Republican Glenn Youngkin’s victory over former Virginia Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe has led most observers to predict that Republicans are sure to make big gains in next year’s midterms. While I agree that the election gives Republicans cause for enthusiasm, I have learned during more than four decades in politics that overreach and assumptions represent a path to political failure.
According to a USA Today/Suffolk poll, President Joe Biden’s approval rating is 38%, and Vice President Kamala Harris is at 28%. Of the top three things the respondents wanted Biden to do in the next year, 20% mentioned “Resign/retire/quit,” 11% said the “economy/jobs” and 8% said “unite/help the country.”
These approval ratings reflect the poor performance of the Biden administration, but it would be poor political strategy to assume that these ratings are set in stone. It’s impossible to predict with certainty what might happen and to plan your strategy around winning because your opponent is terrible or is not smart. We should prepare ourselves to beat the best of whatever the Democrats can bring to the contest. We Republicans need to up our game.
Luckily, we can do so if we follow the advice of Will Ritter. He’s the founder and CEO of Poolhouse Agency, which produced 40 ads for the Youngkin campaign. He had it exactly right when he tweeted this week, “365 days until the midterms, and the Democrats Trump-era lease on the suburbs expired last Tuesday. And 2022 will hinge on candidate quality and who is more believably addressing real problems that effect (sic) voters lives — not who can win the op-ed, twitter, or cable news battle du jour.”
The key part is candidate quality and focusing on solving voters’ real problems.
It’s not enough to be better than a terrible opponent; we should also strive to be better than the best Democratic candidate.
Let’s reflect on what can happen if we fail to consider quality. In October 2010, Republican Senate nominee in Delaware, Christine O’Donnell, aired an ad in which she said, speaking directly into the camera: “I’m not a witch. I’m nothing you’ve heard. I’m you. None of us are perfect, but none of us can be happy with what we see all around us: politicians who think spending, trading favors and backroom deals are the ways to stay in office. I’ll go to Washington and do what you’d do. I’m Christine O’Donnell, and I approve this message. I’m you.” She was referring to a 1999 Bill Maher Politically Incorrect episode, which had not even aired, in which she mentioned she had “dabbled in witchcraft.” She lost to Democrat Chris Coons 57% to 40%. Coons is still serving as a U.S. senator today.
Ritter reiterated the importance of candidate quality in a tweet. “@GlennYoungkin was a fantastic candidate, worked 18/hrs day ... and the campaign was successful bc we focused on 3 things that were affecting people’s lives on a daily basis: Schools, Safety, and the Cost of Living. Avoided national & DC twitterverse issues.”
Positive message, focusing on real issues and a quality candidate — a winning combination.
Candidates themselves should stick with positive messages regarding issues candidates care about, and let other groups lay out the negative arguments. While many candidates are running to former President Donald Trump for an endorsement, my recommendation is that no candidate should base their campaign on anyone’s endorsement, not Trump’s or anyone else’s. Voters are looking to vote for someone because they want to help the candidate who lays out a vision of a brighter future for themselves and their families. The focus should be on the voters — not other politicians.
It’s easy to say, “Well, Biden’s just so bad, there is no way we can lose.” Whether in sports, business or politics, if your strategy depends on having a terrible opponent, you’re not competing at the highest level, and the American people deserve the best.
Americans deserve the absolute best elected officials, and I believe that Republicans can offer that — let’s just up our game.