Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Winning GOP formula so far: discipline and artificial outrage

There are two political skills that the GOP has mastered in modern campaigns that continue to challenge Democrats: maintaining discipline and creating artificial outrage.

Examples of Republican discipline abound. Everyone is a team player, and everyone sticks to the script.  It was especially important in the weeks and months leading up to the convention. 

Despite disappointment, for example, when such GOP challengers as former Govs. Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney dropped out of the race, they fell in line like kindergartners behind the teacher on the way to lunch. They didn’t dare carry on the fight to the convention or continue to cite their opposition because of the future consequences of being disowned by the family.

Republicans generally don’t attack their own, and if they do, they somehow bring them back to a happy family. Just think what President Bush did to Sen. John McCain in the 2000 race for the presidential nomination — and recall this year how quickly Romney became a surrogate for McCain. 

Locally, the “Override Six” — Republican legislators who challenged Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto of the transportation bill — illustrate the discipline the party maintains.  First, Minority Leader Marty Seifert stripped the offending House members of leadership roles within the caucus and then the party ran opponents against them.  

One of the “Six,” Rep. Neil Peterson, a former Bloomington mayor, was ousted Tuesday by the endorsed GOP candidate, Jan Schneider. Peterson wasn’t a “disciplined” caucus member, so the party chose to not endorse him after years of service, and then actively worked against him.

In southern Anoka County, another of the “Six,” Rep. Jim Abeler, had a GOP challenger, too, but he kept his opponent from winning endorsement and then was successful in Tuesday’s primary.  Don’t think, though, that Abeler will not still face further consequences among GOP delegates and his caucus. 

Cheney phone call most memorable example
The most memorable case of Minnesota discipline within the GOP has to be the call from Vice President Dick Cheney to then-Senate candidate Tim Pawlenty, strongly urging him not to challenge Norm Coleman in the 2002 Senate race against the late Sen. Paul Wellstone. Pawlenty listened, switched races and has overcome Coleman’s rising star to become the preferred name when higher office is mentioned or vice presidential candidates are considered.

And despite many delegates sitting on their hands during McCain’s acceptance speech, they are ultimately on board, especially publicly.  Privately however, people will tell you that the choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has saved John McCain’s legacy among conservative Republicans, because even if he loses, he may have elevated their next star to a stage she would have been politically challenged to reach on her own.  

The other very effective strategy that Republicans have mastered locally and nationally is the art of artificial outrage. Whenever their candidates are under pressure — and can’t turn the story around — they immediately find something else to be outraged about. 

Last week, during the Republican National Convention, for example, it was the media and their questioning of the choice of Palin and her qualifications to be a 72-year old’s heartbeat away from the presidency. This week, it is any reference to lipstick made by the Obama-Biden ticket, however out of context.  

Another example is this week’s attack on Sen. Joe Biden about stem cell research. 

When Biden said, “I hear all this talk about how the Republicans are going to work in dealing with parents … (who face) the joy and the difficulty of raising a child who has a developmental disability, who were born with a birth defect.” 

Republicans automatically suggest that it’s a personal attack on Palin, because her fifth child has Down syndrome. Biden would have said that with or without Palin on the ticket, but the GOP’s “Artificial Outrage” machine exploits it out of context to their favor. It’s effective, and they are masters of it, fair or not.

In 2002 in Minnesota, they accomplished a very effective distortion of the Wellstone memorial service.

In these cases, they either launch a direct attack on the media — or on their opponents by calculatedly marginalizing them through the media. 

Call such strategies cynical or disturbing, but it’s time that Democrats took a few lessons from the GOP approach because to date, it has been, unfortunately, effective.

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by George Hayduke on 09/11/2008 - 09:19 am.

    You need to add disciplined lying to the list of reasons Republicans succeed. Pick a lie–“I said thanks but no thanks to the Bridge to Nowhere” or “She sold the state jet on ebay” or “She’s a reformer against earmarks” come to mind–and repeat it often enough. Soon, the rubes out there will begin to believe it.

  2. Submitted by james harris on 09/10/2008 - 01:43 pm.

    “Manufactured Outrage” is a liberal hallmark, second only to derisive contempt of anything that could be considered conservative, or as they would say, ‘regressive’.

    In fact, during the Dem primaries, Obama and Hillary took turns being outraged at the racist, classist, and sexist attacks each claimed the other had made.

    Liberal feminists are outraged at the suggestion that abortions devalue life, to the detriment of the larger society. Liberals are outraged at the suggestion race based affirmative action encourages mediocrity, to the detriment of society. Liberals are outraged at the suggestion unlimited, unregulated immigration may have negative cultural and national security consequences.

    The fake outrage goes both ways.

  3. Submitted by Stacey Lillich on 09/10/2008 - 07:47 pm.

    Harris makes a good point that it absolutely depends on what “lense” you are looking at EVERYTHING through.
    I’m uncomfortable with your call to action however, because my attraction to the Democrats this round has been the fact that I’ve witnessed them repeatedly taking the high road and (so far) not falling into the trap of the artificial nonsense. The focus and persistence have been outstanding and I feel confident (again, so far) in who I’m supporting this time!
    Though I reside in a rural and largely uneducated area of Minnesota, I hope that most informed voters are skeptical of such tactics as we’ve seen as of late out of the GOP and maybe just do what I do to survive up here: nod and smile!

Leave a Reply