GOP needs greater sense of urgency

Today, we’re entering the last 4,000 hours of the 2006 election cycle.
You may prefer to say that it’s 166 days until the election, but I believe it’s best to focus on the hours. It’s a state of mind that a crafty campaign manager once taught me.

Today, we’re entering the last 4,000 hours of the 2006 election cycle.

You may prefer to say that it’s 166 days until the election, but I believe it’s best to focus on the hours. It’s a state of mind that a crafty campaign manager once taught me.

His first act, whenever he took charge of a campaign, was to put a big wall clock in every room of the campaign headquarters. When I asked about it, he explained that the most important thing a manager can do is create a sense of urgency, every hour of every day.

That’s what the Republican Party needs right now. We need campaign leadership that instills urgency. It’s more important than scaring people about “Speaker Pelosi.” It’s more essential than smart policy ideas and plans. And it’s way more vital than strategic cleverness.

Even a bigger cash-on-hand balance in the campaign account is not the answer. Without a more profound sense of urgency, the worst fears of many Republicans may be realized.

There are four challenges to overcome in order to develop a winning attitude. The first of these is to develop a “moral center” for the campaign. Right now, too many Republicans seem to be running for morally ambiguous reasons, mostly to maintain the party’s majority. Holding control of Congress is a valid goal, but it’s hardly a moral justification for waging a campaign.

Striving for concepts such as “freedom and democracy” or “growth and opportunity” constitutes genuine and compelling moral justifications for the cause. Someone needs to establish that moral center to this effort.

Who that “someone” might be is another important challenge. Since Tom DeLay’s exit from this election, there are no high-profile Republicans that possess the manic, driven personality that animates campaigns and the party faithful into frenzied action. Many in the current Congress are capable logrollers, but they don’t seem to be electoral leaders. This may not constitute a notable competitive disadvantage inasmuch as the same criticism could be aimed at the Democrats, but I’m not so sure. Between that screamer Howard Dean and “fingernails on the blackboard” Nancy Pelosi, the rank-and-file Democrats are sure to receive the motivation they need to get up and do what needs to be done. Will we?

A third and related factor is building a stronger will to win. I am convinced that many rank-and-file Republicans, as well as some so-called leaders of the party, have lost their resolve because of the party’s failure to win more consistent legislative victories. Winning victories through the passage of legislation creates excitement and passion. It whets the palate for more success.

Imagine how much excitement could be created by the Republicans’ doing just three things that are within our grasp: passing comprehensive immigration reforms, enacting some new consumer-friendly energy policies and confirming a group of conservative federal judges. Even those Republicans who might disagree with some portion of immigration reform would nevertheless be energized by the approval of something they could challenge later. As it stands, the stalemate is numbing everyone into wholesale inaction.

The final challenge to urgency is the retreat to the idea that “all politics is local.” I see a lot of Republicans, worried about the president’s and the Congress’s low approval ratings, saying they will just go home and campaign on local issues and their service to their communities. That’s a purely defensive strategy that will leave the party high and dry. If should appeal only to those who will be satisfied holding office in the minority.

Republicans need to stop ruminating on the history of midterm elections and analyzing the latest polls like predestinarian theologians. Polls and historical precedents are informative, but they won’t control our future unless we allow them to.

Hill is director of Hill Research Consultants, a Texas-based firm that has polled for GOP candidates and causes since 1988.