Controlling the Narrative - A Republican Imperative

For many Republicans this is a depressing presidential contest, not just because Donald Trump promises to deny the presidency to the party which has made immense gains at the state and national level over the past seven years, but because the party has completely lost control of the public discourse. Controlling the message is a difficult enough task with a general liberal bias in the print and electronic media and Democratic candidates ready to pounce on Trumpisms, but nobody on the Republican side seems to understand the importance of controlling what is talked about. A few dimensions:

Headlines would suggest that the Democratic contest is reaching a boiling point with insults hurled back and forth. What this really means is criticism by Bernie Sanders of Hillary’s vote for the Iraq War (long since disavowed), her closeness to large Wall Street donors, and the long time Clinton support for big trade deals. The converse – criticism of his support of the right to bear arms and a vague claim that she is more qualified to be president. Nothing on the $125 million in speaking fees since Bill left office, the millions in foreign donations funneled through the Clinton Foundation while she was Secretary of State, the pending potential e-mail indictment (or it’s underlying causes and implications), or even a demand that she name a few accomplishments from her years in the public domain. Maybe this will wait for a pivot by the eventual Republican nominee, but it certainly is not prominent in current discussion – in either party.

Barack Obama has inched above 50% in recent Gallup approval ratings, despite a 26% “right track” reading for the country – bad news for Republicans in that both Hillary and Bernie have declined to criticize the Democratic president and are, in effect, running for a third Obama term.  It feels a bit like the San Francisco Giants – champions in 2010, 2012, and 2014 while mediocre in the intervening years. Obama was great in 2008 and 2012, while being clobbered in 2010 and 2014. What of 2016?

– On the surface, job creation numbers look good – 200,000 jobs per month; 5% unemployment; continuously rising stock market. One inch below the surface – average household income down for a decade; the labor forceparticipation rate the lowest since Jimmy Carter; no return on bonds causing people to take on more risk than is prudent; created jobs being part time and low wage. Between now and November a billion dollars of ads will be spent to argue which is the more realistic perspective, but for now Obama is claiming the positive headlines.

– Generally Obama seems to be getting things done. Republicans in Congress gave him a pass with a budget to carry through the election. He has a chance of getting out of office before nuclear proliferation in Iran and North Korea forces itself into the public consciousness. The “global warming industry” is happy with the Paris climate change agreement, accepted with little American help or opposition. Gitmo is being drained as hard core al Queda operatives are repeatedly found not to present a threat. Treasury has found a way to prevent large companies from merging with smaller foreign companies in order to move their headquarters offshore and reduce US taxes. In fairness, not bad for a lame duck with a Republican Congress.

– The Republicans’ refusal to consider a Supreme Court nominee may help in the long run, but for now opinion is heavily on the president’s side and the existing court is deciding things – public employee union dues; “one person, one vote” – in favor of the Democrats anyway.

– The credit also must go to Trump. It is easy for Barack to look presidential when explaining the importance of NATO in American foreign policy, and the traditional final presidential year emphasis on foreign tours offers many good sound bites with the Donald offending allies from Mexico City to Tokyo.

One keeps waiting. Trump decides to give Chris Matthews (of all people) a gift by declaring that if abortion were illegal, women should be prosecuted. (Amateur mistakes – select your interviewers; don’t answer hypotheticals; don’t offend large blocks of voters.) Right – let’s take a week or two to talk about abortion rather than ISIS which Obama and Hillary created, the status of the FBI e-mail investigation, the European migrant tragedy, or Iran and North Korea’s ballistic missile tests.

One might rationalize that Trump’s 10 point polling deficit to Hillary could be overcome if he seemed capable of focusing on the themes which motivate his supporters – helping the traditional middle class; articulating a plan for dealing with a hostile world – but the reality is the opposite.  He chooses to speak in a way that increases support for a president whose time has come and gone and does not take to task a highly flawed Democratic opponent. And he shows no capacity to learn.


This week’s video is a discussion of James Comey’s refusal in 2004 to certify the legality of the NSA’s wiretap program despite extreme pressure from the White House chief of Staff and General Counsel. Now Director of the FBI, he leads the investigation of Hillary’s e-mail program. There is hope for integrity.

www.rightinsanfrancisco.com – 4/8/15