Not seeing the ape

Frank Luntz first came to prominence as Ross Perot’s pollster and adviser in 1992. As far as I know, he’s still a well-respected analyst of American public opinion. Thus, I found his article in the outlook section of the Washington Post a bit disappointing.
According to Luntz, the Republicans lost in 2006 because the “mad as hell” voters who fueled the Perot campaign and then largely migrated to the Republican side switched over to the Dems. They did so, Luntz says, because the Republicans ran up deficits, earmarked funds, and substituted “wedge” politics and “gut-punching” for an agenda.
Luntz opens his piece with this quote from Ronald Reagan: “don’t be afraid to see what you see.” Yet Luntz seems afraid to see what surely was the prime cause of the 2006 Republican defeat — the unpopularity of the war in Iraq. Unless I missed it, Luntz never once mentions the war. Yet the perceived lack of success in Iraq almost four years into our effort there was the one big variable in 2006. Republicans (like Democrats) engage in “gut-punching” politics in every cycle. Earmarks are a hardy perennial of American politics, and deficits are hardly unheard of. But these facts of political life only seem to bother voters when something substantive seems out of kilter, as in 1992 after the economy had slumped or last year when a war was not going well. Only then do voters seem to recall that politicians are, well, politicians.
Despite his misdiagnosis, Luntz’s prescription for the Republicans seems sound — fight to reduce the deficit, to balance the budget, to abolish or limit earmarks, and to control our borders. He is also probably correct that the Republicans are more likely to win the presidency with a candidate whose appeal extends beyond the party’s conservative base than with one whose appeal does not.
None of this is exactly news, however. I’d be more interested in Luntz’s analysis of how Iraq is likely to play out in the 2008 election under various possible scenarios in Congress and on the ground over there. But Iraq is the 800-pound ape that Luntz apparently does not see.


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