BY: B. Keith Plunkett @Keithplunkett
As the two sides of the ongoing “battle for the soul of the Republican Party” trade jabs for power, the key to the future for both is going unaddressed. The first group to recognize it and look to the future will be the eventual winner.
The Republican primary for the U.S. Senate is bloody. No one can deny that. And it has been made more so by some less than honest actors who seemingly want to pretend they are in the latest episode of the Netflix hit show ‘House of Cards’. But Mississippi is not Washington, DC and the end game here isn’t a power struggle by some legislative body subject to arm-twisting, political intrigue or Machiavellian gamesmanship.
No matter how the courts rule on the challenge Chris McDaniel is bringing, and no matter whether he or Thad Cochran are the nominee, the final decision will be made by the voters of Mississippi in November.
Conservatives outside the base structure of the MS GOP are in a unique position if they are willing to set aside the outrage over a single election long enough to look further down the road.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe now, as I have always believed, Chris McDaniel is absolutely the better candidate and would be the better U.S. Senator from Mississippi. He is showing why as he fights to bring some clarity into the murky waters of Mississippi’s voting process.
Voter ID was a huge leap forward. But like virtually everything else in Mississippi, a huge leap still leaves us behind. Training of poll workers is woefully inadequate in many corners of the state, and far too many clerks across the state would rather pull the eye-teeth of an angry boar than deal with elections. Quite frankly, there is no uniformity and the whole Election Day process is ill-equipped to provide a trustworthy result. We are seeing that now.
But chattering on about a train wreck does nothing to rescue the survivors or clean up the mess.
What are you talking about?
Conservative coalitions are forming all over the state as a result of the outrage. What is the vision for growth beyond the anger? I understand the talk is of taking over the GOP. But once that has occurred what is the benefit to Mississippians and how will it be accomplished?
I love liberty, freedom and the constitution as much as anyone, probably more than some . But I also know why, and I work every day to better understand and articulate that message.
As Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
I have been critical of the TEA Party in the past for being unwilling to develop a central message based on tangible solutions. The newly forming conservative groups should keep from falling into that same trap. The only way to do that is to know your audience, not just those who show up at meetings now but those that might show up if they are given a reason.
Conservatives have to build bridges, not burn them as the GOP establishment has chosen to do.
The first step in building a bridge is to recognize the need for it. There is no bigger need in Mississippi than the high number of people without jobs and those who live on the edge of poverty.
Governor Phil Bryant has continued his predecessors approach of using the Mississippi Economic Development Authority to provide tax breaks and incentives to attract large corporations to the state. But stealing companies from another state is a bandaid at best, vulnerable to the same tactic in reverse. At worst it’s a risk to taxpayers and an unfair advantage that loses sight of the fact that the overwhelming majority of Mississippi jobs are created by small businesses. A conservative free-market approach would set the rules to allow everyone an equal shot at incentives.
If any favoritism is to be shown it makes more sense for long-term job growth that the impact of those incentives be directed at small businesses, especially in light of the fact that large corporations are leaving the country due to an overwhelming federal tax burden.
The GOP is too heavily invested in the marriage of big government and big business to be champions of small businesses and long-term investment in entrepreneurship, and the job growth that it brings in Mississippi. Conservatives have a much easier path to travel in delivering that message.
Mississippi communities are caught between a rock and a hard place
Another very real problem affecting Mississippians on a large scale is inflation. The federal government is quick to report that inflation is low, but it is only because they ignore the rising costs of “volatile” goods and services. These “volatile” goods and services are the ones weighing a heavier burden on the low income and middle class workers which make up the majority of Mississippi’s population and include healthcare, energy costs and food staples such as meat, eggs and dairy.
Meanwhile, as Sean Davis points out, inflation for these basic goods runs rampant, and wages remain stagnant.
Democrats would say “raise the minimum wage”, as Travis Childers did during his Neshoba County Fair speech last week. But such a simplistic approach refuses to recognize the job loss that comes with wage mandates and how it would decimate Mississippi’s economy. It doesn’t correct the problem but exacerbates it. Government can’t regulate us out of this mess. The private sector must grow us out of the problem. And it will only happen when people better understand the mechanics of a free market economy. That will require engaging in dialogue, not political theater.
Know your audience
As Molly Ball illustrates, the political data shows the importance of this audience. The makeup of Mississippi overwhelmingly lends itself in favor of Conservatives communicating with this audience in a serious and meaningful way.
Republicans consistently win voters making $50,000 or more, approximately the U.S. median income. The margin doesn’t vary too much: In 2012, Mitt Romney got 53 percent of this group’s vote; in 2010, Republican House candidates got 55 percent. And Democrats consistently win voters making less than the median—but the margin varies widely. In fact, whether Democrats win these voters by a 10-point or a 20-point margin tells you who won every national election for the past decade.
In 2004, Democrats won the working-class vote by 11 points; George W. Bush was reelected. In 2006, Democrats won the working-class vote by 22 points and took the House and Senate. In 2008, Democrats won by 22 points again, and President Obama was elected. In 2010, the margin narrowed to 11 points, and Republicans took the House back. In 2012, Obama was reelected—on the strength of another 22-point margin among voters making under $50,000.
677,000 households in Mississippi bring in less than $50,000, representative of 62 percent of the population. Those numbers aren’t getting better for Republicans. They are getting worse.
Kitchen table issues, not boardroom table issues are what is important in Mississippi. The Republican Party establishment has chosen their path, and it leads to a dead end. Conservatives, on the other hand, have the option of building a bigger and more inclusive coalition.
Red herrings and straw men are big big fun
Some, like my friends Lange and Corder over at Y’all Politics, and the talkers at Supertalk radio, love to play up the gotcha politics and the game that it is. That’s all fine and good. That’s their thing and I’m sure it’s just a ‘barrel of monkeys’. Likewise, many others are just beside themselves with glee on social media when the latest scathing report of payoffs, race-baiting and other tabloid worthy acts are brought to light. Have your fun children, have your fun.
But remember, solving problems and presenting solutions is what this whole exercise is supposed to be about . . . isn’t it?
Whether someone steps forward to say he once saw a 12-year old Chris McDaniel flick a booger on an innocent little old lady at West Ellisville Baptist Church, or that Thad Cochran reportedly fell asleep at a rubber chicken fundraising dinner and passed gas in front of 300 lobbyists is immaterial.
Every week, more people tune out the sideshow to get back to the reality in Mississippi communities that isn’t so promising right now.
We should all be focused on building a broader message while the lawyers and the courts do their thing. It’s a much better use of the time than chatter and drama.
About Keith: Keith Plunkett has worked on communications and policy issues with a range of public officials from aldermen to Congressmen, and a variety of businesses, governmental agencies and non-profits. He serves or has served as a board member of several non-profit, civic and political organizations. Contact him by going to HorizonMediaMarketing.com or follow him on Twitter @Keithplunkett