And you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve
of destruction.

“Eve of Destruction” by Barry McGuire

A #1 Hit in 1965


Well, it’s shutdown time again, and the caterwauling by the media makes it appear as though there can only be one result – Barack Obama gets everything he wants, and the GOP faces a stunning rebuke in 2014 from an outraged public that wants its highly-efficient, non-wasteful government simply left alone to grow more powerful.

That’s a tongue-in-cheek way of noting that, with a few exceptions, most of the major media is rooting heavily against the GOP.  With that in mind, we need to exert tremendous message discipline and focus.

Believe it or not, there have been 17 government shutdowns since the “modern” congressional budgeting process took effect in 1976, including seven shutdowns when Tip O’Neill was Speaker and Ronald Reagan was President.

The table below shows that we are starting from a much better point than in 1995, although given the bully pulpit that Obama has, we need to maintain our messaging.
Public Divided Over Who Would be  More to Blame if Gov’t Shuts Down
Key messages for Republicans:

Barack Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi refuse to compromise. 

This is the most important point to hit.  They are saying that they have to get everything they want, and not one dollar, not one program less.  Harry Reid spiked any chance of negotiations and discussions, and, rather than show leadership, Barack Obama went along with it.  Thus, they are saying if they don’t get what they want, they will risk blowing up the economy in the belief that it will be blamed on Republicans.  Refusing to compromise is a huge dereliction of leadership.  So much for changing the tone in Washington.

Republicans have already offered a compromise.

We’ve gone from wanting to kill Obamacare to delaying it a year.  That’s a pretty big move and is worthy of negotiation, not sneering rejection.  If other parts of Obamacare have already been delayed (illegally at that, since the delayed parts also had deadlines), then it is only fair that the individual mandate be delayed.  Obama’s refusal to negotiate and compromise needs to be hammered home.  The press won’t cover it unless we say it.
If the government is too small and does not spend enough money, then the Democrats are right.

But, if you believe the government is too big and spends too much money, then this is a fight worth having.  The Democrats said the end of the world was nigh at the time of sequestration, and yet it has barely been a ripple.

Even better (or worse?), Pelosi underscored how out of touch they are when she claimed that there are no more cuts to make.  We need to make the Democrats regret that as much as they regret her “have to pass the bill to read what’s in it” comment.  Any voter who agrees with her statement would never vote Republican anyhow, so use this all the time to show voters the moronic mind-set you are fighting against.  Keep the public focused on the spending and size of government part of this fight.

Essential government functions will continue.

The good news is, the military will continue to be paid, Social Security checks will continue to go out, mail delivery will continue, and other vital government functions will continue.  Essential government functions will continue, so it’s not quite the end of the world as we know it.  We need to reinforce that point in our communications efforts.

Obama is being held captive by his liberal base.

For all of the anger the Democrats are spewing about the Tea Party, it is the liberal base that is standing in the way of compromise.  The special interest groups on the left are the ones who are squawking about no cuts in government, no changes to Obamacare, and no deals.  Yes, both sides are fundraising off this (shocking!), but only one side is refusing to talk, is refusing to negotiate.  Obama claims to be standing on principle, but he is doing it because his liberal funders will not tolerate any changes.

Do not trivialize or run down people affected by the shutdown.

As noted above, the military will continue to be paid, Social Security checks will continue to go out, mail delivery will continue, and other vital government functions will continue.  Do not take shots at people – especially government workers.  That will only backfire. Instead, highlight the wasteful programs that Democrats believe need maximum funding.

Also, express regret that it got to this.  Republicans have already offered compromise, and the Democrats are the ones refusing to budge.

No retreat, baby, no surrender.

While Bruce Springsteen may be a liberal (although I bet he doesn’t voluntarily pay extra taxes), he’s right.  Republicans have to get something tangible from this, or the base will be devastated going into 2014.  That does not mean no compromise – last I looked, the Democrats control two-thirds of the power in D.C., so the GOP is not going to get everything it wants.  But, neither should the Democrats expect to get everything they want either.  No one is going to be completely happy, but that’s what deals are made of.

Bottom Line

The amount of caterwauling over the next few days is going to be significant.  Republicans are going to be hammered for things we do not do, while Democrats will be portrayed as being perfect.  We do not have the same sized megaphone as the President and the press do, but we need to drive the above message points home to our voters – to both Independents and Republicans.

Final note – Here is a link to a review of shutdown polling from 1995-1996

Public Opinion Strategies