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GOP candidates and political activists must embrace messaging experts like Melanie Sturm

By Rachel Alexander
web posted February 19, 2024

The Democrats are far better at messaging than Republicans, primarily because they know how to communicate using compassion-framed arguments and stories that emotionally resonate with people across the political spectrum. It's natural for Democrats to wax compassionate since they tend to be moved by emotional appeals. Republicans miss that sweet spot by sticking to facts and logic, which the average person often tunes out as dull. 

Fixing our messaging should be a high priority, but sadly it isn't. There's usually no one talking to political candidates about their messaging except their campaign consultants, and they have too many areas to cover — including getting sidelined crafting messaging to deal with bad publicity. Hence, winning messaging is a low priority receiving minimal attention. 

Enter Engage to Win communications expert Melanie Sturm. Known as "the Win Coach," she gives talks on how to messaging persuasively. She got started by writing a column for The Aspen Times called "Think Again, You Might Change Your Mind." Adopting a persuasive writing style different from standard op-eds, her column not only became the most popular, but people didn't perceive her as ideological. Having learned how to be readable in the blue town of Aspen, she teaches others to be hearable – or as her son jokes, to sound like Democrats.

Sturm said the goal of political speech should be to simultaneously "appeal to persuadables," avoid giving "hostiles" ammunition to use against us and unite "friendlies" on the right. She said that in order to enact our morally superior ideas, we need to diffuse polarization with messaging that brings people to common ground. We do that by showing how bad ideas hurt people and are unfair and uncompassionate, and how our good ideas help people and are fair and compassionate. 

She teaches six "powers of persuasion" to find and remain on common ground. The first is "you are the message," meaning you can make people inclined to like – or dislike – you with your non-verbal communications cues, before even opening your mouth. "Though conservatives famously believe that facts don't care about feelings, the truth is feelings don't care about facts," she said. "Margaret Thatcher was only partly right when she said, 'first you win the argument, then you win the vote,'" Sturm told the Independent Women's Forum. "First you must win the audience's trust." 

The second power is to start by finding common ground, and the third is the winning side always fights for people, not for or against things, and never against people. The fourth is to frame issues in terms of fairness and compassion. The fifth is to tell compelling stories to undergird your argument, and the sixth is to use rhetorical devices to pivot to better ground, such as showing you care by saying you are worried or concerned, and by asking rhetorical questions.  

Sturm admits that the right must surmount a higher moral hurdle. The good news is we have morally superior ideas. Unfortunately, though majorities agree on most big issues, too many people are peeled off to identify with the allegedly compassionate side. So, Melanie's goal is to transform conservatives into winsome advocates for our morally superior ideas. 

She teaches that by following these principles, we can persuasively message the most vexing issues. For election integrity, she recommends the phrase "easy to vote and hard to cheat." When people question whether there was cheating during the 2020 election, she advises asking why it is that election concerns are widespread and bipartisan. Considering Hillary Clinton, Stacey Abrams, Donald Trump and Kari Lake contended there were problems with their elections, why not enact the electoral reforms recommended by the 2005 Carter-Baker Commission?

To find common ground on education issues, she advises taking back fair-sounding words that have been contorted by the left. So, instead of saying "parental rights" we should advocate for "family inclusion" and "parental partnership" – common ground phrasing that makes it hard for leftists to oppose.

She acknowledged that abortion is a difficult issue to message. Since the winning side fights for people, we must advocate for both the mother (who votes) as well as the baby, helping women avoid unwanted abortions. She recently presented to RNC leadership on how to message abortion, to great effect.  She said one of the most effective tactics is to ask people if the cutoff should be 40 weeks like in Colorado, a jarring fact for most people.    

Sturm, who is Jewish, said the phrasing on the Israel-Hamas war should be about saving babies by ensuring Palestinians have moral leaders who believe their lives matter. She suggests exposing the lies of Israel critics by asking questions: Isn't it a tragedy that Palestinians living outside of Israel – under Hamas's control in Gaza — don't have the same rights, opportunity and prosperity as Arab-Israelis who represent 21 percent of Israel's population and are represented in its government? 

When those hostile to Israel claim that Muslims occupied Israel before the Jews, she recommends asking how that can be true considering Islam's founder, Muhammud, lived in the 7th century. That's 700 years after Jesus, who was a Jew – a critical fact unknown to the miseducated, she points out.

When people claim that the lawfare against Trump is evidence he's a bad person, she says to make a fairness appeal by pointing out the double standard applied to the Bidens. 

Melanie has spoken at many major conferences, including Turning Point USA, and coached candidates up and down the ballot. Unfortunately, it's not yet considered standard for political candidates to seek out this type of instruction. How many losing candidates could have won with better messaging? We'll never know, but we can fix that. Sturm's training is available in-person and by Zoom. Republican candidates and activists should take Melanie's training at least once. As Sturm likes to say, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. When we do that, we win!" ESR

Rachel Alexander and her brother Andrew are co-Editors of Intellectual Conservative. She has been published in the American Spectator, Townhall.com, Fox News, NewsMax, Accuracy in Media, The Americano, ParcBench, Enter Stage Right and other publications.

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