HONOLULU, November 10, 2015 — Living in the “808 State” often smacks of being held hostage as a character in a never-ending John Steinbeck novel: Tragedy is inevitable, justice is apparent only to outside, helpless observers, and everything from the forces of nature, to people, to seemingly insignificant animals and even inanimate objects are all deft, God-seeded allegories to the weak, corrupt state of man.
For Hawaii conservatives and libertarians, dreams of challenging the Democratic-dominated status quo are dashed nearly every election year; Republican Party incumbents and office-seekers alike are routinely obliterated or slowly culled from the ranks of government under the tsunamis of union voters, liberal fundraising powerhouses, and sheer public opinion. Whenever Republican “waves” sweep the nation, Hawaii is almost always passed by. Some of these losses were tactically inevitable; others, however, were strategically unacceptable.
Like Steinbeck’s fictional George Milton, Hawaii Republican voters can lament being “the loneliest guys in the world. They got no fambly. They don’t belong no place. They ain’t got nothing to look forward to.”
With very few exceptions, the majority of local GOP candidates and incumbents do not have the existing resources or volunteer manpower to make conventional methods a viable, long-term plan, and those who do employ it discover the same “Republican curse” everyone before them has experienced.
Yet 2016 offers a very different political sea state than prior election years. President Obama is no longer running for re-election and upticket Democratic candidates are nowhere near as inspiring or likely to revolutionize the American voter as the Obama campaign did in 2008. Obama’s signature healthcare law has had a detrimental impact on the pocketbooks of many of his most avid supporters and has soured the perception of Democrats who backed the law. These people would, under any other circumstances, knee-jerk vote for liberals.
Hawaii in particular continues to be hit the hardest by inflation, artificial scarcity, under-employment, widening rifts between rich and poor, and a deteriorating infrastructure that is torturously endured every morning voters go to work.
For Hawaii Republicans to lose incumbent seats or fail to gain at least double their existing number in the State Legislature under these once-in-a-lifetime conditions would be a failure not of circumstances, but of action by local Republicans.
Here are three things that can ensure that a Hawaii Republican victory becomes a reality:
1. Early campaign outside of the Hawaii fish tank.
Hawaii Republicans have dismal prospects of winning media visibility, early money, or ranks of enthusiastic supporters by utilizing the same, worn-out methods underdogs use to announce a run for office. Overlooked press releases, begging retirees and tapped out small business owners for donations, and mindlessly knocking on doors only to be angrily rejected are all wasted effort and resources.
Staying local comes with an array of problems:
- Most potential supporters have demanding family or work commitments which make them structurally useless beyond an occasional signwaving event, or a one-time $25 donation;
- immediate family and friends are almost always detrimental, critical, and unreliable as campaign surrogates and volunteers;
- “traditional” allies such as pastors, church congregations, and others are not willing to participate;
- party officials and leadership cannot assist or will not assist due to limited resources and/or preference for other candidates;
- small business owners have already been flagged by larger campaigns and have already donated or cannot donate due to hits to their profits;
- multimillionaires and affluent supporters usually require campaign assurances or personal promises which can often be at odds with one’s stated platform, partisan alignment, or “home style” district base;
- and fundraising targets are rarely, if ever actually met.
These problems do not have to be game-enders for prospective Republicans. Outside of the stagnant local fish tank, there are many prominent conservative and Republican personalities and resources on the mainland willing to help Hawaii candidates and causes.
As an example, the majority of phone calls placed in opposition to removing prayer from opening invocations at the Hawaii State Legislature and Honolulu City Council were actually from concerned mainland individuals who responded to an action alert by a Texas-based organization.
Since the 2008 election, conservative superstars like former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin have been actively engaged in promoting grassroot candidates around the nation, often skyrocketing otherwise unknown personalities in contested primaries and tough general elections to victory. While many Hawaii conservatives have been shy to pursue mainland conservative endorsements because of fear of local media backlash, it should be understood that local media will never respect Hawaii Republicans anyway. If you have nothing to lose, you have everything to gain.
Early acknowledgement by mainland conservative personalities can trigger a wave of helpful and generous donations, volunteer offers from highly talented, professional creative generators and campaign consultants, not to mention favorable media that would otherwise be impossible to attain locally.
Since the 2008 election, conservative superstars like former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin have been actively engaged in promoting grassroot candidates around the nation, often skyrocketing otherwise unknown personalities in contested primaries and tough general elections to victory.
Hawaii Republicans have yet to make attempts to speak at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference; if they did, would they have something worth hearing? These are all low-hanging, readily available opportunities for winning prestige and earned media that candidates in CONUS locales routinely pursue but Hawaii seems to overlook.
2. Learn the art of social media and internet presence.
We are living in a digital, brainware-era. During the Arab Spring, citizens of countries with highly restrictive lockdowns on free speech and oppressive police still managed to overthrow powerful, entrenched regimes using laptops and cell phones to spread information.
In the United States, liberals have been far more prolific in leveraging social media and digital resources to accomplish political objectives. This is no excuse for conservatives to reject this vehicle for change.
Hawaii Republicans should have a dedicated marketing budget specifically aimed at social media and online presence. Rather than expecting online responses to shadow offline events, online activity should drive real world, offline demographic behavior. Identifying social media gravity centers, leveraging public opinion through promotional campaigns, and developing apps which make campaign canvassing and voter outreach convenient are a must if Hawaii Republicans are to be more than transitory dilettantes in office.
But without a dedicated marketing budget, without correct data, without an aggressive and concerted social media strategy, identifying constituencies and developing online presence will be impossible.
As the Filipino patriot José Rizal reminds us, “The glory of saving a country is not for him who has contributed to its ruin.”
3. Aim for point of differentiation, not point of parity with the Democrats.
Knowing that Democrats already hold a supermajority in Hawaii, voters are not blind to the fact that agenda-setting power rests with elected Democrats. If Republicans promise identical or similar campaign promises to Democrats in a bid to steal Democratic voters, voters know that voting for a Democrat provides less opportunity cost to get the same value offered by a Republican.
The battle of Hawaii Republican vs. Hawaii Democrat is not a question of Samsung Galaxy vs. Google Nexus tablets, but one of Apple iPads vs. Microsoft Surface tablets. Republicans should strive to be distinct, separate market choices than the Democrats they seek to unseat.
At the end of the day, voters may be stubborn, but they aren’t stupid. Victory is entirely possible in 2016, and it should be the birthright of conservatives everywhere to be the leaders that restore America from the damage inflicted by Democratic leadership. As the Filipino patriot José Rizal reminds us, “The glory of saving a country is not for him who has contributed to its ruin.”
Dr. de Gracia is a political scientist, an ordained minister, a former elected official and the author of the new political thriller “American Kiss,” available now from Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and other major bookstores. DISCLOSURE: Danny de Gracia is an elected Republican district chairman, but his opinions are expressly his own and do not reflect the official opinion of any organization.