Among the front-page diaries of RedState herein, contributor streiff posted a summary of the reasons for our current political dilemma. If you have not first read it, go there now to better understand what I am about to lay bare.
On Tuesday, June 16, 2015, 37 weeks ago (with 36 weeks until Election Day from now), Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President of the United States. On that day, he announced that rapists, drugs and crime poured over the border.
The response from the Ruling Class was outrage. Business partners cut ties with Trump. Huffington Post said they would only cover Trump in their entertainment section.
Yet within a span of less than 35 days, Donald Trump was atop the polls, and insulting Sen. John McCain.
Inside of 60 days, Trump blasts Fox News’ Megyn Kelly with his infamous “blood” comment, hints at a Third Party defection, and continues a never-ending string of insults through his Twitter feed.
The 10 weeks that followed that fateful June 16 announcement presented the best possible opportunity for Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio, or anyone with a big bold vision for change in the political process, to capture the imagination of an electorate that was starving for a loud voice to savage The Ruling Class.
Jeb Bush, the pre-anointed Republican successor and servant of The Ruling Class, proved a worthy piñata by responding to Trump with gall and aplomb. The electoral masses, tired of a feckless Obama Administration, responded by dumping nearly all their early support for Bush.
While Trump is clearly an imperfect candidate who displays more than enough despicable behavior, he did the one thing politicians, K Street consultants, and government bureaucrats were neither prepared for, nor understand at all – Trump created disruption.
In true private sector fashion, he absolutely turned the 2016 Election on its head using the same tactics taught every year for the last 20 at Harvard Business School.
It’s easy to forgive Cruz and Rubio of treading carefully during this period. Bush had all the money, large political backing, and a comfortable lead in the polls. Cruz and Rubio were still trying to fine-tune their messaging. But it was this timeframe that presented Ted Cruz with the perfect opportunity to define his own disrupter status and present a bold vision with messaging that captured Main Street’s imagination, instead of PolitikSpeak.
While Trump was (and still is) speaking about simple concepts that touched angry nerves, Cruz was talking about abortion and defunding Obamacare, and Rubio was fumbling with generational messaging.
Sowing the Seeds of Discontent
The Republican Party as a whole still has not learned lessons from its colossal loss in 2008 at the hands of an innovative Obama campaign. Instead of recognizing and addressing a restless electorate, the Republican Party turned to insiders to simply upgrade already faulty systems and messaging.
What was really needed was a brand overhaul that took stock of voter pain-points to create messaging that clearly and simply addressed those issues. Instead of acknowledging the Tea Party movement as a sign that the electorate was aggravated, it was instead mocked and ridiculed by Party apparatchiks and legislative leaders alike.
Unfortunately, the off-year elections of 2010 and 2014 gave comfort to the GOP Establishment that they were on the right course. But while they comforted themselves in gaining a simple Senate Majority in 2014, they failed to see that they should have done much better, and that the result really just carried-over mistakes from Romney’s loss in 2012.
True innovation called for an overhaul, including the replacement of John Boehner after 2012, and appointing an innovative and youthful alternative to Mitch McConnell at the same time. The daily legislative tactics needed to change from probative to aggressive, as a way to signal to the restive electorate that The Republican Party was going to address their pain, forcing Obama and the Democrats to show their true colors.
Thought leadership was an absolute requirement from governing and civilian GOP “leaders”, yet all that was done was to line the pockets of insiders.
They ridiculed then, as they do today, people like Ted Cruz who was trying to be disruptive of the Establishment status quo.
After 2012, The Republican Party in its entirety needed to be disruptive and innovative, so that the 2016 election could be an electoral blowout. But they remained monolithic, calling Bush from the bullpen to continue running a failed strategy, and playing Beltway Footsie using Boehner and McConnell.
Standard Disruption Theory deals with attacking the low end of a market by providing innovative solutions at a lower cost. For example, the PC forever changed the computing industry by providing consumers a way to improve productivity at a relatively low cost. Ultimately, the impact of the PC changed everyday computing and communications forever.
While Donald Trump’s campaign is nowhere near innovative, in the vein of, say, an Apple, he addressed the “low end” – the general electorate – of the voter market by identifying pain points and delivering a simple message that spoke to that pain.
Meanwhile, everyone else was still reading out of older playbooks and just tweaking around the edges.
The result was a classic Disruption Explosion, with the old guard standing by watching incredulously while The Disrupter captures significant market share, including drawing in new market participants.
What To Do Now
The survival of a disruptive product is ultimately dependent on longer-term demand, continual innovation, and effective management.
Trump’s major weaknesses are that he is neither an effective manager nor an insightful innovator. The problem, of course, is that time is no longer on the side of either Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio. They both exposed Trump’s vulnerability in the February 25 debate, but did not follow on with their own bigger vision disruption. The result was continuing domination by Trump on “Super Tuesday” March 1 voting.
Cruz is the best candidate to be in a position to create disruption, given his already-outsider status, but he has been surprisingly weak on innovating around Trump’s messaging.
Rubio is a much better communicator than Cruz, but has shown to be closer philosophically with the old guard.
Hammering away at Trump’s squishy positions and his nefarious dealings does not satisfy the electorate’s desire for disruption. Only if Cruz and or Rubio can immediately pivot to more innovative positions and messaging will they be able to dent Trump’s momentum.
Cruz already has one innovation – a “postcard” tax return and dismantling of the IRS. Why he has not made that a huge focus of his campaign, by delivering visually impactful ads and interviews that show a starving public how that directly affects them, is beyond me. Trump has already said he will continue the IRS and regressive taxation. People in this country, especially right now, can feel palpably the incursion of the IRS in their lives.
Stop talking about wonky political positions and start delivering stunningly emotional messages. Come up with just 3 political innovations that the everyday voter can relate to, message those relentlessly for 2 weeks, and let the Establishment hammer away at the Trump Circus. Cruz’ “TrusTed” concept needs to be more about trusting Cruz’ innovations than simply trusting his integrity.
Other innovation possibilities would be education; regulation – but more specifically something like utility costs; healthcare; and something that would have direct interest related to the economy, rather that the nebulous “growth” conversation. Voters need to be able to feel the issue directly.
The aggravation that rampant illegal immigration has caused for people every day was a great starting point for Trump, and an example of effective messaging. To address the economy, Cruz can show how all of us “feel” the effects of inflation, but are constantly fed misinformation that says inflation is low. Why not visually show the voters how Obama’s programs, and by extension Trump’s, have shrunk the size of your cereal box or potato chip bag. The price has not changed, but the size of the package sure has.
Likewise, instead of the oft-used term of repeal and replace with Obamacare, why not clearly highlight the struggles people face with government-run healthcare in both Medicare and the VA. There are plenty of stories that will make people mad. This would be a stark contrast to Trump’s plan of universal healthcare.
Cruz and Rubio need to stop trying to paint a Monet or Picasso, and instead be Andrew Wyeth.
We can accurately assume the GOP Establishment will not get out of the way, nor will they innovate. But unless Cruz or Rubio, or ideally Cruz together with Rubio, immediately shift their messaging to impactful, everyday issues that the voters are faced with, using innovative and mountain-moving ideas, they will be reduced to the what-could-have-been heap that pervades the GOP today.
Regardless of the outcome, Election 2016 has completely altered the political landscape. Only time will tell if we can survive the result. But for those of us who hope for the best as a Republic, the message is –
Go big, or go home.