It doesn’t take an expert to notice that Republicans have been pursuing a failed political strategy and win elections only when Democrats screw up big time. The Democrats’ electoral victories are not explained by the success of their signature programs. Social Security, the War on Poverty, and Medicare are all either bankrupt or, in the case of the War on Poverty, an abject failure. Under Democratic policies of the last fifty years, the federal government has spent more than $20 trillion to eliminate poverty. Yet today more Americans are officially “poor” than when Lyndon Johnson squandered the first taxpayer dollar. Worse, the beneficiaries of Democrat welfare programs have become a permanently dependent class with little chance of improving their lot. How is it possible that although Democrat policies have caused so much misery and failed so dramatically, Democrat candidates have won the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections? The answer lies in their superior political strategy. This book analyzes why it is superior and explains how Republicans can turn it to their own advantage and win.
One of the obstacles to Republican success is the pessimism that seems to be carried as a conservative gene. Every year, I host a conference for conservatives called the Restoration Weekend. The idea for the event was lifted from Democrats who began holding “Renaissance Weekends” during the Clinton administration. “Renaissance” means “rebirth.” A good way to think about Democrats is that they don’t regard the past as experience to be learned from but as dead wood to be discarded. Progressives believe that with enough power and enough money, they can create a new—and immeasurably better—world than the one we know. With enough prompting from the state, the rest of us can be refashioned into a species whose members get along naturally and share their earnings with strangers. Eventually each will give according to his ability and receive according to his need. Everyone will have enough, and everyone will be taken care of.
In other words, progressives haven’t figured out what the human tragedies of the twentieth century should have taught them: socialism doesn’t work. Human beings are not designed to fit their progressive paradise. Consequently, progressives’ benevolent schemes require government coercion at every level—Obamacare mandates are just the beginning—to force the reluctant and ornery to comply. And even then they will not work. The miseries created by socialist experiments should have demonstrated once and for all that “social justice” is a fantasy beyond the reach of mere mortals. It requires a transformation that only a divine intervention could pull off. When human beings attempt it themselves, the results can be catastrophic, and the messes bigger than any they set out to fix.
The name “Restoration Weekend” came to me during the Clinton years because progressives were in the White House and it was a cute way of proposing an opposition agenda. But I soon realized that the name was fitting for another reason. It relates to the perennial gloom that hovers like a cloud over the conservative mind, encouraging a fatalism that can prove politically deadly. In politics, as in any conflict, if you think you are going to lose, you probably will. Indeed, if you are a pessimist by nature, you probably shouldn’t be in politics in the first place. If you believe—as former presidential nominee Mitt Romney and an alarming number of his supporters did—that 47 percent of the electorate can’t be persuaded to vote for a conservative, because they get “stuff” from the government, you shouldn’t be in politics. After all, every four years Democrats seem able to sell snake oil pretty well. Politics is the art of turning voters’ heads. If people simply voted with their pocket books, nobody with a taxable income would vote for a Democrat. But an awful lot of them do. If you think voters are too “low information” to be persuaded, you probably shouldn’t be in politics either. Politics is about winning hearts and minds. On the field of battle, armies have often won despite unpromising odds. If you are not up to this task, leave it to those who are.
In November 2013, Restoration Weekend featured Senator Ted Cruz and Dr. Ben Carson as keynote speakers. This particular November was when the $600 million Obamacare website was crashing on launch. It was a month when the president’s lies about Obamacare were being exposed, his approval ratings were dropping to record lows, and his signal achievement was imploding. It was a month when Democrats were panicking at the prospect of a Republican tsunami in the congressional elections only a year away. Yet conservatives coming to the Weekend were depressed. One after another voiced anxiety about the political future. “Do you see how big the deficit has become and how fast the debt is growing?” “Can you believe the dishonesty of this president, how he has encouraged our enemies and betrayed our friends and brought our nation low?” “How can we possibly stop this nightmare when there are all those low-information voters ready to believe what the Democrats say? Even if we could persuade them, Republicans will probably screw up the elections and return the culprits to power.”
This book is my answer to such conservative worries and doubts. To begin with, it’s not conservative to blame others for the plight in which you find yourself. In politics, as in other battles, what is decisive is how you fight. If you are losing, you need to look to yourself for the reason why you are not doing better. It is the only way to improve the situation. Take responsibility, both personal and collective, for what has happened. That’s a conservative idea. Another is to show respect for the American Founding. The men who created this republic made its people sovereign. Our democracy is built on the belief that, given the chance, the American people in the long run will do the right thing. If conservatives want to win, they need to embrace this faith.
The strategy outlined in these pages contains the working principles of a political messaging and consulting group I have formed called Take No Prisoners Campaigns. Information on this organization is available at www.TakeNoPrisonersCampaigns.org