A successful script for prolife Republicans
By Michael R. Shannon
web posted November 18, 2013
Virginia voters decided after much deliberation that they would rather be ruled by a sleazebag than a puritan. And if Ken Cuccinelli needed any more proof that he should have run for re–election as attorney general — something he promised initially — the election results should have provided it.
Cuccinelli had a number of problems that hampered his campaign (outlined here). But the biggest problems he had were caused by Ken Cuccinelli. First he fell into the "new best friend" trap and took gifts from Star Scientific's Jonnie Williams, a man whose ethical profile is much like that of our new governor, Terry McAuliffe.
Second, Cuccinelli used the "duck and cover" method of responding to McAuliffe's obsession with abortion and activities involving female private parts.
Marjorie Dannenfelser — President of the Susan B. Anthony Lists — calculates that McAuliffe blasted Cuccinelli with 5,600 negative commercials on abortion and contraception. Talk about a campaign obsessed with social issues!
The attacks ranged from "Cuccinelli will force you to have the baby after a crazed member of the TEA party rapes you" to "Crazy Ken wants to melt all your rubbers."
Cuccinelli's response was much like that of the Obama Administration last year on 9/11 in Libya: He pretended nothing was happening while the campaign burned down around him.
I've got news for Republicans. This ‘War on Women' attack is going to be a staple of Democrat campaigns as long as Amnesty; Abortion & Alternate Lifestyles are the three main planks of the party platform. Duck and cover would not have worked during nuclear attack in the 60's and it won't work under pubic attack now.
GOP candidates must either meet and defeat this tactic or at the very least blunt its impact.
I'm a media consultant and I hate to write commercials for free — somehow it feels like I'm betraying capitalism — but this is a script Cuccinelli could have used to counter McAuliffe's negative ads.
The production would be simple and straightforward, as befits a serious topic. Cuccinelli should deliver the message himself looking straight to camera (this time memorizing his lines, which he evidently didn't do for most of his commercials). The set should not be distracting, but he needs a light package that doesn't make him look like he needs a transfusion. His tone begins by dismissing one of the McAuliffe attacks and then concludes with a serious defense of life.
(KEN CUCCINELLI) HI, I'M KEN CUCCINELLI AND I'D LIKE TO SET THE RECORD STRAIGHT.
TERRY MCAULIFFE AND HIS SUPPORTERS ARE NOT TELLING THE TRUTH WHEN THEY SAY I WANT TO BAN CONTRACEPTION. MY WIFE, TEIRO AND I HAVE SEVEN CHILDREN. I'VE HEARD THERE ARE OTHER FAMILIES IN VIRGINIA WITH FEWER AND EVEN SOME WITH NO CHILDREN. AND THAT'S FINE WITH ME.
WHEN A COUPLE USES CONTRACEPTION IT'S THEIR CHOICE AND NONE OF GOVERNMENT'S BUSINESS.
BUT ABORTING A PREGNANCY IS ANOTHER MATTER. I BELIEVE THAT LIFE IS PRECIOUS AND JUST AS GOVERNMENT SHOULD NOT INTERFERE WITH CONTRACEPTION, IT ALSO SHOULD NOT ENCOURAGE ABORTION.
BECAUSE NO MATTER HOW OFTEN MY OPPONENT TALKs ABOUT HEALTH AND DOCTORS AND ‘CHOICE,' THE FACT IS ABORTION IS NOT ABOUT REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH; IT'S ABOUT ENDING A LIFE BEFORE IT HAS A CHANCE TO BEGIN.
I THINK THAT'S A TRAGEDY FOR BOTH THE MOTHER AND THE UNBORN CHILD. YOU MAY NOT AGREE AND YOU ARE CERTAINLY FREE TO VOTE FOR MY OPPONENT. BUT PLEASE, DON'T DO IT BASED ON HIS DISTORTIONS AND EXAGGERATIONS.
It may not be the perfect 60 second script, but I would nominate it for the perfect free script. After the shooting is done the campaign puts the commercial on cable TV, where the rates are lower and you can afford to run 60 seconds. Then the spot runs until the campaign is over. It answers the McAuliffe mudslinging without being hysterical.
Responding in this manner does bring up a topic that a large portion of the electorate opposes. And some consultants are simply uncomfortable with the subject.
But the abortion–obsessed aren't going to vote for Cuccinelli anyway, and answering the topic beats hoping it will go away. The commercial is designed to persuade the "moderates" and independents that Ken isn't Cotton Mather in a poplin suit. Moving the opposition from "OMG he wants to take us back to colonial times!" to simply disagreeing with Cuccinelli is a giant step that was not taken this campaign.
And it certainly beats the Cuccinelli strategy of not answering the attack at all or using women in tangential ads to prove Republicans are as good at showcasing tokens as the Democrats.
If Christian conservatives are interested in winning they are going to have to address these attacks forcefully and change the debate. As Robert Knight wrote this week, "Ever since the GOP-controlled Virginia legislature in 2012 passed a law requiring abortionists to give women ultrasound imaging before an abortion, Democrats have had a field day accusing Republicans of being "extremists" who want to force women to have "transvaginal ultrasounds." The Democrats are fine, of course, with "transvaginal abortions."
If we don't change the context we can't hope to change the culture.
Michael R. Shannon is a public relations and advertising consultant with corporate, government and political experience around the globe. He is a dynamic and entertaining keynote speaker. He can be reached at mandate.mmpr (at) gmail.com. He is also the author of the forthcoming book: "Funny Conservative" Is Not an Oxymoron. (Or any other type of moron).