Luntz Takes The Lead On Anti-Health Reform Talking Points

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Yesterday, Greg Sargent flagged a report that GOP pollster Frank Luntz had authored a strategy memo rehashing some of the themes Republicans used 16 years ago to torpedo Hillary Care. Greg noted that though “such messaging was very effective 16 years ago, the recycling of it could leave Republicans open to charges that they don’t understand how much the landscape has changed since then.”

Then Ben Smith dug up the memo itself, which is striking for a couple of reasons. First it advises Republicans to use many of the same banal platitudes they already use when arguing against comprehensive health reform. “Stop talking economic theory and start personalizing the impact of a government takeover of healthcare,” Luntz warns.

They don’t want to hear that you’re opposed to government healthcare because it’s too expensive (any help from the government to lower costs will be embraced) or because it’s anti-competitive (they don’t know about or care about current limits to competition). But they are deathly afraid that a government takeover will lower their quality of care – so they are extremely receptive to the anti-Washington approach. It’s not an economic issue. It’s a bureaucratic issue.

So what sort of language should Republicans resort to instead? Luntz says “too many politician [sic] say ‘we don’t want a government run healthcare system like Canada or Great Britain’ without explaining those consequences.”

There is a better approach. “In countries with government run healthcare, politicians make YOUR healthcare decisions. THEY decide if you’ll get the procedure you need, or if you are disqualified because the treatment is too expensive or because you are too old. We can’t have that in America.”

Which raises a couple of critical questions, but particularly, Why is the GOP paying Luntz money to tell Republicans their failing strategies are the right ones. In fact, several times throughout the memo, Luntz quotes members of Congress who, he says, already have the messaging down perfect. But if this messaging is so good, why isn’t it working, and if it is working, why the need for Luntz?

Anyhow, one thing you shouldn’t expect to hear from Republicans in the coming weeks and months is anything attacking Obama‘s health care plan. This could be because Obama himself is just too popular, but Luntz can’t quite bring himself to admit this:

If the dynamic becomes “President Obama is on the side of reform and
Republicans are against it,” then the battle is lost and every word in this document is useless. Republicans must be for the right kind of reform that protects the quality of healthcare for all Americans. And you must establish your support of reform early in your presentation….

Your political opponents are the Democrats in Congress and the bureaucrats in
Washington, not President Obama.
Every time we test language that criticized the President by name, the response was negative – even among Republicans.

Maybe that’ll change if Obama’s popularity hits the skids in the near future. The entire memo can be read here. All emphasis is in the original.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at brian@talkingpointsmemo.com
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