Magazine article Politics Magazine

To Modernize, Kevin Madden Argues, the GOP Needs to Reinvent Itself as the Ideas Party

Magazine article Politics Magazine

To Modernize, Kevin Madden Argues, the GOP Needs to Reinvent Itself as the Ideas Party

Article excerpt

Politics: What projects are you working on for Glover Park Group right now? Madden: Well, essentially what I do here is run mini campaigns. Oftentimes people have issues that meet that nexus of politics and policy, and they want to get better at making their arguments to audiences on Capitol Hill, within the administration and the public, as well as other tailored audiences like trade magazines, the financial press, the political press. So I work with a lot of folks in the energy futures market. I'm actually working with some groups that you could consider progressive that are trying to build audiences in the center and center-right--like Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, which is probably more closely identified with Democrat constituencies.

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Politics: It's a very different environment than the campaign trail.

Madden: I'll tell you one thing, the stress level is not as intense. I think when you're in a campaign, it's kind of like living near the airport. You know, everybody complains about the noise near an airport, and then when you move away all of a sudden you can't sleep at night because it's too quiet. That's what it's like on campaigns. The cadence of it all grows comforting. When it's gone, all of a sudden you don't know what to do with yourself.

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Politics: Speaking of the campaign trail, do you think Republicans in 2008 lost their message--or did they lose the message war?

Madden: We didn't really have a message. I remember someone was asking about the 2008 campaign, and they said, "It seemed to me that the Republicans used this tactic in order to reach this group of voters." I admonished the questioner by saying, "Don't confuse anything that we did on the campaign in 2008 with a strategy."

If you boil the question down, the Republicans basically had to answer one fundamental question, and it was "Why us? Why should you, the voter, vote for us?" I did a little media training with some candidates this cycle, and when I asked them that question, I stumped them every time.

Politics: Everybody and their brother is now offering Republicans advice about answering that question. How can the party renew its appeal to voters?

Madden: I try to answer questions about what do we do next with a very simple mantra: The Republican Party has to modernize, not moderate. A lot of people say, "Well, do we have to change our policies to appeal to a wider sector of the electorate that is possibly becoming more progressive?" I still think fundamentally we're a center-right country, but Republicans haven't really modernized our message on issues. Like, for example, energy and the environment.

Compare our messaging to folks like Chevron, BP and ExxonMobil. Technically, these are the "bad guys"; this is Big Oil. And when you look at how they've engaged consumers--who for all intents and purposes are voters--they've talked about innovation, using technology so that people use less energy, so that therefore it's cheaper and cleaner, therefore the environment is safer. And they've gone from marketing themselves as "Big Oil" to "energy companies." Then look at the Republican Party this past year. We have our vice presidential candidate standing in front of a group of 25,000 robocalled supporters chanting "drill baby drill," and when they applaud we think we've found a message, and we didn't. …

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