A Lesson for Midterms, 2018: Issues, Not Ideology, Win Elections


“The wish to be elected cannot be more important than the wish to do the right thing.”

– VB Accioly

If electoral logic prevailed, Barack Obama should have lost the 2012 election to just about anyone. The economy during his illusory first term was the least prosperous in decades. Economic growth was anemic. Unemployment was perseveringly high, and his foreign policy was abysmal. Most of America believed we had fallen from recession into depression. His two signature achievements, Obamacare and his non-stimulus stimulus package, were less popular than a 1958 Edsel. These catastrophes were so out of favor with voters, he rarely mentioned them on the campaign circuit.

“We have accomplished great things but we need four more to finish the job.”

– Barack Obama

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On the other side of the political battlefront, after epic midterm gains in 2010, the GOP base was energized and poised to win. Michael Barone, a prolific political observer, predicted Mitt Romney would defeat Obama handily. Romney billed himself a conservative centrist but had as many blue stripes as red ones. He was molded as the perfect bourgeois to unite a divided America. He would fill the vacuum until the middle right unearthed someone from the old guard to end chaos in D.C. But the GOP found out differently when they campaigned on ideology rather than on real issues.

“There were a couple of times I wondered whether I was going to get a pink slip.”

– Mitt Romney

On Election Day, Romney went down in flames. The GOP discovered political behavior is capricious when it is impelled more by emotions and less by rationality. Deciding to go out and vote the first time in one’s life for a novelty candidate, not once but twice, is an irrational voting paradox. Voting involves considerable effort to be of an appreciable benefit if the decision is considered as rational. Unlike the past when voters keyed in on specific issues, Obama followers marched to the tune of a single campaign issue, “change.” But his star-struck followers stayed home next Election Day since voting was no longer a novelty.

“Now I know why the deplorables call me killary.”

– Hillary Clinton

Far left star-makers had predicted big things for their queen bee, Hillary Clinton. Despite her snafus, they predicted stardom with her vague rally cry, “stronger together.” They considered her a novelty feminist that could win on an ambiguous platform. Like Obama, she felt selling herself instead of issues would win the brass ring. She had no policy prescriptions for voters and emulated Obama’s antics and coddled up to Bernie Sanders’ socialism. But this un-novel feminist didn’t interest one-time-only Obama voters.

“All I can say is I wonder how it feels to beat up a girl?”

– Hillary Clinton

When Trump trumped Clinton, it “shocked and awed” the left and the right as well as pollsters and the media. After a decade of progressive subservience, America wanted answers, not more novelty candidates running on ideology. Political parties have short memories. With the election of Donald Trump, reliable pundits had egg on their faces three elections in a row. It’s issues that win elections, not ideology. Obama was Fabian, a fictional star. Progressives carefully invented him so it did not matter what he said while campaigning or in Washington. And it worked twice. But they found out:

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“You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time.”

– Abraham Lincoln

Do you think issues are more important than conservative ideology?

The GOP got lucky. Through no help of their own, they had a real candidate that campaigned on real issues, not party ideology. Trump turned back the hands of time in 2016 as he snatched a page out of Ronald Reagan’s playbook, campaigning as an American with rudiments people could relate to.

And there was nothing novel about this nor was he a novelty candidate like Obama. Trump was a rookie on the political circuit who had not been contaminated by party politics. He journeyed to the same forbidden blue states as Reagan and talked to the people about jobs, immigration, the economy and foreign relations. He appealed to things they related to. Trump did not try to convince anyone he was the most conservative guy on the block. He didn’t care, and the people who voted for him didn’t care either. It was issues, not party ideology, that enabled this dark horse to win the presidential derby.

“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh not Paris.”

– Donald Trump

With the election of Trump, America only got a reprieve. Progressives have a high octane machine that runs on printer’s ink, TV and radio sound bites, and social media. It never does try to convince anyone how liberal they are. They make promises on issues they can’t keep. If they pledge utopia, the voters they end up with tickets to Disneyland. They spend valued resources defending LBGT rights, abortion and socialized medicine with nary a mention of far left ideology. They cast dogma aside bloviating benevolence for those they woo. They’ve fine-tuned FDR’s success and it works.

“In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.”

– Franklin D. Roosevelt

They handpick their presidential candidates the day after they’ve won or lost the last election. By the time the next election is in high gear, their anointed nominee has campaigned for four years on the taxpayer’s dime. The media has chosen them the winner of the progressive primary long before the first vote is cast. Although they have informal debates with a stage of liberal “shills,” this is just a dog and pony show. They use that stage to reiterate repetitive feel good issues they know will bring them a victory.

“Do something. If it works, do more of it. If it doesn’t, do something else.”

– Franklin D. Roosevelt

For decades, the GOP has lost elections they should have won because they have a fencing match over which one is the most conservative running. This violates Reagan’s 11th Commandment. Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865) was elected to end slavery. Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) promised to end 10 percent unemployment and inflation. Teddy Roosevelt (1901-1909) was elected to manage challenges of the Industrial Revolution. James Madison, William McKinley, James Monroe, Thomas Jefferson, Calvin Coolidge and others campaigned on real issues not party ideology. And these men were all conservatives.

“If Abe Lincoln ran for office today, he’d lose every blue state in the U.S.”

– J. Myers

Political analyst Ryan Yates penned, “Every GOP presidential debate gives the left more ammo to defeat their nominee than information to the voters.” Instead of discussing key issues people are interested in, they spend quality time trying to convince everyone they are the most conservative one running. By the time the debates are over, the progressive candidate has been campaigning for months, winning friends and influencing people. The GOP has bought into the Peter Principle that’s been spoon fed to them by the progressives. The GOP base only votes if you lean far to the right.

Author Randall Terry said, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” When a novelty candidate like Obama is elected, we must work with him until he proves unworthy. If he is re-elected, shame on us. Nobody cares how ultra conservative anyone is if the nation is being mis-governed. Elections are won on issues, not ideology. Anyone trying to defeat a failed progressive has only themselves to blame if they lose, by campaigning on party ideology not tangible issues.

“Everyone talks about Donald Trump’s mistakes but he won by telling the truth when nobody else would dare to. We can all learn something from this, especially the GOP. Elections should highlight principled disagreements, not obscure our capacity to cooperate for the common good.”

– Al Cohen

William Haupt III is contributing columnist to He is a retired professional journalist, author and citizen legislator in California for over 40 years.

A version of this article previously appeared on under the headline, “Op-Ed: Issues, not ideology, win elections.”

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The focus of our work is state- and local-level government and economic reporting. A taxpayer sensibility distinguishes our work from other coverage of state and local issues. As a result of this approach, our readers are better informed about the focus of state and local government and its cost to the citizens whose tax dollars fund governmental decisions.

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