EDUCATION REFORM CAN SAVE THE REPUBLICAN PARTY
By: GOP Media Consultant, Kim Alfano
The future survival of the Republican Party is most definitely about whether or not we can find ways to enlarge our personal connection to people who have clearly and rightfully lost faith in our party. It’s about a desperate need to move beyond white males and find some way to speak to women, minorities, Hispanics in particular; independent voters or more importantly swing voters.
Right now — at this, we stink!
Much of what is coming from the self-flagellation sessions the party leaders are undergoing, is a way too simplistic conclusion that, “We need to change our message. We need to match and best the voter contact that Obama’s team executed, we need to showcase more Republican females and minorities to show people how much we care.”
My reaction? – Duh. But, It won’t work.
If we only attempt to refine tactics or say the same old things in a new way, there is NO WAY we move any new voter into our coalition. That is such a meathead political hack way of looking at our problems. It’s just not enough.
The true issue we face is that none of these people trust us in any way anymore. None of these groups believe we give a flying flip about THEIR lives and how we can make them better. Since the tea party revolution, our party has been gobbled up by the caricature that we are only about austere fiscal policies and a deep protective love for the rich. We did this to ourselves and the
Democrats have been brilliant about exploiting it. It isn’t true and it doesn’t have to be this way.
The answer is so so clear. We don’t have to change the way we say what we say – we have to DO things that PROVE, by our actions, we do care.
OUR party needs to be the one with the ANSWERS again. We need to speak to the issues that matter to these groups most. We need to be the party that offers hope and opportunity and ideas again. We should be looking to drive the change on issues like immigration reform. We need to be the party that pushes for economic policies that help the middle and lower class first; WE especially need to be the party of EDUCATION REFORM.
Just look around. Where are Republicans having ANY real success? Take the successful governors in our party for instance, like Mitch Daniels and Chris Christie. Daniels was widely considered a perfect candidate for President. He won his reputation by creating conservative policies that yielded tangible real results for ordinary people. Yes, he cut budgets, but he also built a public / private partnership with pharmaceutical companies to provide health insurance for those in need. He focused like a laser on applying conservative principles to create policies that, as he says, “give people a way to get on the ladder and move up.” His entire campaign message was centered on results and personal connection to ALL voters. You rarely saw him even mention party.
It worked. Daniels’ overall approach was extremely successful for his state, but perhaps the most important policy he adopted was historic education reform for Indiana.
Education reform touches the lives of real people in the middle and at the bottom and gives them real OPPORTUNITY. Remember that word OPPORTUNITY? Used to be owned by the Republican party, and now you would be laughed out of the room if you maintained we care the most about this. But we are the party who first focused and pushed real reform. Newt Gingrich pushed for vouchers, and started charter schools in DC in the 90s. Education reform, charters, vouchers and scholarships were born of Republican policies that began with leaders like Jack Kemp and Bill Brock. Republican states led by reformers like Jeb Bush and Mitch Daniels are the ones where the most reforms have been enacted and are working. This is OUR idea and we have left it on the table to die or be stolen. Just plain nuts!
On education reform we have history, credibility, results, and proof of lower and middle class families being given REAL OPPORTUNITY – and being lifted up by these policies. WHY aren’t we using that? Why isn’t our party offering these families this HOPE? Why aren’t we the one with the ideas that lift up and empower families to reshape their own futures?
Consider these statistics:
Ed reform is still deeply valued by core Republicans, but women, Hispanics, all minorities, powerfully support its appeal. (Remember my first paragraph?) And why not? There is no greater issue that can provide opportunity for so many people at the middle and the bottom, at the same time it changes the trajectory of our country’s economic and social fabric so substantially. Now those are REAL results people can support. It’s not just repackaged rhetoric – it’s proof – quantifiable and tangible proof that we DO care.
Successful Education reform can transform our party’s entire image back to one of hope, and opportunity and GENUINE results. THIS IS WHAT WOMEN AND MINORITIES WANT – this PROOF. PROOF we have compassion for people. PROOF we understand THIER lives. PROOF we are the HOPEFUL PARTY OF THE PEOPLE, AND OPPORTUNITY, AND THE FUTURE.
This begs the question, “why aren’t we all over this?” in fact, why isn’t our party taking up this issue and frantically looking through our portfolio for 10 more issues that so powerfully showcase these ideals of opportunity and hope. And if we can’t find ten, then why wouldn’t we make it our mission to find conservative answers that reach for this ideal and shout it from the rooftops?
The future of the Republican Party is indeed in peril. We have gone from the party of ideas and results, to the party of obstruction and whining. We will never win elections by tweaking or even overhauling our GOTV efforts, by building a better voter contact file, by campaigning and saying things differently. We only survive when WE provide the answers on the big things that matter most, and learn to communicate about them honestly and effectively. Only then will any of these new tactics and techniques work. SO lets start by winning something we already have won in so many places – Let’s win the debate for real, compassionate, empowering Education Reform for all our children.
Education Reform just might be a way back from the wilderness for the GOP
By: GOP Pollster, Christine Matthews
The Republican brand is badly damaged and GOP party insiders have different theories about why: poor messaging, a few bad apples (“legitimate rape”), policies that alienate Hispanics and women, demographics, primary politics, and outdated tactics and technology. The problem is probably all of the above. It can be summed up pretty easily, though, by a question asked on the 2012 exit poll, and that is: which candidate, Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, “cares about people like me?” On this, Obama had an 81% to 18% advantage which is not just a Mitt Romney problem, it is a Republican problem.
Romney won the other attributes: “is a strong leader,” “has a vision for the future,” “shares my values.” No matter. Until the GOP and its leaders are perceived as connected to and concerned about the lives and problems of average Americans, they lose.
Republican thought leaders have pounced on immigration reform as a must-do to reform the brand. That sounds good. However, I’d propose another issue of key importance, one that is already in the Republican wheelhouse, and that is education reform. Our most highly regarded Republican governors; Mitch Daniels, Jeb Bush, and Chris Christie have led on this issue. It is no coincidence that these governors have had some of the highest job approval ratings in the country and attracted more votes from Hispanics and minority voters than most Republicans. Other Republican governors such as Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Idaho’s Butch Otter, Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal and Virginia’s Bob McDonnell are among others in the party advancing ed reform legislation. In some cases, by moving fast and not getting adequate buy in from key constituencies, they have created backlash, but with the right messaging and coalition building, these state leaders have the potential to bring back the GOP brand.
Education reform is a key issue for Hispanics, those who are struggling financially, and college educated women – all groups with whom Democrats score lopsided victories over Republicans due to tone and policy. Even though education is usually considered a state issue, it is often a significant factor in how voters choose candidates at the federal level as well. Voters’ perception of a party does not hew neatly to federal vs. state policy jurisdictions.
Resurgent Republic and the Hispanic Leadership Network conducted a 2012 post- election survey of Hispanic voters in four key states: Colorado, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico. The issue of education ranked just behind the economy in terms of importance in their vote for President and Congress, and well ahead of immigration, health care, taxes or the deficit. The majority of Hispanic voters in these states indicate support for school choice and teacher merit pay – key proposals in most Republican ed reform packages, yet by a two-to-one margin Hispanic voters say Democrats have the right plan to improve education. Republicans are perceived as the party for the rich and against immigrants.
Republicans advancing ed reform aren’t doing it for their rich friends. The kids of their rich friends already go to good schools. And the parents of their rich or well educated friends are usually deeply engaged with their kids’ school experiences, requesting a transfer if their kid is assigned the bad teacher or advocating to get their kids in the talented and gifted program, even if they aren’t flagged for it. It’s not fair. And for all the anti-Republican, occupy Wall Street, not concerned about the 47% chatter, it is usually Republicans who are the strongest advocates for what in America creates real equal opportunity, and that is access to a good education.
The problem is, in their push to move fast so no child suffers from a bad education, Republican education reformers often don’t take the time to sell their vision, explain their motives, and bring together a coalition to support their agenda. They often come off like jerks to teachers and parents who hear what sounds like blame and scapegoating of teachers and, because the GOP brand is damaged and the teacher unions say so, that Republicans want to gut public schools and run their alternatives like corporations. The compassion behind the action gets lost due to ineffective messaging. There is no greater opinion leader on education than a teacher and when teachers get mad, parents hear about it and the beginnings of a voter backlash have begun. Republican education reformers have great motives, but a lot of messaging and tactical work to do to communicate the core values of equal opportunity and access for all.
And, we have to face the reality that more often than not, the teachers unions will be against us. In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie found his footing after an initial period of hostility in which he called the teachers’ union leaders “political thugs.” He eventually decided to bring the union into the tent, when possible, rather than declare all out war. This meant he had to give some on tenure reform – the unions refused to budge on seniority protection for teachers – but he was able to pass significant improvements which advanced his goal of keeping the best teachers in the classroom.
The motto for Republicans should be to collaborate when you can, but fight where you must. And typically, we are significantly outmaneuvered on the political front by the teachers unions and their allies and need to do a much better job.
What happened in Idaho is a great example of this. In 2011, Idaho Education Chief Tom Luna and GOP Governor Butch Otter ushered a package of reforms through the legislature they called “Students Come First” which reformed teacher tenure, pay, and collective bargaining, and required laptops for every high school student.
The state teachers union wanted to recall Luna, but the requirements were too steep, so instead, they gathered signatures to reverse the legislative reforms by referendum in the 2012 election. The National Education Association put big money behind the campaign. Reflecting on this on a recent education panel, Luna said that to get elected governor in Idaho costs a little over a million, but the unions spent about $4 million to fight ed reform in the state and succeeded. He said that to pass the reforms through the overwhelmingly Republican state legislature, they developed a legislative plan, but had not developed a political campaign plan to win over a broader constituency of voters and that anyone going forward with reforms should do that.
In Indiana, where Governor Mitch Daniels and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett passed some of the most ambitious education reforms in the country, the reforms have stuck, but Bennett lost his job in 2012 when voters picked a little known librarian who spent $300,000 compared with the incumbent’s $1.6 million. We conducted public polling and social media research late in that race and by looking at our research and gathering a lot more data and talking with both campaigns, our firm prepared a case study on how the challenger campaign upset Tony Bennett. In short, they benefitted from the fact that the Bennett campaign had not built a coalition or a reservoir of trust with parents and teachers and the Democratic challenger was able to empower a grassroots coalition of teachers, largely through their skilled use of social media. In what is becoming an institutional disadvantage for Republicans, the Democratic campaign used social media masterfully – Facebook was the heartbeat of their campaign – and bought highly targeted web advertising to reach and motivate voters. The teachers unions also helped with on the ground support and provided more than half of all the money they raised.
Meanwhile, Tony Bennett’s campaign was waged largely through television ads with no obvious coalition building. GOP ed reformers must better develop and mobilize coalitions to counter the teachers unions and the superior use of social media by opponents.
Republicans have a tremendous opportunity to communicate our values of equal opportunity for all and concern for those who don’t have the means to access a good education through education reform policies. We have the opportunity to work with coalitions who benefit from these policies most and by building these relationships, we expand our base – Hispanics, African Americans, low income adults, and improve our relationship with the moms and college educated women who are often at the front lines of this issue and who think Republicans don’t care.