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Opinion: A whisper to the conservative movement

Conservatives must compete more effectively for the hearts and minds of the “magic middle” – swing voters who decide elections.

U.S. Capitol
U.S. Capitol | Shutterstock/Orhan Cam

June 7, 2023 2:15pm

Updated: January 18, 2024 3:00pm

America is in a state of decline, if not chaos, following disappointing results in three straight elections and too many years of organized turmoil in our streets, schools, government institutions, and elsewhere. Reversing this requires fundamental changes in conservatives’ political and philanthropic strategies.

Change at the margins is not enough – not with inflation at 50-year highs; rampant crime in our streets; military preparedness and our children’s education compromised at the altar of wokeness; social experimentation occurring in our schools without parental knowledge; protection of our southern border having collapsed; government and large corporations coordinating censorship of certain viewpoints; and weaponization of the Department of Justice and FBI.

Against this backdrop, it is stunning that Republicans were unable to win a majority in the Senate and only able to win a slim majority in the House in last year’s midterms. This must serve as a wake-up call to conservative donors that we need to do things differently going forward. Fortunately, a growing number of conservative donors now realize this and are asking the appropriate questions:

“Where did Republicans fall short in the midterms;” “Are there more effective strategies than those we now use;” and “Are there more effective consultants and organizations than those we currently fund?”

Republicans fell short in last year’s midterms because Democrats had four distinct advantages. First, the effectiveness of Democrats’ absentee-ballot, ballot-harvesting, and early-voting programs. Second, the tone-deaf messages of Republican candidates and information operations about the reversal of Roe v. Wade. Third, young voters continuing to vote overwhelmingly Democratic. Fourth, suburban women not voting Republican in the same numbers as they did in 2016.

Democrats gained these advantages through 24-month integrated strategies between elections while conservatives pursued disparate, often ineffective, tactics and then backloaded our spending to the 90-day run-up to elections. Democrats fully fund and work continuously on the mechanics of elections – absentee-ballot, early-voting, vote-by-mail, and ballot-harvesting programs – to tilt elections in their favor. Conservatives must compete more effectively on election mechanics going forward.

Through their control of the levers of power in education, the media, and entertainment, Democrats also work continuously on the “long game” by developing the narratives they believe will transform America’s culture and shape election outcomes.

George Soros and others like him have spent staggering sums over the past 20 years validating their belief about the impact of narratives and funded a “liberal ecosystem” for this purpose. The results speak for themselves. Conservatives must compete more effectively in the long game. To this end, a small group of conservative donors funded the development of a “conservative ecosystem” to push back against the liberal ecosystem.

Conservatives must also compete more effectively for the hearts and minds of the “magic middle” – swing voters who decide elections. Reaching and persuading swing voters requires different messengers, messages, and message amplification than those conservatives currently employ. In the context of charter schools, for example, the most influential messengers are the parents and children who have lost out in school lotteries because of Democratic policies limiting the number of charter schools.

This strategy borrows a page from progressives’ playbook about actual victims of bad government policy telling their stories. Most effective are the stories told by these children and their parents that tug at the heartstrings of the target audiences.

Broader message amplification requires reaching the magic middle where they live, and they do not live on conservative talk radio or television. The conservative ecosystem was developed for this purpose.

There is more work ahead of us than I have shared here. My hope is that this will start a broader conversation about the fundamental changes that must be made to preserve our freedoms and ensure prosperity for future generations. We owe this to our children and grandchildren.

Bernie Marcus is the co-founder of Home Depot and served as its first CEO. This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.