Friday, August 13, 2010

GOP Candidates Must Have Big, New Ideas to Win Primaries and in November

Big Ideas capture the imagination. They change lives. They change countries. They can even change election campaigns that are drifting aimlessly, five weeks before Election Day.

But first, they must be articulated by courageous Republican candidates for office. I don’t see that happening much here in New Hampshire.

In the new film Inception, a character says, “Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed – fully understood – that sticks.”

It sticks in elections, too. It sticks in the voter’s minds. It resonates, and sinks deep into the subconscious. Consider:

"It's morning in America." - Reagan correctly identified hope and change - and optimism - as what would win against a bleak Carter-led nation.

"It's the economy, stupid." - Carville and Begala correctly understood the mood of the nation during a horrible recession. The Washington GOP elites didn’t. So we lost.

"Hope and change." - GOP activists ridiculed this as “the hopey, changy thing.” I said it was foolish to ridicule hope during a near-depression filled with misery. Regardless of how inept Obama’s policies turned out, he had this advantage during the election, and it worked.

"It's not Ted Kennedy's seat, it's the people’s seat." - Underdog Scott Brown electrified his Senate campaign with this one line, smashing the idea of inevitability and opening voters to his message.

These themes, backed by powerful Ideas (some better than others) resonated. And yet, campaigns here in New Hampshire aren’t talking about New Ideas, but instead opt for the same, old slogans.

Examples? "Lower taxes" and "More jobs" are okay as slogans, and nice as concepts. All Republicans agree with them. But that's the problem. No candidate simply spouting slogans can break out and be noticed. Slogans aren’t fleshed out. Will these slogans create jobs? What's unique? Where are the New Ideas?

NH Democrats in 2006 and 2008 won by adopting these innocuous, me-too concepts. Voters trusted them twice, in part because the GOP failed nationally and statewide to impress them with new and better ideas to back up the slogans.

Being Idea-less, some candidates are being advised to simply spout slogans and run an Idea-less Primary, relying on spending lots of money on TV and getting “face recognition” alone to get attention. This is a rather weak strategy.

Candidates don’t need a million dollar TV strategy. They need million dollar ideas. The ideas will generate coverage and recognition.

They must capture the voters’ imaginations with the power of these Ideas. They need Great Ideas and must deploy them correctly to run transformative, memorable, winning campaigns.

Winning candidates will say to primary voters, "Here's something new, different, and consistent with Republicanism. THESE are the BIG, NEW IDEAS that will win us the election in November!"

And these Ideas can’t be backward-looking ideas that seek to return us to the 1950s (or 1760s) or try to turn the GOP into big-spending mini-Democrats. 21st Century voters won’t stand for either approach.

So, what are these Ideas, exactly? I can certainly suggest a few directions. But when a candidate calls me and is willing to listen, I’ll be there to help them effectively articulate their own Great Ideas.

Stephen Abbott
Abbott Public Relations