FRANK LUNTZ: NEW AMERICAN LEXICON 2006
Introducing a Searchable, Easily Accessed, Text-Version of the Frank Luntz Republican Playbook
So thanks to Markos, the Frank Luntz Republican Playbook is in our hands and everybody wants to peel through the pages to discover the inner workings of the right-wing propaganda machine.
Unfortunately, you currently have to battle debilitating file downloads and software requirements to read it.
Fortunately, we are here to help make your life easier — to access, to search, to read and to excerpt the GOP’s strategic tome.
As a part of our ‘Framing Project’, over the following days, we are creating a text version of the currently available image document. It will be completely searchable — and browser accessible in a handful of posts organized and permanently referenced on our main ‘Framing Project’ page.
No more half-hour downloads, retyping excerpts, ‘download errors’, Acrobat Readers, cumbersome searches, or unzip software necessary.
Of course it takes time for this process to unfold… so let’s get started. Below is Luntz’s complete INTRODUCTION — the first of 10 sections in the playbook.
Frank Luntz Republican Playbook — the New American Lexicon
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
Tab 1: Introduction: Learning from 2004 … Winning in 2006
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LEARNING FROM 2004 … WINNING IN 2006
So how does a President with a national job approval rating hovering at 50%, an economy that lost more than a million jobs over his four years in office, a war that has cost more than a thousand American lives and counting, $50 a barrel for oil, and a national mood that is downright sour still secure more than enough votes to win re-election? And what does it portend for the Republican Party in 2006?
The answer? Credibility. George W. Bush had it. John Kerry did not.
The components of the Bush victory and Kerry defeat all boil down to a single candidate attribute that the President had in abundance but was AWOL from the Kerry campaign: “says what he means and means what he says.” In every state and national survey we conducted in 2004, no desired presidential attribute ever scored higher, and nowhere was Bush stronger and Kerry weaker. In every focus group I moderated, voters would plead for candidates who spoke from the heart and not from some speechwriter’s notes.
And nowhere does the image of straight talk matter more than in areas of security: national security, economic security and personal security. John Kerry had had two full years to articulate a concise position on terrorism, the economy, and issues involving values. He couldn’t do it. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney did it every single day.
Even during the three Presidential debates, the Massachusetts Senator gave answers that left uncommitted voters in my focus groups both confused and mystified. His critique of the current Administration’s failures clearly did political damage, but the electorate could not define exactly what he would do differently. What Kerry did not realize was that referencing “a plan” roughly two dozen times over 90-minutes is different than actua11y having one. In a post-9/11 world, voters simply could not elect a President whose position on the nation’s most salient issues were unknown even to himself.
George W. Bush won because 9/11 had truly changed America and because he accurately reflected America’s resolve that the War on Terror has to be won. Not waged. Won. Voters concluded that while John Kerry could adequately manage a terrorist attack, it was President Bush who was more likely to prevent one.
Two key campaign events enhanced Bush’s role as America’s Defender and Kerry as weak and/or indecisive. The first was the Swift Boat ads. In my focus groups, Kerry’s convention performance was effective enough to change a few minds. But the blizzard of TV ads unleashed by the group of Vietnam vets blanketed the airwaves in swing states and undid whatever benefit the convention provided. True, the Swift Boat veterans never fully convinced voters that Kerry “betrayed” his country in wartime, but they did raise nagging and unresolved doubts about Kerry’s character and judgment at the very moment that voters had begun to make up their minds.
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The second key event was the Republican convention itself. Swing voters swung to Bush because of a powerfully delivered convention speech that was the right balance of domestic agenda and national security, and because he effectively communicated that he was truly a man on an unyielding mission. They heard a President who heard them, understood their concerns, addressed their fears, and made them feel safer and more secure in their homes and in their country.
The President stormed out of New York with a double-digit lead that helped him survive the first debate and sustained him through Election Day. It also helped that he had the best communication team of this era in his comer.
Sure, the Democrats have clung to a desperate belief that Bush won because he waged a campaign of fear. The exact opposite was the case. Americans turned to him precisely because they saw him as the antidote to that fear.
The results on Election Day illustrated an essential principle of electoral success: it is no longer enough to say no. Voters need someone who will say yes. John Kerry became a symbol for voters opposed to the President’s policies and procedures, but not much else. Conversely, George W. Bush became the vehicle for those who wanted an affirmative, proactive, preventative approach to homeland security. Americans will tell you that it was Bush, not Kerry, who offered the hope that personal security could be restored. And in this election, hope won.
When it came to the war on terror, Americans knew where their President stood and exactly what he believed. They simply did not share the same level of confidence in John Kerry. The events and aftermath of 9/11 may not have changed everything, but it certainly changed the outcome of the 2004 presidential race.
In the end, hope won.
Turning toward 2006, it has often been said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. That is excellent advice for the Republican Party, whose electoral position is eerily reminiscent of 1986 – when the GOP dropped seats in the House and lost control of the U.S. Senate in the sixth year of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. The surprising electoral collapse crippled the Republican legislative agenda for nearly a decade – until the Contract with America reversed the Republicans’ misfortune in 1994.
You cannot permit history to repeat itself. By carefully examining what happened the last time the GOP had an incumbent President at the sixth year of his presidency, it will hopefully serve as the first step in preventing a similar catastrophe.
Here then are the seven reasons why the Republicans did so poorly – and the Democrats did so well. In 2006, you will need to do things differently if you wish to deflect the infamous “sixth year itch.”
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1) The 1980 election brought in weak Republican candidates that were finally swept out in 1986. The Republicans made sweeping House and Senate gains during the 1980 election due to the coattail effects of Ronald Reagan. The House lost 26 of the weaker seats in 1982 thanks to a poor economy, but it took until 1986 for the Senate to catch up. The reason: weak Republican Senate candidates who normally wouldn’t have won were elected and had six years before facing the voters again. In 1980, Bob Dole told reporters that ‘had we known we were going to win control of the Senate we would have run better candidates.’ Said Charlie Cook, “The crop of GOP candidates was the political equivalent of hothouse plants able to survive only under the most optimal conditions.”
Strategy: Acknowledge the complexity of your district and the challenges you face should the political climate turn sour. Too often Members in close elections acknowledge their electoral weakness after the election but don’t address it until it is too late. If you received less than 57% of the vote, your campaign should begin today: a 20-month effort that includes fundraising, voter contact, message development and grassroots operations. And all of it should be measured on a monthly basis.
2) Republicans stayed home. Both in 1982 and in 1986, Republicans did not turn out in usual off-year numbers. So not only were there no presidential coattails but the inverse was true. Democrats turned out in greater numbers, and they turned out Republican Members of Congress.
Strategy: Pick out issues that matter to the base and HOLD some of them until the second year of the Congress. This is very important. Republicans will want to go to THEIR people with THEIR legislation 30-days before Election Day when it is still fresh and newsworthy. Rather than rushing to pass all the good stuff in 2005, you need to keep at least one major item that can be voted on by Congress and signed by the President in the waning days of 2006.
3) There was no national theme. Local politics dominated the election. There was no umbrella effort to unite voters across the country to keep Republicans in office. It was assumed that Reagan himself would be the unifying force and “stay the course” would be the message. Instead, an incredible 30% of those who voted for Reagan in 1984 actually voted for a Democrat Senate candidate in 1986 – and roughly 25% voted Democrat in House races.
Similarly, there was no presidential “bounce.” President Reagan campaigned hard to help keep Republican control of the U.S. Senate about as aggressively as George W. Bush did in 2002. However, by the sixth year of his term, Reagan was only able to achieve a 3-point bounce when he visited a state and it dissipated within a week.
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Strategy: Do not depend on a popular president to bring home the votes. House and Senate Republicans must establish their own identity in advance. People have different reasons for casting votes in Congressional elections than in a presidential contest. “Getting things done for America” is exactly what they want from the next Congress. and that’s why it should be at least a sub-theme of your efforts.
4) Democrats fielded unusually strong candidates. Democrats afraid to run in 1984 lined up to take on Republicans in the off-year, and they had their best crop of candidates since 1974 (including Tom Daschle and Bob Graham). Democrat recruitment efforts started quite literally the day after Reagan’s landslide election, and by January 1, 1986, the seeds for a strong comeback had already been sewn. Moreover, the entire Democrat leadership was involved in the recruitment effort. Republicans took their strength for granted, and were surprised at the disaster that unfolded on Election Day.
Strategy: Assume that your opponent will be the toughest you’ll face in your political career – and start planning your response accordingly. Complacency is perhaps the biggest threat to an incumbent’s re-election hopes.
5) The Gender Gap was a chasm. Republicans won a barely tolerable 52% of the male vote and a disastrous 42% among women. In fact, it took eight years – 1994 – until the collapse among women was fully addressed. When asked why they abandoned the GOP, the Number One complaint was the tone: too harsh.
Strategy: Republicans need to cultivate the so-called security mom with a legislative and communications agenda targeted directly to them. Bush did better among women, particularly younger married women, than any GOP candidate since 1988 because of security concerns. Security will keep these women voting Republican if they are addressed directly and personally. And since women value time over money, your strategy should include your successful efforts to promote legislation that in some way provides women more free time.
6) Republicans stayed in Washington while the Democrats beat them up at home. In the Georgia Senate race, incumbent Mack Mattingly had a 24-point lead with three weeks to go. In Alabama, Jeremiah Denton was up I5-points. Jim Broyhill was leading by 16points. State after state, House and Senate Republicans had significant leads that evaporated because their opponents were on the ground running hard while Republicans were mired in useless debate a thousand miles away. The Democrat strategy was to emphasize face-to-face contact and contrast that with the “out-of-touch Washington insiders.” Republicans, stuck in DC, were dependent on paid media to get their message out – and it didn’t work.
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Conversely, Idaho Senator Steve Symms simply left DC and flew home – telling constituents that they were more important than whatever was being voted on in DC. He was one of the few GOP incumbents reelected that year.
Strategy: Go home. Stay home. This is one of the most important lessons not just of 1986 but of the last ten years as well. The earlier and more often you get home to campaign, the better off you are. Every day you stay in DC after October 1st, the more vulnerable you are.
7) The 1986 vote was a much older vote. Voters under 30 simply did not participate in 1986, while voters 55 and older came out in larger numbers. This older shift and concerns about what Republicans might do to Social Security and Medicare helped swing a number of close races to the Democrats.
Strategy: Republicans MUST do a better job communicating Social Security reform in 2005-06 than they did the prescription drug benefit in 2003-04. The fact is, seniors who understood the benefit came to appreciate it – and Republicans did better among the 60+ electorate than in any presidential contest since 1988 – but too many seniors were too ill informed, and that created too much unnecessary confusion. The communication training process for Social Security must be as formal, mandatory and comprehensive as the Medicare reform effort that took place back in 1995-96. Members must make the rounds of senior centers with formal presentations to address the scare tactics sure to be employed against, them.
One final thought …
I was in high school when Ronald Reagan was elected. Throughout his first term, he did a lot to change the course of America, yet I still remember thinking of all he could have done if he had a Republican House to match a Republican Senate. That was my dream, but I, like millions of Americans, knew that a House majority was impossible.
Today, as I complete this document. Republicans are more firmly in control than at any time in my lifetime, with a courageous President, a solid House and a new class of reformer Senators ready to make real fundamental change. And I am reminded of the political chant so commonly repeated in the 1960s …
If not us, who? If not now, when?
Now is the time. This is the place. You are the people. And these are the words.
Frank Luntz Republican Playbook (New American Lexicon) — Searchable Text-Version