To survive 2018 midterms, GOP must remember 'all politics is local'

To survive 2018 midterms, GOP must remember 'all politics is local'
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It is historically difficult for the party of any president to pick up seats in a midterm election, and that will especially be the case in 2018 when the country is so divided on President TrumpDonald TrumpFreedom Caucus member condemns GOP group pushing 'Anglo-Saxon political traditions' MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell's new free speech site to ban certain curse words Secret Facebook groups of special operations officers include racist comments, QAnon posts: report MORE’s performance. Democrats are already widely expected to capitalize on a wave of energy that could result in a takeover of one or both houses of Congress. Yet the steps Democrats must take to capitalize on their grassroots energy may provide Republicans the opportunity to remain in power.

In order to gin up their already excited base, Democrats will have to nationalize this election with a push for impeachment and obstruction of President Trump and his agenda. The insular base of the Democratic party that chooses their party’s primary candidates are energized by this talk of #RussiaGate and (literally) re-litigating the 2016 election. This effort provides an opportunity for Republicans to survive their races by exploiting the soft underbelly of their opponents’ narrative: Americans do not want impeachment and obstruction. They want a better future for themselves and their families.

Although it may be tempting to dismiss the reports of energy on the left as “fake news,” Republican candidates cannot simply rest on their laurels. Republican candidates must stay laser focused on their policy accomplishments, contrasting their records while exposing who their opponents are.

Some of the most prominent members of the Democratic party understand this reality, which is why former Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - CDC in limbo on J&J vax verdict; Rep. Brady retiring Biden to tap Erika Moritsugu as new Asian American and Pacific Islander liaison White House races clock to beat GOP attacks MORE (D-Nev.) and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, two pugnacious operators both known for relishing political brawls, recently advised their party against politicizing impeachment and the Russia investigation.

Sympathetic voices in the media have already caught on and have begun pumping the breaks also, as some fear that the calls for impeachment could backfire on the party. Indeed, they have already been a gift for Republicans seeking to energize their base and drive a wedge between moderate voters and the extreme left.

There are three key steps that Republican candidates looking to buck the historical trend should take.

First, Republicans must localize their races rather than allow them to become a referendum on the national political environment. Voters care more about personal issues impacting them than large, intangible national issues. Former Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill famously said that “all politics is local.” Republican candidates already facing headwinds should heed this advice and take it a step further by making their election about the actual candidates on the ballot for their race.

This is particularly important because the nationalization of our politics has transformed down-ballot races into likeability contests that center on who can be most trusted by the voters. Candidates in state and local races are now treated like presidential candidates, with voters choosing “who they’d rather have a beer with” as a lens to discern who to trust, and candidates who recognize this will be better equipped to survive tough races.

Next, Republicans need an information advantage. This means that their campaigns must have a firm understanding of their own vulnerabilities and what they are up against. Once a campaign has an intricate knowledge of an opponent’s record and qualifications, they can leverage it to expose and undermine the opponent in the public arena, contrast records and accomplishments, as well as proactively shore up any of their own vulnerabilities. Holding back on this foundational information until it is needed means that it is too late to be effective, particularly in today’s fast-moving political climate. That would result in political malpractice.

This brings us to the third, most important key to survival in November: Engage early and often. There is no substitute to defining your opponent early and addressing your own vulnerabilities before they become a problem. This requires “fire in the belly” and the means to back it up, so that your narrative crystallizes in voters’ minds long before they go into the voting booth.

Yes, this Fall’s midterms will be challenging for Republican candidates. However, as Democrats seem to be overplaying their hand by nationalizing races across the country, Republicans have a chance to flip the script if they can successfully localize their races and take the steps necessary to succeed in an unfavorable political environment.

Many Democratic primaries are filled to the brim with new, untested candidates who are not well known by voters. If Republicans can define those candidates in the eyes of the voters and expose their true, extreme nature and focus on obstruction rather than results, they can retain control of Congress.

Jeff Berkowitz is the founder and CEO of Delve, a Washington-based competitive intelligence firm. Before founding Delve, Jeff managed research and messaging operations for The George W. Bush White House, Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign, the Republican National Committee, and the U.S. Department of State.