Home National Politics The Way Forward: The Uncracked Nut

The Way Forward: The Uncracked Nut


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This continues the discussion of the question: what is the best way to build upon what our candidacy — for Congress in Virginia’s 6th District in 2012 — achieved in order to have an impact to turn around America’s destructive political dynamic?

While our returns on Election Night were “respectable,” one thing is clear: we did not make any significant inroads into the conservative part of the electorate.  

In Virginia’s 6th District, that’s a requirement for victory. But even in the broader American context, even where there are seats that can be won with only Democratic/liberal voters, getting through to those who have been supporting this Republican Party is still important: America cannot be healthy so long as nearly half our citizens are in the grip of lies that separate them from reality and that feed their hatreds and fears.

In many ways, my failure to bring “the good, decent conservatives” of this District to my side is completely unsurprising. People do not readily break their habits, nor switch their loyalties, nor admit error. And in my eight years of studying this problem, I’ve yet to see any approach that has succeeded in moving people from alignment with this destructive and dishonest force.

But I did have some hopes that my approach might work. I’d never seen tried what I had in mind: telling forcefully and credibly a truth framed in terms of moral righteousness. “The battle in American politics today is not between liberal and conservative. It’s between constructive and destructive. Honest vs. dishonest…”

So I declared, and I meant it.

But one thing should be noted. The problem I faced was not so much that these “good, decent” people heard my message and would not buy it. The bigger problem was that, with some exceptions, I could not even get them to hear my message.

Part of my inability to reach them with my message is about money. I didn’t have the money to buy TV ad time and put myself in front of that audience.  

But there’s another part that’s more disturbing.  There was an intensity in the refusal of some of them even to expose themselves to a message from the likes of me, the Democratic candidate for Congress.

Some have spoken of the right-wing “bubble.” But I’m seeing it as more of a nut. The difference is in the impermeability of the shell. We had some experiences in this campaign that reinforce the sense that we’re up against something here that’s gone beyond the usual American kind of political loyalty and belief system and morphed into something even harder to overcome.

One gentleman in Front Royal, a former Republican who supported my candidacy, ran into the hard wall of that nut when he sent out hundreds of invitations to Republicans in the area to attend an event he was creating for Republicans to meet me. His invitations said “RSVP,” but the only responses he got were outright hostile.

Another couple who organized a Meet & Greet for me near the center of our District – near where Augusta County and Rockingham County join – were shocked and disturbed by their experience in trying to include Republicans they knew in their event. Upon hearing that the candidate featured in the event was going to be a Democrat, one woman in their church declared, “Oh, my husband and I could not come to a party for a Democrat. My husband would never want to listen to him speak.” When she spoke with a doctor and his wife, a middle-aged couple, about attending the Meet & Greet, “[T] heir response was visceral and palpable. They both recoiled slightly, bending over a little as if hearing this offer brought them pain.”

These illustrate a widespread phenomenon on the right. The distrust and distaste for “the other side” has been cultivated for so long, and has become so deeply entrenched, that the right has become almost like a cult that’s hermetically sealed from any opposing point of view, or even from the correctives of fact-checking.

One reason for me to run again would be if there were good reason to believe that I’d be able to penetrate that wall to a meaningfully greater degree in that second run.

If you believe that I should run again, perhaps you can suggest reasons for thinking that I could crack the nut better next time, and ways in which I might be able to reach those “good, decent conservatives” better.

They pretty well ignored me the first time. Is there some way I can get them to engage with me in a second run?

Andy Schmookler is an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, Andy moved with his family to Shenandoah County in 1992.  He is a graduate of Harvard University and holds a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley.

  • especially as long as those folks remain firmly embedded in the non-reality, non-fact-based “bubble” they live in 24/7. The question is whether it’s possible to pop that bubble, or whether the bubble will burst on its own at some point…

  • Elaine in Roanoke

    You really have to do some things that are vital to any candidate if you plan on another run.

    1. Begin now to raise money and line up supporters who can raise money for you.

    2. In any new race, use a campaign manager and a scheduler. It was quite difficult for some of us supporting you to be asked to attend events the same day they were occurring. (Once I got a call one hour before the start of the event.)

    3. Study the 6th District and its political history. It is the most Republican district in the state, although the 9th is trying hard to take that dubious honor. The valley area has deep agricultural roots that make it imperative that a candidate be knowledgeable about those issues in detail.

    4. Take the main issues of any campaign and formulate reasons why you are better equipped to solve those issues than Bob Goodlatte. Otherwise, in Virginia the incumbent advantage will continue to protect Goodlatte. Turn your concise reasons into a stump speech (or stump speeches for various specific audiences).

    5. You had a fantastic stump speech that you delivered before the Harrisonburg Democratic event. Unfortunately, it wasn’t followed up on.

  • amber waves

    If one is trying to defeat an incumbent, use a narrative that people who used to vote for the incumbent can swallow. This often means giving people a reason to tell themselves that they weren’t wrong when they voted for the incumbent in that previous election, but that now things have changed. Narratives like this include: the candidate used to be energetic and productive, but now the incumbent is too old. or the candidate said some good things but went to DC and became corrupted. or the candidate’s voting record has gone from Bad to worse, or constituent service used to be good but now sucks.

    Obama did a successful variation on this in the 2nd debate when he reached out to Bush voters by saying…Romney is worse than Bush…at least Bush stood up to his own party on immigration and AIDS….. Why Obama did not repeat that line of attack, I don’t know.

    A successful challenger in your district has to switch 5% of voters who used to vote for Goodlatte.

    The alternative approach is to not seriously try to defeat the incumbent in the next cycle but continue to pound out strong attacks and ideas that all citizens need to hear. Speak truth to power and don’t focus as much on electoral politics except as mobilizations platforms.