The Republicans’ learning curve & politicking at poolside

Recently I had the occasion to attend one of the nicest political events I’ve ever attended, rivaling even a long ago cruise on the Potomac River. Unfortunately, if I was to write about it the title of the piece would be:

“Fundraising unity that will sink you like a stone.”

The setting was the back yard of a mansion – the kind a guy like me usually sees only in the movies. The spring evening weather held out, the speakers did a fine job, and the audience was attentive and well behaved.

The problem was that a trained eye could see that by the make up of the crowd the candidate still doesn’t quite yet understand the political state of his own state. If he did, and if he had begun to speak out on behalf of the kind of changes that are needed, several of the attendees would’ve been so offended they would’ve spent their evening elsewhere.

The scale of the political challenge facing Republicans nationally and especially in Illinois can be compared to the nation-building – yes, nation building – being done by Americans in Iraq. In some ways, however, our troops and American civilians over there have an easier job in that for almost two years the vast majority of the Iraqi people have shown that they are weary of the jihadists. The work of rebuilding and reforming their country for them is a matter of life and death. Their nation’s future is on the line, and they know it.

By contrast, the attendees that gathered around the pool at this wonderful political fundraiser revealed something still not quite right about the mentality of our current and future Republican leaders. Few seem to be up to the political challenge.

Of course the majority of the guests were good-hearted and interested in the genuine recovery of the GOP nationally and in Illinois. As private citizens working outside of politics, their support for the Republican Party was apparent.

Scattered throughout the crowd, however, were a few folks whose attendance revealed a fatal weakness for the prospects of the campaign that was raising funds on that picturesque spring evening.

For starters, if this candidate had set a course for victory, he wouldn’t have hired the campaign staff that was in attendance. Politics is an amazing arena in that the authors of past disasters are often forgiven all of their sins. Performance means nothing. People are hired for their resume rather than their accomplishments.

Also in the crowd were the typical gadflies and hangers-on, people who make their living in politics by doing such things as “consulting.” They’re typically harmless, unless they’re actively undercutting the real work of reform by enabling the failed old guard.

There were, of course, several current and past political office holders and candidates at the event. Among them were Republicans who still seek to drive the party to the far political left, especially when it comes to those “un-cool” social issues.

Also in attendance were a handful of conservative warriors who labor still to wake the party up and return it to its principles.

Readers might see this diversity as a good sign – the candidate and campaign in question are succeeding in uniting the Grand Old Party and setting a course for victory.

I’d suggest the opposite is evident in this case. First, staff matters. Especially when that staff is tied at the hip with the very Republican leadership that has caused political disaster.

Second, if a candidate is comfortable with big spending Republicans and social left-wingers in their midst, I’m not sure they truly understand what it’s going to take to hold the base, as well as reach and convince enough voters that he or she is truly a different kind of Republican.

Political communication is expensive, messy, sometimes out of your control, and often emotionally draining. But to succeed in breaking through to the public mind, tough talk is going to be required. Very tough talk.

Kimberley Strassel writes in today’s Wall Street Journal that “The state of the union is angry. Citizens are furious about gas prices and health-care costs, broken schools and property taxes.” As Washington obsesses over itself, they are “Accomplishing zip.”

Congress’ approval ratings are dismal, the lowest in history. One pollster is quoted is saying that people want solutions to the problems. Strassel writes:

“This is what Republicans haven’t yet understood. Their failures in office kicked off this anger, and they remain its target.”

We’ve said this many times here on this website. Fortunately there are signs of life.

“House Republicans appear to be catching on. This week they rolled out the first part of an election-year agenda that pointedly lists their legislative “solutions” to the problems of today.”

“This redefinition should’ve come earlier,” Strassel writes. Obviously. The fact that the redefinition will offend some Republicans is not a reason to delay the process.

Having a nice party with representatives of the left and right, the confused and the not confused, might be lovely. But the scale of change that’s required in Republican political behavior and messaging is so enormous that had this candidate understood it, many of those attendees wouldn’t have been caught dead at that poolside.

Simply put – if you’re comfortable around them, and they’re comfortable around you, it’s likely evidence that you still don’t have what it takes to win or accomplish the rebuilding and reforming of the GOP.

©2008 John Francis Biver