The Republican Election Machine can really be applauded for its creation of not just voters, but faithful believers in the Republican message. And I mean that in the most religious of contexts. A Bush believer, in my opinion, is someone who doesn’t just follow the issues. They listen to their message as it’s delivered to them through “fair and balanced” news sources. They Rush to their radios to hear their daily Word. They listen, and especially come November, they will obey.
How does Karl Rove and company get the message out to such a large portion of America?
The answer may surprise you since you’d normally associate it with the Democrats…
Yup, the party that brought you Howard Dean’s Internet Grass Root Campaign is way behind the Grand Old Party at using technology to get a consistent message out to its followers.
For starters, according to Time Magazine (September 27, 2004 issue, “Blue Truth, Red Truth” by Nancy Gibbs):
In the past few weeks, as Bush moved into the lead for the first time in months, his home-field advantage became clear. Conservatives say that, of necessity, they learned long ago how to transmit their message below the radar of the mainstream media, academia and Hollywood. They became the masters of direct mail, which helped elect Ronald Reagan in 1980, and their next wave of messagemakers was much quicker to understand the power of talk radio, cable and blogs.
How effective are their new techniques? Well, it appears that you almost don’t even need a candidate.
Until the week of the Republican Convention, it had been three years since Bush had talked to the Washington Post or the New York Times. In his 3 1/2 years in office, he has given 15 press conferences, the fewest of any President in 50 years. But he has talked to Rush Limbaugh, and he’s scheduled to appear on the O’Reilly Factor this week. (Emphasis mine)
Lesson 1: Don’t have the message delivered via unbelievers. The traditional press may water down or even question the message. Better they never get the chance.
Lesson 2: Don’t put your candidate in potentially embarrassing situations. For this president, that’s public speaking. His mispronunciations are fodder for comedians. His confusion of names and facts is frustrating. Nope, better to not have him exposed — so limit the news conferences despite it being a time of war, despite terrorism, an unstable economy and an election year. Shelve the leadership to protect the message.
Lesson 3: Send the message through the channels that deliver it the most widely through voices that can inflame the faithful. Let Rush and O’Reilly speak, let our candidate be silent.
Here is a classic example of being “for us or against us”. If you’re suspected of questioning the message, if you’re not for us, we simply don’t speak to you. The power of a free press is dampened here by the press being used as a messenger, not a questioner.
Thus endeth the lesson.
So where does all this technology come into play? Here’s where the Republican Election Machine has really outpaced the Democrats. The message is not just passed, but parsed to single issue factions of the party via the web. Here they can speak to “Joe Lunchpail” about his hot button issue and create the image they want Mr. Lunchpail to have of the opposition.
While leery of the old media, this White House is expert at narrowcasting to the new. From the Amish to snowmobile users to stockcar-racing fans, the Bush coalitions are sliced like Bible leaves and addressed according to their specific priorities. Aiming to strengthen his socially conservative base, Bush in May sat down with a handful of journalists from religious media to discuss his opposition to abortion and gay marriage. The transcript of that long interview, even the fact that it was happening at all, was not released to the mainstream White House press corps. In May the campaign released a Web ad featuring Laura Bush talking about education, which ran on 60 sites, including cookinglight.com.
The campaign also keeps a close eye on the blogs, using them, just as it uses Limbaugh, to mainline information to the G.O.P. faithful. “Blogs are what talk radio was a few years ago,” says Bush campaign communications director Nicole Devenish. Her staff members regularly write, along with the message for the talk-radio circuit, the one that will go out to blogs and websites that link to the Bush campaign site. Bush staff members rely on technorati.com and truthlaidbear.com, which track political blogs and websites to see what items in local papers, on websites and in blogs are getting the most hits. “If a story moves up through the rankings and linking, we can know,” says one of the Bush staff members assigned to alert the rest of the team about which stories are moving through the blogosphere. “We can get indicators about stories before they break elsewhere. It’s like an early-warning system.”
…Unlike in February, when Kerry was less well known, by August the Bush team had constructed a cartoon narrative of Kerry as a phony, unprincipled opportunist. When the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth launched its ads claiming that Kerry had embellished his war record, the accusations fell on fertile soil. (Emphasis mine)
So, to get back to the only question of this campaign, how do you change a Bush supporter’s mind?
Kerry can make potential headway in these upcoming debates but he cannot afford to come across as an intellectual out of touch with reality. He has to ackowledge and champion topics that apply to Joe Lunchpail’s life. And somehow, some way, the Democrats have to find every ounce of charisma in their candidate and have it all on display.
IF they can do that, is there really any hope for Kerry? According to Time Magazine:
In 2000, 14% of voters said they decided which presidential candidate to vote for only in the final two weeks of the campaign; 5%, enough to swing most elections, decided the day they voted.
Kerry has to appeal to the undecided voters and energize them into his message. He has to somehow light a fire in them that will lead them to the ballot box, just as the Republicans have.
While there are still those who call themselves independent, prefer their news straight and have not decided whom to vote for, they may not be the target audience in this race. If Rove is right, the race will turn on which campaign has done a better job of finding its true believers, inspiring them with a stirring message and getting every last one to the polls on Election Day.
To answer the only question of this campaign, “How do you change a Bush supporter’s mind?”, in my opinion, you can’t. You cannot recreate the Republican Election Machine in five weeks.
You can only hope to motivate enough of those who have not succumbed to it.