to go sharply negative on the issues that mattered the most: safety, and Democrats’ efforts to turn America toward socialism, destroy health care, and raise taxes. Why? Because his data showed that it worked, that’s why. McCarthy pointed out that positive messaging moved independent and college-educated women an average of 10.3 percent, while negative advertising moved them 13 percent.

Armed with data from the NRCC and other Republican political entities, McCarthy outlined a new strategy: attack, attack, attack. To win over swing voters and centrist Democrats, they should attack “government controlled, one-size-fits-all health care.” To win Republicans, “government-run” and “government takeover” should be the new watchwords. Never mind that Republicans had been in complete control of Washington for two whole years and were still walloping Democrats for their health care plan, a now-eight-year-old law that the GOP could not find the courage or the votes to repeal.

The authors make a good point in closing that second paragraph; rather difficult to run on more “repeal and replace” nonsensical rhetoric when the last “attempt” at it failed.

But there is a bigger point to what happened in 2018. There was no cohesive messaging about the tax cuts in 2018, which was something we kept pressing for in our podcast episodes during the election cycle last year. Very few candidates were good evangelists for the tax reform passage working and the economy improving.

When the Democrats started losing the argument on employment, as the unemployment number was dropping to new record lows monthly, they shifted to saying, “yeah but, wages are low,” well, in episode 22 we specifically discussed the fact that it took a little time for the economy to adjust, but wages were on the rise. Not only were wages increasing but benefit packages for employees were getting better, we discussed that in episode 10.

The point is, that the miracle that was taking place in the American economy was worth talking about, and instead the party leaders moved to the old standby tactics, rather than sharing with voters that they were the reason the miracle was happening, that they wanted to help expand the miracle in 2019 and 2020 and beyond.

Finally, the Republican party missed a huge opportunity on a conversation about Opportunity Zones (OZs). OZs were tucked away in the 2017 tax reform bill, around page 130 or so. And this concept has the ability to renew and revitalize neighborhoods and communities and it can put people to work immediately. Basically, every state was given a time frame to set aside some poverty-ridden areas to be designated as OZs. Then, investors are allowed to invest some money into these zones for a set amount of time, and during that time, the investors would not be penalized with capital gains taxes. So instead of investors pocketing this money, funds are able to be invested into new ventures in these high-poverty areas: new businesses, new infrastructure, new employment opportunities.

There is always 2019 and 2020 to have this conversation, I suppose…

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