On Monday, the College Republican National Committee released a 95-page report which ostensibly serves as the organization’s own 2012 postmortem.
In other news, the College Republican National Committee came under scrutiny Monday for spending months and untold sums conducting focus groups and other studies to produce a 95-page report telling us what we already know: the Republican Party has a serious messaging problem. I’ll take “Unsurprising Things” for $1000, Alex. I could have told you that eight months ago when the president overcame some of the worst economic conditions in history to handily win reelection.
Much ado has been made concerning the report’s “scathing” assessment of youth/establishment relations within the party, with particular focus on the divergence of the GOP position on gay marriage and the opinions of younger voters. The CRNC report on that topic should be concerning to many social conservatives. It did not offer any real solutions for bridging the gap between voters’ opinions and the party’s position in that category, and it pointed out that half of those who thought gay marriage should be legal (44% of those surveyed) considered the issue a deal breaker when casting their vote. The committee’s three unappetizing suggestions for what to do on the issue represent what amounts to a tactical surrender: simply cave, point out the “diversity of opinion” within the party on the issue, or win in every other category (read: cave).
And while those on the Left will use this report as further evidence to support their “out of touch” characterization of the GOP, there were actually many elements within the report which should encourage young conservatives. The report’s data demonstrated the support conservative positions command amongst younger voters. There was significant support for fiscal responsibility and cutting government spending. Also, contrary to popular perception, studies cited in the report showed a slight majority of support for more pro-life positions than pro-choice ones.
Ultimately, the report vindicated the messaging content of conservatives. It seems that the problem with messaging seemed to be the manner and medium. One of the report’s strongest elements was its awareness of the impact of social media. Facebook was identified as potentially the most important medium in terms of content sharing and political news amongst our generation. And the report encouraged the production of content which is positive and connects with younger voters in a way that promotes sharing since that seemed to be the most influential in terms of how political content spread:
But where these services hold the most power for Republicans wishing to reach young voters is in providing content that people want to share. Having a large number of Facebook fans is good; producing a post that is interesting and compelling enough that your Facebook fans will share it on their own timeline is great.
The report was likewise strong in its recognition of the technological deficit faced by the Republican Party. In 2012, the Obama campaign expanded its technological advantage from 2008 in terms of reaching younger voters through technological means like smartphone apps, e-mails, YouTube ads, Facebook, Twitter. The report also notes just how far Republicans lagged behind in terms of data gathering and polling. If conservative candidates in that party want to make improvements in their youth vote outreach in the next election cycle, the technology arena would undoubtedly be the best place to start.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the report was its failure to elaborate on the difficulties faced by conservatives and Republicans in the media and pop culture. While the report identified the popularity of faux “news” programs like Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” it failed to point out their admittedly left-leaning agenda. The report compounded that error in its failure to identify the importance of fighting a liberal mainstream media and its continuous stream of smears of those on the right side of the political spectrum. The failure of the Right to combat common falsehoods perpetuated by the media was evident in many of the responses to subjects covered in the CRNC focus groups. The report cites one respondent who, when asked to provide an example of Republican policies which were not helping him, mentioned Arizona immigration enforcement law: “Arizona comes to mind, all the laws that they’ve passed there regarding immigration and being allowed to pull somebody over just based on how they look.” Of course, this assertion is blatantly false, but it represents the belief of the many ill-informed voters who have bought into a particular mainstream media narrative.
On his show Tuesday night, Bill O’Reilly perfectly summarized the ultimate problem neglected by the CRNC report. In 2012, Republicans underestimated the Barackstar. The president is cool, hip, and charismatic, and that is all that matters. In his interview with the two co-authors of the report, O’Reilly called out the millennial generation for its naiveté in giving the president high marks for “trying” and supporting the president because he is “flashy.” O’Reilly was spot on. A year ago, I wrote an article highlighting the alarming power of the president’s celebrity above substance and warned it would play a significant role in the upcoming election. While a host of factors contributed to the disastrous 2012 loss for the GOP, the kicker was the president’s star power and appeal to younger voters. Bill was absolutely right when he ended the interview: “You know what it comes down to? A charismatic candidate who can reach younger people and use words they understand. It comes down to personality.” The day Marco Rubio “slow jams the news” with Jimmy Fallon will be the day the GOP and conservatism win the White House.
Kevin Reagan | The George Washington University | @O_JoseCanYouSee