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Ruy Teixeira and Ken Mehlman Offer Opposing Views in Washington Post Analysis

A Sunday Washington Post article titled "Was Nov. 2 a Realignment" contrasted Bush's campaign manager Ken Mehlman's upbeat interpretation of the election's significance for the Republicans with Ruy Teixeira's more balanced appraisal.

"Something fundamental and significant happened in this election that creates an opportunity for" the Republicans to remake national politics over the long term, said Ken Mehlman, who managed Bush's reelection campaign and was tapped by the president after the election to be the next chairman of the Republican National Committee. "The Republican Party is in a stronger position today than at any time since the Great Depression."

Liberal political analyst Ruy Teixeira is among many analysts not buying it. Two years ago, he co-wrote a book predicting an emerging Democratic dominance of national politics. That certainly has not happened yet -- but neither has the opposite, he believes. The electorate this year "tilted, but it didn't tilt very much," Teixeira said.

"If the war on terror is such a realigning issue, how come Bush only got 51 percent of the vote?" he asked. By Teixeira's lights, the president took advantage of the natural power of incumbency, which is accentuated in wartime, and gave scant emphasis to his second-term policy agenda on such issues as overhauling Social Security, which polls show leaves many voters uneasy. "It's hard to read [the results] in a serious way as a mandate for much of anything," Teixeira said.


Your basic assumption seems to be that a "realignment" occurs only if a landslide has occurred. Not so! Leaving aside the past two elections, there have been four arguably realigning elections in American history: 1832, 1860, 1896, 1932, 1968. In one of these (1860) the winner had no majority but prevailed due to a split opposition. Two others (1896 and 1968) were pretty close.

I think there is an emerging Democratic Majority. The problem, as I see it, is not one potential Democratic voters. It is making sure those voters have the right perception of the Democratic Candidate the party is offering. In fact, perception (and the management thereof) is ALL that stands between the party and winning the next election.

Here is how I see it:

Want to know why Bush won and Kerry lost?

It wasn’t Iraq. It wasn’t terrorism. It wasn’t abortion. It wasn’t gay marriage. It wasn’t jobs. It wasn’t anything real.

George Bush won because Karl Rove was way better than the Democrats at one simple thing. Managing perception.

What is managing perception?

Let’s consider this example:

John Kerry went to Vietnam, saved a man’s life and got wounded several times. Somehow, the people of this country perceived of John Kerry as a coward who had never served his country and would not be tough enough as our commander-in-chief in wartime.

George Bush avoided going to Vietnam and even avoided serving out his National Guard obligation. Somehow, the people of this country perceived of George Bush as a heroic fighter, experienced military man and a courageous commander-in-chief.

THAT’s managing perception!

Not just managing the perception people have of YOUR guy, but more importantly, it’s managing the perception people have of the other guy!

In 2004, more people perceived that John Kerry was bad and George Bush was good. Just enough people for George Bush to win the election.

So here’s a cold hard fact: if the Democratic party wants to take back Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008, they must immediately become as good at or better than Karl Rove at managing perception.

The good news is, managing perception is not some magic trick that only Karl Rove knows the secret to.
Managing perception is not even all that difficult once you know the rules and once you’ve committed yourself and the party to doing it right.

What are the rules?

Rule 1:
Understand that you are dealing with a target audience that doesn’t care enough to learn the real facts regarding the real issues.

The target audience fervently believed that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks and that there WERE weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Do not try to change this reality. Work with it. The perception they have IS the reality! Take heart! If they are maleable enough to perceive something despite obvious evidence to the contrary, you will be able to make them perceive any number of things!

Rule 2:
Come to grips with the fact that the media that services this target audience is already dead set against you. Learn to live with this obvious negative.

Fox News. Official News Channel of the successful invasion of Iraq and media/pr representative for the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth.

Start thinking very seriously about creating a media network that will reach your target. Don’t make it left, don’t make it right. Work hard to make it entertaining, middle of the road and believable.

Rule 3:
When the other side hands you a bone, do not bury the bone! USE IT! The best, most surest way to negatively affect the perception of the other side is to use their own bone against them!

“I voted for it before I voted against it” was a bone Karl Rove shook in our face the entire campaign. It perfectly defined Kerry as a “flip-flopper”. When Bush said, “I don’t think much about Bin Laden”, Kerry should have said, “Bin Laden murdered 3000 Americans and will kill more of us and you are too much of a coward to go after him? We avenged Pearl Harbor! Why are we not avenging 9/11, you coward?”

Cheer up. You missed your chance, but there’ll be more.
Rudy already blamed the troops (instead of Bush) for missing the weapons cache. Hey, Mr. Mayor, accept responsibility and SUPPORT our troops, you miserable politician.

Rule 4:
Stop playing by Marquis of Queensberry rules. Before you get punched, you punch. Hard. Whenever possible, you punch below the belt. And most importantly, even after they are down, you keep punching. If necessary, you kick them until they are not just down, but dead.

George Bush. Cocaine. Alcohol. The National Guard. Deserter. With 40 days to go before the election, there should have been 40 awful revelations about George Bush – one each day, each worse than the one before it.

Forget spin. The voters we’re after don’t care about it. If you’re worried the other campaign will spin you as being too negative, you’ve already lost the election. Your job is to do your job, play dirty, punch hard and not care what other people think of you.

Rule 5:
Pick ONE individual to head up your election team and give this person TOTAL AUTHORITY to manage any and all advertising messages and perception issues. Whatever he or she says – goes! And no more discussion.

There were twenty nine people in charge of Kerry, including Kerry himself. The public heard twenty nine different viewpoints. The Republicans had one person in charge. Rove. The public heard one viewpoint. Rove’s.

Pick the roughest, toughest, meanest person who has ever created wildly successful advertising/PR campaigns.
Make damned sure this person is a real marketer, doesn’t take any guff from anybody and is NOT a political stooge.
Finally, make sure ALL the money flows to this one person and all spending is coordinated through this person alone.

Rule 6:
No more nuance.
The target audience not only fails to understand even the most obvious nuance, they actually HATE the idea there even IS a nuance in the first place. (It even sounds French!)
Nuance - bad. Black and white – good!

“A marriage is a sacred union between a man and a woman” – George Bush. “I’m personally against gay marriage, but I feel the states should decide.” – John Kerry (Too Nuanced By Half!!)

Forget that issues really DO demand nuance, at least until the election is over. But until November, pick a side on each issue and make sure your target audience understands clearly what that side is. And relax. The only people you’ll sound like a simpleton to are already voting for you anyway.

Rule 7:
Choose one very clear label for your candidate and never EVER let go of it. Keep hitting it hard until everyone in America knows this is EXACTLY what your candidate stands for.

George Bush was the “unwavering commander-in-chief who will win the war on terror”.
John Kerry was _________. Whatever he was - wasn’t bad, but we’re still not able to fill in that blank.

Think of a one word label that your target can quickly grasp. “America, I am the Jobs President!” Don’t worry about which label is best. Just choose one and let that be the centerpiece. All other things the candidate talks about will grow out of this one strong position.

Rule 8:
Raise as much money as humanly possible and then divide it into two equal piles. One goes to media/adv/pr and the other to recruiting, training and firing up volunteers.

Karl Rove found and motivated volunteers who went where no campaign had gone before – into parts of Florida where alligators were more likely to vote than people.

Your volunteers MUST BE a member of your target audience. You need to find volunteers who attend same church, go to the same stores and who like and dislike the same things your target audience does! Remember, you cannot spend TOO MUCH money or do TOO MUCH demographic homework and research making this happen!

Rule 9:
Do not give Karl Rove any help whatsoever. In other words, do not start with a candidate that puts you in a twenty foot ditch that he will never let you fight your way out of.

No example necessary. Or, there are too many of them from this past election to even get into.

This one is no walk in the park, but it is not impossible.
No obvious liberals. Nobody from the Northeast. Nobody who cannot remain strong and stay firm on issues while tacking to the center in a convincing, spirited way.

Hint! Hint!
Bill Richardson. Wesley Clark. Evan Bayh

Rule 10:
Start today. Not later today. Now. Know this: Karl Rove has already picked a candidate and crafted a single-minded strategy that he is confident will womp your stupid Democratic butt. And make no mistake about it: he has also already dug up tons of dirt on the 20 people you’re most likely to nominate.

By the time the Democrats got around to throwing a few punches in 2004, they were defensive punches and way too late. They should have started in December 2000.

Don’t put off your homework for tomorrow morning. Start doing what Karl is doing. Collect data about whoever they might nominate. Spend some time NOW figuring out how to effectively deal with anybody and everybody they might nominate.

Rule 11:
Stop trying to be ATAP, or “All Things To All People”. You will fail. There is no way in this great country of ours that you will ever be more than 65% of things to 55% of the people. That’s your goal, by the way. You reach it and you own the White House in 2008.

Karl Rove didn’t bother with liberals and even most democrats. He went after Republicans and the squishy center and didn’t waste any time or money on anybody else. (He also didn’t care what everybody else thought of him or his candidate.)

In 2008, there are going to be a lot of people who voted for Bush who are going to be OPEN to a new candidate, IF it’s the right candidate and you IF make people perceive it’s the right candidate. Work hard to figure out who these people are and what they want to hear. Then go for it.

Keep a copy of these rules by your pillow and read them every night. Then, when you wake up, make damned sure you follow them every day. No example or hint required. If you adhere to these rules, you are going to NEUTRALIZE Rove by making this Rove Versus Rove. On a neutral playing field, (you may want to check the voting machines in the meantime) you’re going to win. Big time.