In the run-up to a presidential election year, the talk is all about turning out the base. Candidates who don’t spend their early campaign efforts courting their base voters will have a hard time just getting past the primaries. So for much of the election cycle, the discussion is taking place among political insiders, mostly people who vote in primaries. By the time the primary contest is decided somewhere in the second half of the election year, the candidate has had little time to focus on reaching the general public for the general election, and has to turn the entire campaign apparatus on a dime from a base-focused campaign to a general-focused campaign. Thus, a candidate has roughly four months to introduce himself and his platform to the general public before Election Day. And meanwhile, for many months before that switch, the left (abetted by a complicit media) will be savaging and misrepresenting the candidate and his views, poisoning the electorate against him. The candidate will have a mere few months in comparison to try to turn that impression around, an uphill battle no matter how you look at it.
Sure, that’s how politics works. But it doesn’t have to.
Conservative and libertarian values are still very much alive in this country, even if conservative and libertarian politicians and the Republican Party are getting a bum rap. The problem just might be the way we look at elections and the culture. ‘Elections’ happen on one day, ‘campaigns’ happen over months, but ‘culture’ is influencing people every day. If candidates and the GOP attempt to undo in four months what culture accomplishes in twenty-four months, they will nearly always fall short.
At the same time, it’s hard to get apolitical people to listen in the spring of 2015 about your candidate running for president in the fall of 2016. It’s complicated and difficult to engage people about candidates – and party politics – now, when 2016 isn’t even on their radar yet.
And when many of us DO talk about politics, we’re married to the idea that it means selling a candidate or a party, promoting a brand. Those things are important, but we all know there are people who turn off at the slightest mention of obvious political entities. So talking about the GOP and the various candidates can sound like Charlie Brown’s Teacher to folks who just aren’t up to getting into the election cycle at this stage.
But what CAN we be doing right now? If people aren’t ready to talk about candidates, how do we reach them?
Cori and Andy Peth from The Party Of Choice have long said that the time to plant seeds and take down walls among the general electorate is NOW, way ahead of the 2016 elections. Bombarding people in the last few months before an election isn’t enough – it’s too late by then.
Instead, we should be utilizing this ‘down time’ to prepare the ground for the election cycle. Does that mean talking campaigns and candidates and parties now? Not at all. Instead, we can learn how to engage in ‘Conservative Small Talk’ in our everyday lives. This tactic lowers the pressure on reaching people politically, and the bonus here is that it will prepare the way for those candidates to resonate later with people who might not yet have even heard of them. By talking about issues that the candidates will focus on later, issues that may be downplayed at this stage of the primary races, we can create an opportunity for our candidates to resonate with them later when they’re paying closer attention.
What does that look like?
We worked out some ideas on The Refinery this week, and we’ll have several videos where we talk about how to introduce an issue and start a conversation. The steps go something like this:
- – Choose a topic that has broad appeal that can reach apolitical voters without sounding like campaign hackery (this week we start with local ordinances that prevent people from feeding the homeless)
- – Memorize the details of a few personal, human-interest stories that highlight the point you eventually want to make (a quick search of sources like Institute for Justice or Reason will provide many options)
- – Open the conversation with a conversational ‘click bait’ equivalent (‘Did you hear about that guy who may go to jail for feeding the homeless?’)
- – Ask questions and seek input from your conversation target (‘What do YOU think about that, do you think that’s a good idea? What do you think might be a better way?’)
- – Try to respond with praise for their ideas (‘That’s a good idea, I like that! Tell me how that would work?’)
- – If the relationship will be ongoing (neighbor, coworker) resist the urge to ‘tag’ the conversation as ‘conservative’ and help create a desire in them to hear more from you
- – If the relationship is fleeting (waiting room, standing in line) do tag the conversation as conservative clearly (‘That’s why I try to keep up with politics – as a conservative/libertarian/Republican I’m always looking for better answers than more laws with no common sense.’)
On The Refinery, we practiced learning this skill on Feeding Ordinances. You can check out the clips for yourself and see how we did:
It’s really that easy. And the best thing about practicing Conservative Small Talk is that once the candidates are ready to campaign full-out to the general voters, we will have gone before them well in advance and prepared the ground. We will have planted seeds of conservative thought and established ourselves as knowledgeable resources to people who will likely return to us later with questions. And they’ll be more likely to trust us, too, because we didn’t try to hard-sell them anything; we just casually talked about issues that are important to us, and that they can relate to. And when our candidates hit on issues where we’ve begun those conversations, our listeners will be more likely to remember what we talked about. And most importantly, we put human faces on issues that we care about, rather than speaking in our own political insider language.
As we learn to get better at this type of subversive conservative activism, we are challenging you to do the same – pick a topic (or use one of ours) and strike up a conversation about it when you see the opportunity. And then, come back and let us know how it went.
And if you don’t know where to start, we’ve been thinking about covering these topics:
- Asset Forfeiture Laws (IRS, ‘drug’ seizures, bank deposit cases)
- Criminal Justice Reform
- Occupational Licensure (like requiring a cosmetology degree to braid hair)
- Food and Cosmetic Regulation (CA Raisin Board, artisanal cheese, handmade soaps)
- NSA Spying
- Institutional Poverty and Poverty Programs (Poor Door federal subsidies, welfare failure)
- Sharing Economy (Uber, Lyft, Airbnb)
It’s not as hard as you think, and we can make the opportunity to promote conservative values and ideas a part of our everyday lives with just a little thought, planning, and practice.