Good communicators are like principled politicians. They are really hard to find. Good communicators can control a message and present it in a way that appeals to the vast majority. They own the narrative. They eviscerate their opponents.
Barack Obama is, of course, a master at this. So is Harry Reid. So is Nancy Pelosi.
You know who can’t seem to communicate well? Republicans.
Our communicative impotence has especially been on display with the fight over transgender bathrooms. The fact that we are willfully talking about bathrooms, and not the real ramifications of equating “gender identity” to biological sex — and granting the constitutional protections that come along with that equivocation — is beyond frustrating.
The left, on the other hand, has done a great job framing the issue in the most inoffensive, unobjectionable way possible. They don’t talk about men showering with women, Title IX, or government coercion. Instead, they frame the issue in a very sympathetic way — why do Republicans want to stop these poor people from using the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity?
Using that framing — again, perhaps the least objectionable of all the real-world consequences of legally equating biological sex to “gender identity” — has resulted in very positive polling results for the Democrats.
In a Quinnipiac poll that came out on Thursday, voters in three key swing states were asked, “Do you think people who are transgender should be allowed to use the public bathrooms consistent with the gender they identify with, or not?”
Florida: 48 percent yes, 44 percent no.
Pennsylvania: 49 percent yes, 43 percent no.
Ohio: 43 percent yes, 48 percent no.
Half the country says this is no big deal. And of course they say that! Look at the way the question was framed. Should transgender people “be allowed”? Honestly, it’s hard not to picture a TSA agent conducting body searches to make sure people are using the right bathroom. Gross.
Yet this is the ground on which Republicans have chosen to fight — if they have chosen to fight at all.
Thankfully, Quinnipiac went a step further and asked a second question, “Do you think public schools should be required to allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that are consistent with the gender they identify with, or not?
Florida: 37 percent yes, 54 percent no.
Pennsylvania: 39 percent yes, 53 percent no.
Ohio: 36 percent yes, 55 percent no.
Those results tell a very different story. Suddenly, voters are very opposed. What happened?
Functionally, these questions are asking the same thing, at least in terms of policy. If transgender people should be allowed to use the bathroom of their choice, as the first question asks, logically it would follow that public schools would be required by the federal government to enforce that directive.
Voters were split down the middle on the more innocuous question. But when voters were presented with government coercion — “public schools should be required” — they absolutely hated it.
This result is even more impressive when you realize that the question is still worded in a way that benefits the progressive effort to normalize the idea of “gender identity.” Imagine if the questions had looked like this:
Do you think public schools should be required to force high school girls to shower with biological boys who identify as girls?
Do you think school-aged girls should be required to obtain a written waiver from their school superintendent in order to shower separately from biological males who identify as girls?
Do you think biological men who identify as women have a constitutional right to compete in competitive sporting events, including boxing and mixed-martial arts, with biological women?
If I was a betting man — and let’s be honest, I totally am — I would bet that voters would say “no” to these questions in the high 60s. Maybe even in the low 70s.
So which Republican candidate is savvy enough to use this as a campaign issue?
Republicans are notorious for shrinking away from social issues. Democrats, on the other hand, go absolutely nuts on the social issues, slandering Republicans as anti-women, anti-LGBT, anti-everything, which is a pretty effective strategy when your opponent is futilely trying to play dead.
As my employer, American Principles Project pointed out in its post-election autopsy report in 2013, Republicans cannot fall into the “truce strategy” trap on social issues. By making a supposedly strategic decision not to compete on the social issues, Republicans are effectively conceding to a Democratic Party that is all too willing to talk about “rights” — reproductive rights, LGBT rights, human rights — and how Republicans supposedly want to take them away.
This strategy becomes even worse when you look at the polling on social issues, especially when Republicans frame them correctly.
A 2013 Quinnipiac poll found that 62 percent of Americans favored a ban on abortion at 20 weeks or sooner. We’ve seen that, when framed as government coercion, voters in swing states like Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio all oppose mandates that would force women to shower with biological males. And an Associated Press poll last December showed that an incredible 82 percent of Americans think Christians should be allowed to practice their religion freely.
It is electoral suicide for Republicans to ignore the social issues. Don’t do it. And if you’re a consultant who regularly advises Republican candidates to avoid these issues, please rethink your strategy, or maybe even go into another profession. You’re killing us out there.