The Washington Post: Mark Penn answers “Topic A”: Can the Republican Party win in November with a negative strategy?

April 3, 2010

The Washington Post asked Mark Penn and other political experts whether the Republican Party would win in November with a negative strategy.

CEO of Burson-Marsteller; adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign; pollster and adviser to Bill Clinton from 1995 through 2000.

The Republicans have made a living out of running tough, negative campaigns and presenting “no” as a strategy. It’s not really a strategy but a substitute for good ideas. Perhaps the best example of that was when Newt Gingrich shut down the government to stop Washington spending. He thought he would be welcomed as a hero. It backfired big-time — the public wanted progress, not partisanship.

They did a lot better with the Contract for America. That played to their strengths of lower deficits, smaller government and lower taxes — themes that if backed by good policies have typically been their best cards.

While there is a lot of dissatisfaction with the health-care bill, talk of repeal rather than select fixes misses the mark and again puts Republicans down as the party of “no,” not of constructive bipartisanship and action.

And the voters who will decide the election — the vital center — are the ones most likely to want to see results over insults.

Today’s Republican leaders in Congress still have only a 36 percent approval rating in CNN polling, even if they are creeping up in the generic horse race. The swing electorate today likes neither the Democrats nor the Republicans in Congress, and that can make for some extreme volatility between now and November. It is the party that wins them over with ideas that is most likely to go home with their votes.

Many years ago I worked on a successful campaign based simply of the slogan of “Ya Basta” — enough. Today, Americans have had enough of enough. They want something more.

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