Opinion
A street sign marking Main Street stands in Port Washington. Shannon Stapleton/Reuters. A street sign marking Main Street stands in Port Washington. Shannon Stapleton/Reuters.  

Small Is Beautiful, And Popular: A New Political Paradigm For The GOP

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John Jordan
Board Member, Hoover Institution
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      John Jordan

      John Jordan is CEO of Jordan Winery, co-founder of Labrador OmniMedia (creator of Tastevin, a tablet-based restaurant beverage list software), and is a member of the Hoover Institution’s Board of Overseers at Stanford University.

Understanding a battlefield and the decisive delivery of resources to the critical point has been the key to success in war, business and politics since the time of Sun Tzu. Conversely, haphazard delivery of resources and muddled messaging are associated with failure and defeat.

The 2014 midterm election home stretch is upon us and whether this is merely a good year for Republicans, or a great one, is in the hands of those that control the resources and messaging machinery of the Republican party. The GOP has as favorable set of circumstances as it has had in a generation. The states in which the battle for the Senate will be fought are favorable terrain; the president’s approval numbers are as low as they have been since he took office, and the GOP has the best crop of candidates it has had since 2010.

A survey released this month by NBC News/Wall Street Journal and a similar survey released by Gallup in early June provide valuable insights into the nature of the 2014 political terrain and a pathway for a huge win by the GOP if acted upon intelligently and decisively. In 1994, Newt Gingrich understood that there was something big brewing in the electorate and that a wave election of historical proportions was possible provided: a clear brand identity for the GOP in line with the wishes of a majority of the American electorate were established; and a clear governing philosophy could be communicated to voters. His vision and boldness resulted in the first Republican congressional majority since the 1950s.

The American public is no longer buying President Obama’s “The economy was Bush’s fault and it is hard to clean up” meme. 71 percent of respondents think that our country’s economic problems are due to dysfunction in Washington; while only 23 percent think it is due to long standing conditions.

64 percent are unsatisfied with the state of the U.S. economy, with 49 percent believing we are still in a recession.

The public is open to the idea that the administration’s war on the private sector has gone too far and is hurting them and their families: 52 percent believe ‘very strongly’ that tax incentives for companies to bring jobs from overseas back to the US would be a good idea. An additional 33 percent believe this ‘somewhat strongly.’ 41 percent ‘very strongly’ believe that cutting regulations would spur job growth with an additional 29 percent believe this ‘somewhat strongly’.

The sample used in the NBC/Wall St. Journal voted for President Obama over Mitt Romney 44 percent to 35 percent and was only 22 percent partisan Republican.

However, by no means were these surveys all good news for Republicans. That Republican leaders have failed in building the Republican brand is evidenced by the 19 percent approval of Congressional Republicans while approval of Congressional Democrats was a better but still pretty bad 31. Moreover, The liberal themes of high taxes on the wealthy, and a higher minimum wage also scored very well. What is abundantly clear in these surveys is that Americans are angry and hurting and that neither party has made its case.

The hurt and anger that are such dominant features of these surveys have caused different battle lines to be drawn than either party or pundits for that matter are accustomed to. The traditional philosophical demarcation between the parties has been public sector versus private sector. It would appear that the plurality of voters no longer see economic issues along these lines. The new paradigm is big versus small and near versus far, rather than government activism versus the free market.

Consider the levels of confidence that Americans have in the following institutions: small business (63 percent), churches/organized religion (44 percent) Congress (13 percent) local government (61 percent); banks (21 percent) big business 21 percent) organized labor (21 percent) and public schools (29 percent). The implications of these results are easily understood when these institutions are divided into two categories: The first, are large, distant institutions over which voters feel that they have no real influence but are failing them or negatively affect their lives. In this category we put Congress, banks, big business, organized labor and public schools. The second category represents local organizations over which voters feel they have influence and which they can relate to. Here we have small business, churches, and local government.

If Republican leaders have the agility of mind to adapt to this new paradigm they could well be on their way to being a majority party once again. To be successful, such a pivot must include the clear articulation of an agenda emphasizing small business; parental control over their children’s education; internet privacy; and steps to induce larger corporations to bring resources back home. Simply passing bills in the House that die in the Senate is not sufficient. There must be a grand gesture similar to the Contract with America and clear, concise messaging. Most importantly, they must advocate for these positions on TV and on the stump clearly and passionately.