It’s amateur hour for the Republican Party of Arkansas, which has cranked up their moral dudgeon to “high” in response to a throw-away comment from the state Democrats’ executive director in a recent news story.
Here’s the background: On Tuesday, former GOP Rep. Michael Lamoureux won a special election to be the next state senator for District 4. Asked for response, state Democrats offered this to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Mike Wickline :
Mariah Hatta, executive director of the state Democratic Party, said she hopes Lamoureux “will work across party lines for the good of our people and avoid the hyper-partisanship cult of Republican legislators, mostly in the House, who would like to make the Capitol in Little Rock more like the one in Washington.”
That “cult” bit didn’t go down too well with GOP chair Doyle Webb and House minority leader Bryan King, who issued hyperventilating statements declaring, in effect, “We are not a cult.”
OK, let’s review some elementary political communication tactics, such as, when someone makes a charge against you, you DON”T REPEAT THE CHARGE. Why? Because it simply reinforces the idea in people’s minds, rather than refuting it. Here, let’s let Ryan Sager explain how that works:
People use “perceived familiarity” with a supposed “fact” as a mental shortcut to judge its truth. Thus, if they hear “X isn’t true,” over time they simply remember “X.” So, for instance, if you’re the Democrats during the health care debate, you don’t want to get stuck repeating, “There are no death panels.” What people remember from that is, “Man, there’s sure a lot of controversy over these ‘death panels’ I hear so much about.”
Well put, Ryan Sager! So when people hear Republicans leaders protest, “We are not a cult!”, they don’t share the deep sense of offense. They’re more likely to simply remember the nouns: “GOP=Cult.” (If you’re running for office in the coming year, feel free to clip ‘n’ save this little lesson. It may come in handy when you have to run a little campaign damage control of your own.)
Now, Hatta’s comment was dumb — over-the-top and needlessly provocative-for-the-sake-of-being-provocative. But the Republican response, purposely elevating the throw-away smear buried in a newspaper story into a Big Issue, is worse, because they allowed themselves to be provoked, to no useful end.
It may be too much to ask the state’s GOP leaders to think like professional communication strategists. But at the very least, they might refrain from embarrassing themselves with tactics that are self-defeating and monumentally retarded.
UPDATE: No sooner do I hit “publish” on this piece than a news release arrives from GOP Senate candidate Conrad Reynolds, taking a breather from not raising money for his campaign, pushing the same goddamn lines. This. This is the hill they’ve chosen to stand and fight upon. Attention Democrats: Give Mariah Hatta a fat bonus! Full Reynolds statement at jump.
Reynolds Calls on Lincoln to Denounce ‘Cult’ Comment
Notes ‘Un-American’ Description; DPA Praise of Lincoln for Toeing the Obama Line
CONWAY – Republican United States Senate candidate Col. Conrad Reynolds (U.S. Army, Ret.) today demanded Sen. Blanche Lincoln denounce Democratic Party of Arkansas Executive Director Mariah Hatta for comments describing Republican members of the Arkansas General Assembly as a “cult”:
“After Sen. Lincoln’s summer description of Arkansans as ‘un-American,’ it is no surprise that the state Democratic Party would describe legitimate opposition as a ‘cult.’ And, just as quickly as Sen. Lincoln backtracked from her ‘un-American’ comment, I demand she act just as quickly to denounce her party and Ms. Hatta for this equally mean-spirited attack on Arkansans.
This attack, occurring the same week the DPA launches a television advertisement thanking Sen. Lincoln for toeing the line as President Obama’s 60th vote on government-run healthcare, shows how simply out of touch they are with Arkansans who are greatly concerned with the liberal policies of President Obama and Sen. Lincoln’s enabling of them.
Any delay proves to us that Sen. Lincoln has given her tacit approval to this attack upon people with a legitimate concern to the policies of the Democratic establishments in Little Rock and Washington which do not reflect the conservative values that we must fight for in Arkansas.”