On Wednesday, I was honored to speak at the Winter Meeting of the Republican National Committee about the how important and impactful the 2018 elections could be for America. Below is an excerpt of my remarks.
Let me thank all of you, particularly those I was just chatting with, for your generosity. I have been active in the Republican Party a fairly long time, longer than the younger people here have been alive. And I want to talk to you from the heart. When Ronna and I talked about coming by, I think it was precisely because I had enough distance to look at these things and to be involved on a number of occasions.
First of all, I thought last night’s State of the Union rivaled anything that Ronald Reagan did. It was just astonishingly effective. President Trump found specific individuals whose stories weren’t just important as wonderful human stories, but they each illustrated a part of the American tapestry in the American culture in a way that reminded all of us America is such a wonderful country. I thought it was a very powerful and very effective speech.
I also have to comment on Ronna and the financial report at the end of the year. She hit the ground running with a very simple model that said, “I’m going to work with the president. I’m going to help the president. How big of a check are you going to write?” And she must have repeated that a hundred thousand times over the past year, and she has been very, very effective.
Now, I came tonight in part because I think the Republican National Committee really matters. I’ll tell you candidly, I think without Reince Priebus and without the Republican National Committee, we would not have won in 2016 because we needed all of the extra effort, and we frankly needed Reince desperately holding the party together all through the spring when about a third of the party was certainly eager to commit suicide. And without that kind of effort and without the ground game of the fall, we would have lost. It’s just that simple.
Similarly, I believe the Republican National Committee under Ronna’s leadership is going to be decisive this year. So, I’m going to talk just a couple of minutes about where we’re at because I think it’s really important. And I know those of you who are on the committee are going to take it seriously and take it as a personal responsibility, and those of you who are friends of the committee are even going to take it seriously.
I’m going to start with a very simple model. How many of you noticed [during the State of the Union] that Nancy Pelosi wasn’t happy? Now, I have a ground rule, when the president won, I said to every conservative I would talk to, every time you start to get mad at Donald J. Trump, I want you to close your eyes and think: President Hillary Clinton. Well, I would say to every one of you, every day this year that you do not work for a Republican majority, I want you to think about Speaker Nancy Pelosi. I think this is a very grave threat.
I’m going to be very direct, and I hope it doesn’t get misinterpreted. I do not believe the traditional Republican Party could win this fall. And the fact is we’re at an edge of a wave election, and if we end up with a wave election on their side, you can’t raise enough money to win normal races against that kind of wave.
We saw it in 1994 when we did it. We saw it in 2006 when the Democrats did it. We saw it in 2010 when John Boehner came up with a very simple model: Where are the jobs?
If you start getting that kind of wave building, it’s very hard to be able to keep control. And our margin is not that big. In the great 62-year period of Democratic dominance of the House, they would start elections with 60-seat majorities. If they lost 25 or 30 seats, their margins would shrink, but they were still in control. We’ve never been in control with that size margin.
For us to maintain Speaker Ryan and the House GOP majority in 2018 there are bold things we have to do.
I’m going to draw a very deliberate distinction. Just so you understand this isn’t just some theory -- get candidate Trump’s speech at Gettysburg in October of 2016, the president’s inaugural address last year, and the State of the Union you just watched Tuesday. Take those three and read carefully what President Trump says.
He is describing an American party that reaches out to every American, that makes the case that America is an idea worth fighting for. He suggests that we have a model for success: the American model of limited government, lower taxes, less red tape, more entrepreneurship, more take-home pay, more local control, which means more local responsibility, and a foundation of rights that come from our Creator.
You take those three speeches, put them together, and look at them. What does that mean? What would a Trump Republican Party be like? We are not yet there. With Ronna’s leadership and the president’s leadership, we can get there. I think by 2020, we will get there.
I think President Trump will get re-elected almost without regard to what happens this fall. But remember, it’s one thing to spend 2019 and 2020 with Speaker Ryan and a Republican House getting things done. It’s another thing to spend 2019 and 2020 in a life and death struggle against Speaker Pelosi and a Democratic House that will automatically want to impeach the president while having every House Committee launch investigations of the administration. They won’t have any idea what they’re impeaching him for and or what they are investigating for and it won’t matter to them. In the majority, House Democrats will spend two years in hostile assaults on the administration.
You may have seen the Fox and Friends interview of the New York University students who they asked on Monday morning, “What did you think of the president’s State of the Union speech?” And these students said things like it was, “Hateful. It was racial language. I can’t believe he said that.” It didn’t even matter that President Trump hadn’t given the State of the Union Address yet. This is the unthinkingly hostile Left we’re dealing with.
What you saw at the State of the Union was the face of hate. I mean when people sit there, and you explain to them that there’s the lowest black unemployment in history, and they can’t applaud. There’s the lowest Hispanic unemployment in history, and they can’t applaud. You’re looking at people so consumed by their passions they can’t think. Those are the people who will be in charge of the House if they win.
So, these next few months are really important, and here are a couple of very simple principles for a Trump Republican Party as opposed to a traditional Republican Party. Now, a Trump party largely grows out of the Reagan party and out of the 1994 Contract with America majority.
First Principle: Go home and take on everyone. Don’t talk about safe seats, not safe seats, all this bologna. When we won control in 1994, we ran against every Democratic candidate except three.
We beat the chairman of Ways and Means of downtown Chicago. We beat the first Speaker of the House to lose since 1862. We beat the chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the Houston suburbs. No Republican consultant would have recommended running against any of them.
We are in a similar situation this year because every Democrat went out idiotically and voted no on the largest tax cut in your lifetime, and they have to go home and explain that.
One example from the State of the Union : We are not tough enough, we’re not fast enough, we don’t think aggressively enough. Last night, they picked somebody to answer the State of the Union, Congressman Joe Kennedy. He was symbolically perfect standing in front of a broken car because the Democrats can’t fix anything.
We should have been asking Kennedy, “How could you vote against tax cuts and job creation? The Ways and Means Committee has analyzed every congressional district in the country. You can go to the Ways and Means Committee website for your district. In Kennedy’s district a median-income family of four got a $5,800 tax cut. Now we should be all over him. How can he vote to take $5,800 away from a family of four in his district to send it to Washington bureaucrats? We should have used every social media tool so people watching his response were waiting for him to answer for his vote.
Now, he’ll give you a left-wing answer. If you’re one of the families, how many have gone to find families of four and say, “What can you do with $5,800 per year, which is, by the way, $58,000 over 10 years? Do you think it’s better spent by a bureaucrat or you?” I think we should take on every single member of the black caucus. Again, every single district in America, it turns out, has a net tax cut. Every single one of the Democratic members of the Black caucus voted against the tax cut for their own people and could not applaud the lowest Black unemployment in history.
Now, you can’t get much further distance from the traditional Republican consultants. but the truth is, too many Republicans don’t have the nerve to go out to new neighborhoods and new voters. They talk in cost-benefit terms. Well, that’s not going to work if we are serious about growing a stable majority. I lost twice. And if we’d had that cost-benefit attitude toward my district, I’d never have gotten to Congress, and we wouldn’t have taken control in 1994.
We have to have the nerve to go nose-to-nose.
Second, don’t complain about the news media. The news media is a fact. The news media is the offensive wing of the other team. They are not the problem. They are a fact. What we do about them is the problem. So, we have to design a campaign plan, and we have to train our candidates assuming the worst about the news media. Whenever you interact with the news media you should assume you’re going into a war zone. You should plan to take the host head on and challenge their assumptions.
I read the transcripts every Sunday. You would be amazed how many of our folks are too slow, too untrained, and don’t know what they’re talking about. So, they walk in as though George Stephanopoulos is neutral. I mean not only was he the Clinton press secretary, who gave $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation, and we allowed him to chair a presidential debate in 2012. Now, you at least have a minimum rule. Nobody who’s completely on the Left is going to get to chair anything for this party’s good future.
Point One: Compete everywhere.
Point Two: Design strategies that win despite the news media because you overmatch them.
Point Three: We have to have the courage to fight. You have to be prepared. When someone gets up, the junior senator from New York, and says, “You know, if you talk about chain migration, it’s racist.” But we need to say: “You must be losing this debate on the facts so badly that you’re now reduced to scream ‘racism,’ which is, by the way, what you scream about virtually anything, unless of course that’s homophobia or something else.” The Left has no arguments left except to yell nasty names.
And we have to go nose-to-nose with them to knock them down mentally and psychologically. It’s very important for us to understand this is a fight. We are in a cultural civil war with people who despise us. There’s no neutrality in there. And that’s why they dislike Trump so much, because Trump has the nerve to talk about MS-13 because they can’t answer it. The more he is right, the more enraged they are.
If you’re a left-wing Democrat and totally for open borders, you can’t actually go up and say, “Well, I think it’s okay for a few hundred MS-13 folks to come in.” You just can’t. So, then you get furious at Trump because he’s found the angle of attack you can’t defend.
I would say to every candidate: study Trump. Trump is one of the greatest articulators I have ever seen. He understands fighting. He likes to fight, and he is prepared to figure out how to go at you at an angle you can’t defend. And that’s what we have to do for this whole campaign starting now.
The most useful book I have read to better understand this year is Karl Rove’s book on "The Triumph of William McKinley." That 1896 campaign may sound obscure, but it relates directly to our challenge.
McKinley was faced with the great charismatic Democratic leader, the youngest major party nominee in history at 36 years old, William Jennings Bryan. Bryan is such a great passionate articulator of demagogic populism and was so influential in the Democratic Party for two generations (nominated three times for president) that Elizabeth Warren is his direct emotional descendant.
He literally – and I mean this as a tribute to Bryan – h e imprinted the Democratic Party with a negative, anti-elite, anti-city, anti-modernity kind of populism, a populism of anger. He talks about mankind being crucified on a cross of gold. He says at one point that he wants grass to grow on the streets of the cities. McKinley realizes he’s going to lose the election unless he breaks the heart of Bryan’s argument. McKinley understood in 1896 what Margaret Thatcher said in the 1970’s when she warned: “First you win the argument. Then you win the election.” And so, McKinley created the most thorough educational campaign in American history.
They printed 18 brochures for every American. That’s a scale of organization that’s unimaginable. And Karl, who’s a great professional, really walks you through it. The first part of the book most of it you won’t find all that exciting, because it’s about how he got the nomination – although it’s very useful. But the second half of the book is amazing and is the campaign we need this year.
We need a campaign that is going right at the philosophical basis of the modern Democratic Party. We need a campaign, for example, to say, “How many Americans do you think want to abolish the Medicare trust fund?” That’s actually what’s in the Sanders bill that could create national health care. You know, to the average 65-year-old or 55-year-old say, “Hi, would you like to help Sanders in abolishing the Medicare Trust Fund? All it requires is that you trust politicians.”
You know, you could probably win that argument and keep them on defense all the time. So, I think it’s tremendously important. I think what Ronna is doing is extraordinarily important. She needs your help and every state in the country. I need your help talking to every incumbent and every candidate, and you need to understand, this is where we’re going. This is what we have to accomplish, and my last point is this: 50 percent should be spent on the tax cuts.
I mean literally, 50 percent of our effort should be explaining the tax cuts and their impact at multiple levels. At a cultural level, it puts America back on the road to being an entrepreneurial society. At the large economy level, it’s going to lead to growth – and at a personal level. When I talk about the example of reaching out to everyone, would you like to guess among all the Wal-Mart employees who just got bonuses what percent are African American? What percent are Latino?
Now today, they have no mechanism to say to them: “By the way, that was a Republican idea that just got money in your pocket.” That’s our job. It’s not their fault they don’t know it, and it’s certainly not NBC News’ fault. NBC News is the other team. So, we have to learn, and I would urge all of you to think about this literally. Fifty percent of our effort from now to election day should be very simple. We want you to have money in your pocket, a better job, a greater future, more money in your 401k for retirement. They want all of that money for their bureaucrats and their giveaways. You pick which team you like. You think it’s better to have Washington spend your money, you have a great party: The Democrats. If you think it’s better for you to have the money, you have a great party, the Republicans. The two parties are this far apart.
As RNC members, if you’ll do your job, if you’ll help convince every single candidate and every single incumbent, we’ll change history just the way Trump changed history.
So, when reporters and analysts say, “Well, it’s the first term off-year election. The average losses are X.” My first thought is, “How do you think President Clinton is doing?”
The truth is we are led by somebody who breaks the records. We ought to join in this fall to break the record, and next year if we have won control of the House altogether – if we’ve picked up six or eight Senate seats – President Trump and the Republicans will be able to say, as Ronald Reagan used to say, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”