Guest Post: ‘Winning Elections’ by Linda Calhoun

Winning Elections

by Linda Calhoun

A few months ago I went back and reread the GOPAC memo, written in 1993 by then Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. It addressed “the way to win elections”. In a nutshell, it advised candidates and their handlers to use pejorative adjectives to describe their opponents, and soaring, “patriotic” adjectives to describe themselves and their party.

Gingrich outlined several positive consequences of this strategy. Two of them jumped out at me; first was that it would “keep people emotionally aroused”, and then that it would enable the user to “avoid talking about the issues”.

Clearly, it worked. In the ensuing quarter century, we have almost completely stopped talking about the issues, and we are certainly “emotionally aroused”.

As a result, I have been thinking a lot about how we turn this situation around. Because, while it may win elections, it absolutely does not help us to solve the issues facing our country and our world.

If you’re running for office, why would you want to AVOID talking about the issues? And, what is the purpose of “keeping people emotionally aroused”?

The answers, in my opinion, have to do with the differences in the life approaches to information gathering between progressive personalities and conservative personalities. And, I’ll say up front that I am not optimistic about bridging those differences.

Talking About Election Issues

The issues that confront us are complex, and most of them have no obvious best solution. A lot of potential strategies necessarily involve tradeoffs, and constant monitoring and reevaluation of results. This involves work. Looking for simple solutions to complex problems may entice us, but those solutions are ineffective. If there were a simple solution to a problem, we would already have used it, and there wouldn’t be a problem.

Conservatism, by its very nature, is not creative. Innovation is not a conservative skill. The conservative personality values stasis. So, one of the first strategies they use is to deny that there’s a problem at all. Change is bad, right? In an ideal world, conservatism would serve as a counterweight to the “liberal” flight of fancy, and it would urge sober examination of possible consequences to a creative leap. But here in our real world, this potentially helpful balance has devolved into their responding to each and every idea with, “That will never work.” It never seems to occur to them that all of their cherished beliefs were once those very flights of fancy.

Arousing Emotions vs Fear in Elections

The emotional arousal thing, in my view, is an even bigger problem. At the core of all of conservatism’s view is fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of the other, fear of change, fear of differences all lie at the heart of why the conservative personality clings to stasis. Keeping people emotionally aroused works on the conservative personality.

I am reminded of someone who is at the heart of right-wing talk radio who described trying the same idea on progressives. It never took off. The progressive personality just doesn’t have that same arousablity. Plus, the progressive personality tends to do more fact-checking.

Cartoon fake news and electionsWhich brings me to the next issue. How do people decide what is true? We are, all of us, no matter our approach to life, vulnerable to confirmation bias to some degree. However, that vulnerability is much more pronounced in the conservative personality than in the progressive personality. Just look at the term “flip-flopper”, used by politicians on other politicians. This is supposed to denote people who are opportunistic in their positions, telling potential voters what they want to hear instead of having a firm belief. But, couldn’t that uncertainty also validly describe people who, seeing that an issue is complex, are willing to be open to new information and broader ideas?

Empathy is another sticking point. Conservatives see empathy as a weakness to be overcome. It’s not that they don’t feel empathy; it’s that they see it as a problem. Again, where did the terms “tough love” and “bleeding heart liberal” come from? Go back to the spirit of the GOPAC memo. Use pejoratives on your opponents and positives to describe your allies.

Authority vs Equality

Another impediment is that the conservative personality is more comfortable with hierarchy, whereas the progressive personality is more comfortable with equality. I was in college during the Viet Nam war. When I heard people talking about whether we should be there, it struck me that there really are two views of patriotism. Conservatives view country as a parent, to be blindly obeyed. Progressives view country as a child, for whose behavior we are responsible. How can we possibly get past that? We never really did get past it.

So, here we are, snarling Americans, unable to work together, yet facing disaster if we don’t. I hear two views of the way forward. The first advocates attempting to engage conservatives, trying to bring them around to understanding that their positions are self-destructive. The other idea is to ignore them and overwhelm them with our votes in November. I started out in the first position, but I’m coming to believe that the second is the only real solution. I’ve had too many times recently of listening to one of them start raging, complete with veins throbbing, faces reddening, and eyes bugging out, to think that they are reachable.

Vote, people. Get others to vote, too, if possible. Participate. Do research. Engage. And, even if someone is raging at you, try to back off and listen. Listening is magic. Maybe you won’t change any minds, but it’s still better than screaming back. It will at least give you information about who to watch your back around.

Fake News in Elections Cartoon



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34 Responses to “Guest Post: ‘Winning Elections’ by Linda Calhoun”

  1. Diane G. says:

    Excellent article, Linda! I so agree that the only strategy with half a chance is to motivate progressives to get out and vote!

    I am reminded of someone who is at the heart of right-wing talk radio who described trying the same idea on progressives. It never took off. The progressive personality just doesn’t have that same arousablity. Plus, the progressive personality tends to do more fact-checking.

    Which ends up with the progressives always sounding, well, boring. This is indeed why left-wing talk radio never took off. IIRC the majority of those dubbed “policy wonks” are liberals.

    I totally agree that it’s fruitless and time-wasting to try to persuade the current right to compromise, and I wish the Dems would stop with the hair shirts and concentrate on finding decent, charismatic candidates.

    It’s also a fool’s errand to keep seeking out the “average Trump voter” in order to listen to their concerns. They all say the same things, most of them out of the evangelical playbook.

    (Ever hear the phrase, “Cletus Safari?” This refers to progressive journalists who keep trying to interview the stereotypical Trump voter and ask him why he voted the way he did. If I read one more article based on that premise I’ll shoot myself.)

    And thank you for reading the GOPAC article so I don’t have to.

  2. Randall Schenck says:

    Very good words. I too spent some time in college during the Vietnam conflict, however it was a long one and I spent some of it in the service as well, but not Vietnam, fortunately. These two apposing forces, conservatives and everyone else have always been part of the fabric of our government and we can go all the way back to Madison, Hamilton and Jefferson and blame them. They had other names for them but essentially, just know that Hamilton was our guy. I do think the solution to the problem could be fixed today but it is unlikely that it will be. Sad thing is, there is nothing else that will fix it. So even if you get the masses out there to vote our way and the Democrats or whatever they are called, take over, get the majority as we say, it will not really fix the problem. You will think it did but I can tell you it will not. When did it really fix it before? The absolute problem is just the simple fact of money. It runs our government, determines who runs and becomes their obsession when serving. Unless you fix this problem, nothing will really change. So get your copy of the Constitution out and review Article 5 for changes to said document and get to work. The first Amendment to pass is one for public funding of our national campaigns. No more private money of any kind, even your own. This will and can change everything. It will change who and what type of people run for office. It will give equality to the playing field. Most import, it will kill K-street and Lobby. There are other changes needed but that is the big one. Now, don’t ask me why most people do not know this and agree with me. I have no idea.

    • Diane G. says:

      I know that and couldn’t agree more, Randall!

      I think the two mindsets will always be with us–IIRC there are some data that show that proclivities for one side or the other may be innate. And the yin-yang that results may have some adaptive value (in some situations one mindset is more successful than the other, and vice versa). Addressing campaign finance would indeed allow better candidates to run for office who, once elected, will understand the need to work together and compromise.

      • Randall Schenck says:

        Yes, when we see what happened last week in Virginia, I think the republicans are going to get rolled this year. But, money still corrupts and has turned this U.S. Congress into jello and an almost useless institution. It is the special interest/lobby that runs this country and the vote means very little. As George Carlin told us long ago, they own this country and the little club that runs it….you are not in it.

    • nicky says:

      Yes, I think that is indeed the most important reason US politics and Govt have become a swamp (for once Mr Trump was not lying calling it a swamp, although he did not mention he’d be the Salamander in Chief with not the slightest intention of draining it, on the contrary)

  3. Lee Knuth says:

    A column woe he sharing. May the message for all progressives to vote resonate. There will always be differences of opinions but one hopes decorum will return.

  4. Mark R. says:

    Thanks for this salient post. I’m pretty much in 100% agreement with your analysis and the way to fix it…VOTE. Though I’m also with Randy in that if we don’t get the big and/or dark money out of politics, voting will be inconsequential and this experiment we call American democracy is doomed. And again, we can only achieve this needed change through voting the right people into office.

    Unfortunately, with today’s SCOTUS, I don’t see them reversing Citizens United in my lifetime and I’m 49. And if trump replaces one of the liberal justices with another one of his young religious ideologues the American theocracy experiment might well be on its way.

    For now (so I don’t get completely overwhelmed by pessimism) I try to narrow my focus on the 2018 midterms. I donate, write letters, sign petitions, stay engaged and occasionally call members of Congress, but can never get through. I think I’ve called Paul Ryan’s office to protest a dozen times before giving up; he can’t be bothered by the public. I’m going on small acts of hope and decency. We must check trump’s abusive power first and foremost. Then move on from there. If we don’t take at least the House this November, I fear we’re truly fu@#ed. Any of the momentum and hope the resistance has gained will be extinguished, and that is how democracies die.

    • Randall Schenck says:

      One small thing on the Citizen United or any other campaign financing laws. All of this would be null and void with the passing of any Amendments to the Constitution. If you have total public funding of your elections there is no private moneys allowed. That goes for the people, the corporations, partnerships or any other institution you come up with. Even individual rich people who would like to use their own money. This would no longer be possible. There is also no reason not to include certain dates when this money will be available for each candidate. This could shorten the campaign time considerably. We need to get off of this idea that congress or the court is running the show here. It is or should be the people.

      • Mark R. says:

        Passing an Amendment to the Constitution to solve this gives me absolutely no hope. 🙁 The majority of today’s SCOTUS justices have been proven to be ultra-pro-corporation. Corporations own the majority of justices and the politicians and corporations will never pass fair finance laws. They know they’re in the minority democracy-wise, but as long as they know how to keep the power ($$$), the power will be kept.

        The idea that congress or the court is running the show here isn’t really an idea, it’s reality in plain sight. You’re right that it should be the people, but we’re not living in that type of democracy in the good ol’ US of A right now. It’s not over yet, but we’re on the losing team on many fronts.

  5. nicky says:

    I think your analysis has a lot of truth in it, and I appreciated its. However, I find it somehow too much ‘bipolar’ (😆) There is so much more than ‘conservative’ and ‘progressive’. Moreover, I think that you did not give enough weight to conservative values (note, I do not consider myself a ‘conservative’, except in nature conservation 😆), such as personal responsibility, honour, honesty, duty, loyalty, stability and continuity, not to mention rule of law. These are (IMMO) respectable values.
    That being said, I’m really awed by Mr Gingerich’s blueprint for winning elections. It goes without saying that much of it goes straight against the ‘conservative’ ideals just mentioned.
    What I have difficulty with is the RINO label, it is applied by those I would consider RINOs to those that should be considered ‘real republicans’, in the mould of Mr Rooseveldt (Teddy) or Mr Eisenhower.

    • I agree completely that says:

      “…I find it somehow too much ‘bipolar’ There is so much more than ‘conservative’ and ‘progressive’. Moreover, I think that you did not give enough weight to conservative values (note, I do not consider myself a ‘conservative’, except in nature conservation), such as personal responsibility, honour, honesty, duty, loyalty, stability and continuity, not to mention rule of law. These are (IMMO) respectable values.”

      I agree with you that my descriptions are dichotomous. I also agree that personality is way more complex than that. However, I needed to use that format to illustrate the differences in approach. To get into the realities of the continuum would have taken way more than a column, and I don’t think Heather wanted a term paper.

      I, too, am a “conservative” in the traditional sense of valuing conservation. Sometimes I get annoyed that THOSE people have usurped the true meaning.

      I do not, though, agree that the values you list are “conservative” values, any more than I think that love is a Christian value. Honesty? Are you serious? Loyalty? As practices by Donald Trump? Rule of law? When it’s convenient maybe. I once had a university administrator at New Mexico State U tell me that the US Constitution didn’t apply to them.

      The values you list may be claimed by conservatives, but all you have to do is observe their behavior to know that they don’t mean a word of it.


      • Randall Schenck says:

        If we are defining conservative in the republican sense it is best to stay with the political. Things like trust or loyalty, honour are not it. It would be things like: do not like change, always looking back, strong on states rights and hate most everything at the federal level. The true republican ideas are mostly to destroy most government programs, such as social security, anything to do with health care, any govt. program for the poor. Mostly they like the 1920s. Vote them into office and you get what we have.

        • nicky says:

          Maybe I’m influenced by people I knew, who considered themselves conservatives, but held the values mentioned above as primary, non-negotiable, essential. Most of them are dead now (the scythe of time), but I still think of them highly.
          I had a lot of discussions with them, some heated, but I never ever had reason to doubt their integrity or honour. Maybe that is the most important reason I hate the present bunch of ‘conservatives’ in the US. They smear the reputation of some I still hold in high esteem (although differing).

      • nicky says:

        I agree completely that the present bunch of ‘conservatives’ do not adhere to those ‘traditional’ conservative values. Something I deplore. Many, if not most, have lost all personal integrity, and flout those values. And with loyalty I did not mean loyalty to Mr Trump, but more generally, loyalty to your ideas and ideals, for a US conservative that would include loyalty to the spirit of their Constitution.
        What is more edifying than conservatives and progressives finding some common ground? In the present climate in the US that appears close to impossible. Sad.

        • nicky says:

          There are still a few that I can think of of that might still adhere to the vallues mentioned. Mr Mueller, Mr Rosenstein, Mr Burr, Ms Rice, maybe also Mr Flake or Mr Comey, or even Mr Paul?
          I disagree with much of their political views (as far as I know them), but at least they appear to have some degree of personal integrity. Contrast that to Mr Ryan, Mr McConnell, Mr Nunes, or the bunch surrounding the (illegitimate, immo) POTUS, such as Mr Pruitt.

  6. Randall Schenck says:

    This is just some late news just coming out on the Trump saga. All of the stuff taken from the Cohen offices will be released to the prosecutors Friday. Also, Apparently Paul Manafort has been tampering with witnesses so he may be locked up awaiting trials. Anyway, if you have been wondering about all the nutty tweets coming out from Trump, this could be some of the cause.

  7. nicky says:

    What Mr Gingerich did not mention is the systematic accusation of your opponents of what you are guilty of yourself.
    Trumpism uses this tactic -well ‘uses’,it is integral part of Trumpism- to great effect.
    It is so strong that when Mr Trump comes with an accusation, one asks oneself: ‘what has he been up to now again?’ e.g. when he accuses the FBI of having embedded a ‘spy’ in his campaign, one should start looking for a mole in the Dem campaign. Unless hexs thinking of info he got from his Russian bosses via the hacking of the Dem computers that could account for that.

  8. Randall Schenck says:

    I think Gingerich was on TV this morning, hocking some book. I seem to remember that he is a member of the three time losers club along with Guiliani and Trump. The three musketeers as they say. All have been married three times so there must be some type of character flaw of importance.

  9. nicky says:

    I must confess I’m kinda getting obsessed with Mr Trump too.
    I’m getting more and more convinced he is a Russian shill.
    What are putin’s aims?
    1 – lift sanctions
    2 – devide the Western alliance
    3 – isolate the US
    4 – devide the US from within.
    MrTrump: tried 1, is putting great efforts into 2 and 3 , such as denigrating NATO, and eagerness to start trade wars among allies, and 4 needs no comment (well it needs a lot of comment, but we all know and it would lead us too far into details)
    Even if I’m seeing ghosts, and Mr Trump is not a Russian shill, I’m still left with the question, what would a Russian shill do? Exactly what Mr Trump is doing. The more I think about it, the deeper I sink into this conspiracy theory. I am a great sceptic as far as conspiracy theories go, but here? Am I loosing my critical sense? It is so surreal, I have difficulty to believe it, but still I do. Am I going crackpot?

    • I think he’s partly being unknowingly manipulated, and partly his incompetence, character, and doing what he thinks is right turns out to be just what the Russians want.

      Trump responds to flattery for example. Leaders like Putin and Xi are prepared to do that in order to get what they want. They have no problem lying to him, and he believes them because they’re nice to him. The leaders of allies like Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Great Britain etc are honest and professional with him. He can’t handle that. Because of the kind of person he is, they hold him in personal contmpt. They don’t like him, and Trump senses that. He thinks it’s all about being friends.

      During Obama’s administration, the Republicans complained ad infinitum that the bad personal relationship between him and Netanyahu was a Very Bad Thing. The two men really didn’t get on. However, on a country to country basis they were excellent. Several Israelis in their government said they’d never been better. It was a professional relationship based on agreements, treaties, contracts etc that were honoured on both sides.

      Trump doesn’t get that. He’s only ever run a small, family business. When he talks of thousands of people working for him, he’s counting all the staff of contractors, sub-contractors, and other such people.

      • Randall Schenck says:

        I must say I think you are far to timid on this person. It will all become fully apparent to all that he is owned and operated by the Russians and Putin. The Russians hacked the DNC, provided all the mail to WIKI leaks in concert with the trump campaign. Regarding the soviet internet business during the campaign, that is already proven and for crying out load, Bannon was one of the owners of this foreign company doing all of this. This and much much more will be presented by Mueller’s investigation. Manafort is about to inter jail soon and he will have to be dumber than he looks not to flip before this is over. With lawyers like Giuliani, Trump is going nowhere fast. Avenatti called Giuliani a pig last night for what he said about Daniels. Ask yourself, have you ever seen anyone acting more guilty than Trump?

        • Giuliani wasn’t just a pig. He was a complete a$$ho£e!

          I’m not saying Trump isn’t owned by the Russians. I think he is. And of course you’re right about how guilty he’s acting. I just think Trump might have fallen into this as a patsy, not realizing how completely stupid he was being. For example, he took Manafort on because he didn’t have to pay him. The Russians were able to use Trump because he was more concerned with doing in the cost than anything else. He’s now realized this, and doesn’t want it exposed how stupid he was.

          However, there are also dodgy Russian financial dealings I think, which may or may not be part of what Putin has on him. Putin definitely has something imo.

          And Trump couldn’t act more guilty if he tried.

          I just don’t think he got into the collusion part deliberately. He got in by being foolish. He thinks that should exonerate him, but doesn’t want that exposed.

          • Randall Schenck says:

            I cannot agree with that last part. Did get into all of it deliberately and with purpose. When do you think Trump started up with Manafort, just before he became campaign manager for free. They had been in business, if that’s what they call it, for years. Wherever the next building project was going to be over seas Manafort was close by. There was also this building designer who designed many of the trump projects but he has suddenly disappeared, just a week or so ago. I cannot remember the name but he was recently contacted by a journalist and within a week he was shut down and gone. Maddow talked about that the other day.

            Guess what Trump just put out today on his way to the G7. He said they need to let Russia back in. That is how bought and paid for he is. And so stupid he does not think everyone else does not know how wrong that is. Yeah, Russia just spent the last two years busting our election all to hell but lets bring them back to the party.

          • Russia never had a strong enough economy to be in the G8 in the first place. It was a face-saving device to make him feel important. (There was a particular reason, but it’s slipped my mind.) I doubt Trump understands that..

      • nicky says:

        Well I do seeyour point, and it would be a very reasonable one if not for:
        The Sater emails (Buddy, our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it) from November 2015, 5 months after Mr Trump announcing his running, but well before the primaries.
        The -now established- pro-Trump troll factory in Russia,
        The indictment of several Trump campaingners for lying about contacts with ‘Russians’ -the fact they had so many contacts
        Mr Trump not releasing his tax returns and going apoplectic when Mueller comes close to his ‘business’, etc. etc.

        I’m not as well informed as Randall, but I’d also say you put the most innocent and “timid” explanation on it.

        • I just think his personality of entitlement means he thinks the law shouldn’t apply to him, and so he himself genuinely believes he hasn’t done anything wrong. Even when he is convicted of the state crimes, he still won’t see he was wrong and it was a witch hunt. His personality is such a lot of people (and I mean millions) will believe him. I doubt he would ever understand the seriousness of being impeached either. He will personally believe his motives were good, and therefore it’s all okay. The people around him, that he persuaded, are another matter.

          I can’t wait to see Trump in prison. He is a completely revolting creature. I especially want the 13 year old he raped in front of witnesses to take him to court.

          He will either remain in denial throughout it all, or the reality will suddenly hit, at which point he’ll probably get out of his punishment by having a heart attack. That’s how he stays healthy – he believes he’s healthy, and he’s been doing it his whole life, and it’s so strong it’s mind over matter.

  10. nicky says:

    Let me put it differently.
    Mr Trump’s businesses did pretty well as long as he had real CEO’s running them. As soon as he takes over: bankruptcy.
    The conman and TV star was basically bankrupt. Come in the Russian oligarchs with truckloads of money to invest. They are close to Mr Putin, former KGB, who has become a rich oligarch himself. They give him money, helped him out, but they want something in return. It probably started with point 1 (sanctions, see above) but once it became clear that Mr Trump, deep their debt, sucessfully heeded their plans and might indeed become POTUS, the plan expanded: what could not be achieved by having a shill in the WH? See points 2-4.
    Now I do not say it is not all due to Mr Trump’s personality disorder, but the Russian connections leads us (at least me) to think of a real conspiracy.

  11. Randall Schenck says:

    Do not think me the expert on this at all. Probably the word to use instead of timid is just cautious. I have not tried to catalog this stuff and I forget. After reading Russian Roulette things just piled up so high it was too much. From the Steele dossier to figuring out Cohen and Manafot and all the rest only Mueller has the real story by now and what a book that will be. How all of this happens and we have a congress that does nothing is something new. The Constitution of this country is old and worn out and not sufficient any longer. The myth of checks and balances no longer applies so even if we somehow survive this, it is unlikely it can be fixed.

    • Randall Schenck says:

      I should have included this one thing. In the old days, anytime before Trump, when any foreign country or individual contacts an election campaign in any way, it was turned over to the FBI asap. It was just done. With these guys, the contacts with Russians was constant and relentless. Yet nothing was reported, nothing turned in. Right now a congressman is attempting to put in a bill, a law requiring this. And think of it. Nothing has been done to stop the Russians doing the same thing this fall. They are doing it now.

      • nicky says:

        I do not really understand what you’re saying.
        Does not the FBI get some undeserved flak now for trying to get some information about some in Mr Trump’s campaign with Russian contacs?

        • Randall Schenck says:

          What I am saying is – the standard procedure for anyone in an election campaign who is contacted by a foreign person or organization about the election or wanting to help with the election is to turn it over to the FBI immediately. I am not talking about investigations after the fact or any of that. I only am saying for instance, you were a person working on the Obama election back in 2007. If some one from Russia came up to you with ideas on how they could help you get him elected, your first action would be to call the FBI. How many calls did the FBI get from all the people in the Trump campaign about Russian contacts or even a phone call.

          Sorry if this was not clear.

          • nicky says:

            It is clear now, get your point loud and clear.
            Mrs Manafort, Flynn, Trump Jr and several more of their ilk, should have contacted the FBI, in other words. The fact they didn’t is unusual , it appears, and hence suspect no doubt, but is it illegal? The fact we have this ‘Mueller investigation’ seems to say yes, it could be.
            (You would know, that is what I mean when I say you know much more about these things than I do).

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