Frank Luntz was a lot more than a message guru. Luntz and his focus groups singlehandedly kept the GOP on the right side of elections, public opinion and the International Criminal Court by coming up with ways to not just get the American people to tolerate war, torture and corporate oligarchy but to cherish these things like they were written into the Constitution by Jesus himself. A few weeks ago Luntz quit his lucrative job well short of what most consider a normal retirement age. Why? Glad you asked (emphasis mine).
Luntz knew that he, a maker of political messages and attacks and advertisements, had helped create this negativity, and it haunted him. But it was Obama he principally blamed. The people in his focus groups, he perceived, had absorbed the president’s message of class divisions, haves and have-nots, of redistribution. It was a message Luntz believed to be profoundly wrong, but one so powerful he had no slogans, no arguments with which to beat it back.
A few days ago Eric Cantor stood in front of his gathered Congressional caucus and tried his level best to explain – using simple words and pictures where needed – that the number of people who work for someone else adds up to a lot more than 47%.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Cantor’s presentation was that it included a recognition that in the past Republicans have focused more on the nation’s employers than employees, have talked about small business owners and entrepreneurs to the exclusion of the far greater number of Americans who don’t own their own businesses.
“Ninety percent of Americans work for someone else,” Cantor said, according to a source in the room. “Most of them not only will never own their own business, for most of them that isn’t their dream. Their dream is to have a good job, with an income that will allow them to support their family.”
“We shouldn’t miss the chance to talk to these people,” Cantor continued, according to the source, “which is why we will present and pass our plans to relieve the middle class squeeze.”
Without knowing exactly what followed I imagine Cantor explained to his caucus that they will not solve this issue with cuts to the top marginal tax rate, a flat tax, tort reform, deregulating the energy sector, regulating women’s private business, repealing Obamacare (he might have spent extra time on that one), mandatory gun ownership, repealing the seventeenth amendment (seriously, WTF guys?) or passing a ban on gay marriage, interracial marriage, flag burning, contraception, STD vaccines or climate science. Being a sensible man Cantor will not have ruled out making very concerned noises without ever supporting any actual plan. Frank Luntz would endorse that strategy if he still did that sort of thing. But Luntz quit, so expect a Romney-style hastily assembled hail mary plan with shortcomings that will prove obvious to your average third grader.
Whether anyone in Congress relishes sucking up to the powerful more than Eric Ivan Cantor, and I think that a jury who can weigh enough relevant evidence to make that call without tossing their cookies should be put on a no fly list, I can say that economic populism does not come easy to the guy. He will support policies which inconvenience those who can afford his marionette paddle if and only if said people have already decided that they face a lot worse without them. Someone out there is awfully scared of Elizabeth Warren.
Now, I don’t think that Cantor will pull this pirouette off. As with immigration he cannot propose anything that might pass the laugh test or the tea party will burn him at the stake. But it is a sign that maybe, just maybe, everybody on the other side of the Democrats’ next election thinks that income disparity is a potent message with no good counterargument.
So. Anyone feel like winning a Congressional election? You do not often find a winning strategy laid out so thoughtfully on a silver platter.