This post isn't what you expect. I'm not here to bury Frank Luntz, but to praise him. For those not familiar, Frank Luntz is a top Republican pollster and wordsmith. Luntz is best known for working with Republicans on language, making sure that Republican talking points are soothing to the ear of Americans. The motto on his website is "its not what you say, it's what they hear."
His strategy has been an unbridled success for the GOP. Republicans have learned that it's not what they are selling, but how they sell it that is important. So the inheritance tax became the death tax. And anti-environmental bills get very green-friendly names, like Clear Skies. Let's just say the Pink Slime folks ought to have put Mr. Luntz on their speed dial.
More recently, the focus on language as opposed to substance, has led to foolish policy prescriptions. In 2011, the Ryan budget plan was a debacle. Citizens rebelled against the idea of ending Medicare as an entitlement while cutting taxes for the rich. After such a debacle one would think Republicans would change their policy, right?
Not the party of Luntz. As a Politico story laid out, the GOP just changed the way they talked about the plan.
And perhaps most important, the GOP learned how to use the right poll-tested words... Last year, (Republicans) were blindsided by the backlash to the Wisconsin Republican's plan. It was immediately framed by Democrats as ending Medicare, crushing Medicaid while keeping taxes low for the rich. Ryan, who was being pitched as a presidential prospect for the party, receded as his plan came under attack from all sides.
The 2012 plan is -- simply put -- to not talk about the plan too much.
And there you have the modern GOP in a nutshell. When America hates their policies, they don't change it or heaven forbid, compromise. No, they just use new "poll-tested words."
Another problem with winning with Luntz-style politics is that it has led to hubris; Republicans believe they can talk their way out of anything. Just look at their strategy in the war against women.
Poll after poll shows that the GOP's policies, be it transvaginal ultrasounds or making contraception coverage harder to get, have been a disaster with women. A recent Gallup poll indicates an 18-point gender gap in favor of President Obama.
But you wouldn't know it was a problem by the GOP response. South Carolina Governor and VP contender Nikki Haley went on television and said, "Women don't care about contraception." RNC Chairman Reince Priebus blamed the media for the GOP's problem with women. It's as if the GOP is trying to pull the Jedi Mind Trick on the entire population.
Now, at the top of the ticket, we have a Luntzian candidate in its purest form. No politician has shown greater adherence to verbiage and less fidelity to substance than Mitt Romney. Romney, the true heir to Luntz, may cost the GOP in the end. And that may be too good for words.
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