Since the 2012 election, some conservatives have blamed their losses on their message while others pointed fingers at the messengers. Truth is, both camps have a point.
That’s why Jim DeMint aims to tackle both problems from his new perch at the Heritage Foundation, which he is joining as president after eight years as a U.S. senator from South Carolina.
“I’m convinced if we have the right ideas, the right messengers, the right message, we can win,” DeMint told me Tuesday before greeting Heritage members at the Westin Buckhead.
Part of the challenge is stylistic: “We can’t just talk like a bunch of engineers” about things like budget deficits, he argued.
“We’ve got to help people see how our policies actually can make their lives better. … And the way we can do it is actually put the camera on people whose lives have been changed.”
DeMint pointed specifically to the different approaches GOP-led Pennsylvania and Democrat-controlled New York have taken to their natural-gas deposits which have been made more accessible by hydraulic-fracturing, or “fracking,” technology.
“It’s almost like a line between North and South Korea,” DeMint said. “On one side, in New York, they’re not developing the energy. And on the Pennsylvania side, we can talk to families whose lives are better” because of the jobs that have come thanks to fracking.
There will be more opportunities for making such comparisons thanks to the one area where conservatives actually made inroads last November.
“We’ve got more conservative governors and legislatures, [and] they’re doing bold things now with the states on school choice, with tax reform. … We’ve just got to showcase those ideas and show how they’re working.”
Even without a turnover of power in Washington, DeMint said there are ways for conservative state leaders to prod the feds in the right direction.
He pointed to the 26 states that sued to overturn Obamacare. While they didn’t get the entire law declared unconstitutional, they did persuade the Supreme Court to rule Congress was overly coercive in threatening to reduce the states’ existing Medicaid funding if they didn’t expand the program.
But despite their legal victory, some conservative governors have been reluctant to decline the expansion — and the federal funds that come with it, albeit at a cost of billions of dollars for the states.
“Some governors realize this is a dead-end street,” he said. “At some point, you’ve got to say, ‘Keep your money, we’re going to make it ourselves.’ That’s where we have to really work on block-grant ideas, so that states can get back the money they send up there, whether it be for transportation or education or Medicaid.
“We’re going to try to build a coalition of states that will push back against the federal government on these things. I think we’re close to having half the states who would come together to just say no.”
Banding together will become even more crucial very soon, he warned.
“What you’re going to see over the next few years, is these states that are failing, with terrible tax policy, regulatory policy, energy policy, they’re going to be in Washington needing a bailout,” he said.
“That’s why I think this coalition of states, what I might call a Coalition of Responsible States, is so important, to give each other support and push back against the federal government.”
– By Kyle Wingfield