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The GOP’s biggest loss

In the aftermath of Election Day, Republican hand-wringing has focused almost exclusively on how to better attract the growing Latino vote and, to a lesser extent, the party’s suicidal positions on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage.

But the GOP has a far bigger, more urgent problem.

It is badly losing the messaging war. In fact, the messaging war already might be lost, and along with it, the war of ideas.

The left has a stranglehold on K-12 public schools, higher education and the national media. Conservatives are making a dent in the left’s dominance of social media, but their appeal in that realm is largely limited to Tea Party types and social conservatives. It’s not converting moderates. It’s preaching to the choir.

If you can’t spread a narrative of conservative, free-market principles and counter-arguments beyond a shrinking base, liberal talking points become accepted as the absolute truth. They become the story upon which future campaigns are based.

Amid the avalanche of post-election polling, two surveys in particular should scare the hell out of the GOP. First, Election Day exit polling showed about half of voters think former President George W. Bush is more responsible for the lousy economy than Barack Obama. Second, a Pew Research poll released Tuesday says 53 percent of Americans would blame Republicans if no deal was struck to avoid the Jan. 1 “fiscal cliff,” while only 29 percent would blame President Obama and just 10 percent would blame both.

Those findings fall right in line with the Democratic Party’s decade-long assault on the GOP. Every national campaign since 2000 has been built on a dominant message: Everything that’s wrong with this country is the Republicans’ fault. Among a majority, that message is now gospel.

Of course, the idea that Democrats share no blame is complete garbage. But because their messaging is more effective, they’re effectively rewriting history. If you repeat a lie long enough, people start to believe it.

Bill Clinton is proof of this. Twelve years ago he was packing his things at the White House, damaged by a sex scandal he lied about under oath, his resulting impeachment, an economy in recession and the dozens of outrageous pardons he issued on his last day in office. His greatest achievements as president – budget surpluses and welfare reform – happened because voters gave Republicans control of Congress in 1994, forcing Clinton to the center of the political spectrum.

Working with Republicans, Clinton approved several bills that deregulated the financial services industry, enabling the loose lending that sparked the 2008 economic meltdown. His administration pushed Fannie Mae to take on ever-riskier loans.

Yet there was Clinton at the Democratic National Convention and on the campaign trail, blaming Republicans for the deregulation he signed into law, saying Mitt Romney and Republicans would champion “the same old policies that got us into this mess in the first place.” His policies. He still hasn’t been called on the mythology.

Democratic stump speeches sounded like a broken record: Bush’s tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 are to blame for the rising national debt. Bush inherited the strongest economy in history and ruined it. Bush set free the rabid dogs of unregulated capitalism. Never mind that under Bush, federal tax collections reached their all-time peak, that he took office during a recession, that he was one of the biggest regulatory spenders ever, that he saw the country’s demographic shift and championed the comprehensive immigration reform Democrats now covet.

Think you’ll ever see a poll that asks Americans whether they blame Bill Clinton for the crummy economy? If you did, can you imagine the result?

Bush sure had his faults. All presidents do. But today, Clinton is a party hero, the new gold standard for ex-presidents, a man who did great things despite a Republican Congress, not because of it. Bad stuff: Republicans’ fault. Good stuff: All Bill, baby. Bush, meanwhile, is toxic, all but banished from his party and politics.

All because the Democrats’ narrative is reported over and over, unchallenged. The same chronicle holds that when union dollars pour into political campaigns and election ground games, angels sing from the heavens, but when contributions from corporations and wealthy individuals go to candidates and super-PACs, demons cackle.

Still more messaging defeats are becoming clear. When businesses announce closures and layoffs, cutbacks or schedule reductions, the left snipes that it’s because greedy entrepreneurs and shareholders hate President Obama and want to make him look bad. When company executives warn of the effect a fully enacted ObamaCare will have on their businesses, that full-time workers will be moved to part-time status, that medical benefits might be dropped altogether, liberals threaten to boycott said businesses – and hurt those workers before the law has a chance to.

Is it even remotely possible that these private-sector leaders are telling the truth? That the president’s policies might be making a wounded economy even worse?

Not according to the messaging. Nothing – nothing – is Democrats’ fault.

As long as the public believes that, Republicans are screwed.

Glenn Cook (gcook@reviewjournal.com) is a Review-Journal editorial writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Glenn_CookNV. Listen to him Mondays at 4 p.m. on “Live and Local with Kevin Wall,” on KXNT News Radio, 100.5 FM, 840 AM.

Steve Sebelius will return Tuesday.

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