by Aaron Biterman
I live in Virginia and followed the race of Governor-elect Bob McDonnell fairly closely. An article in Politico last week explains that some Republican Party strategists now believe that they have a winning strategy for 2010.
They’re calling it the McDonnell strategy.
Politico’s Jonathan Martin describes the strategy: “[R]un on economic policy, downplay divisive cultural issues, present an upbeat tone, target independent voters and focus on Democratic-controlled Washington — all without attacking President Barack Obama personally.”
McDonnell is a far-right social conservative, so it only made sense for him to downplay his religious and social views — which (I believe) are far outside of the mainstream. (Although his views probably coincide with many Virginians.)
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to develop a strategy for McDonnell that courts the largest base of the electorate (Independent voters) or, as I said, to downplay his true views on social issues.
Those were obviously successful points in the strategy developed by the McDonnell team. Another positive point was that Bob McDonnell stayed focused on the issues: transportation, jobs, and budget, mostly. As Haley Barbour has said, these issues are the issues that Virginians were talking about around the kitchen table.
But, despite victory for McDonnell in Virginia, there’s one base of supporters — and one strategic point — that the McDonnell campaign missed the boat on: Independents and Republicans that have a decisive libertarian streak.
There is an entire base of voters that are tired of politics-as-usual and will only support candidates that will roll back the nation’s deficit — which means voting for no more spending and voting to cut ineffective government programs.
It’s somewhat obvious why McDonnell did not court these voters: Virginia doesn’t have that many of them.
Case in point, Dr. Ron Paul received just five percent of the vote in Virginia’s 2008 Presidential primary, taking around 22,000 votes. Contrast that total with the second-place finisher, Mike Huckabee, who took 41 percent, or nearly 200,000 votes.
Huckabee, of course, has moderate views on economics, but is socially conservative. Bob McDonnell is much more of a Huckabee populist than a Ron Paul constitutionalist.
If the Republican Party is going to develop a national strategy to succeed in elections, its candidates should elevate discourse by discussing real political issues — “back to basics” fundamentals that fall under the rubric of constitutionally limited government, individual liberty, free-market economics, and the rule of law.
Candidates that combine these core issues with local concerns (jobs, economy, and even more local issues that vary by state or district) will be more likely to succeed than candidates that follow the populist approach of Bob McDonnell.
The main flaw with the McDonnell strategy is that it appears McDonnell has no principles whatsoever. So, while he did win an election in a state that had been trending Democrat, Virginians now have a Governor-elect that never outlined his core philosophy of governance.
At a time when most states are facing budget shortages, the unemployment rate continues to climb, and the dollar continues to erode in value, Republican Party candidates that want to win must tell the truth to voters. Hopefully that truth is their commitment to vote against more spending and to cut waste and redundancy from government.
In the 2006 and 2008 elections, Republicans that were not shy about their belief in limited government were overwhelmingly successful at the polls.
This is evidenced by Ron Paul’s strong showing in state primaries as well as elections in which Tom McClintock (R-CA), Peter Roskam (R-IL), and Paul Broun (R-GA) won races in notable Congressional upsets — in the Midwest, the South, and the Left Coast.
Will the Republican Party adopt Bob McDonnell’s flawed election model in other states? If it does, Republicans may not succeed.
The best strategy for the Republican Party is to look back to Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater for the healthy dose of skepticism about government’s ability to solve societal problems that once defined the Republican Party — and still defines its core base.
Republican candidates with this philosophy — that government cannot solve all ills in society, nor should it — who have financial support will succeed in 2010.
The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect official positions of the RLC.