Ten pages into David Horowitz’s new book Take No Prisoners: The Battleplan for Defeating the Left (Regnery, 2014), I realize putting dog-ears on pages with important quotes for this review is hopeless. I’ve placed a dog-ear on every page. By the end, the whole book might be dog-eared.
If there was a single book to add to the swag-bag for the attendees at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Take No Prisoners is the book. Not only is the book helpful in understanding the modern political battlespace, as Horowitz makes clear throughout, the delegates who will be in Cleveland are sorely in need of help.
Many still think elections are won or lost because one side has better ideas than the other. Election losers convinced that they had better ideas harbor all sorts of excuses for their loss — the media, economic earthquakes, silly character attacks.
Recall in 2012 the relentless and unopposed effort to define Mitt Romney as beholden to the richest of the rich, out of touch with most Americans. Republicans delivered wet noodle complaints that the attacks were “class warfare” and “divisive.” Horowitz:
These were weak and whiny responses, all too familiar from previous Republican campaigns. Common to both was failure to address the specific charges . . . The term “class warfare” is a polite way of discussing a real problem, namely leftist agendas in national politics. But politeness protects others – in this case, opponents who are busy defaming you as mean spirited and selfish. . . it fails to hold your adversaries accountable for what they have actually done and are likely to continue doing if elected.
And what of the zinger that Obama was “divisive?” Horowitz:
Complaining about “divisive politics” is not only futile, it is incomprehensible. Elections are by nature divisive. They are competitions between winners and losers. They are about defeating opponents. Why wouldn’t they be divisive??
The strongest part of Take No Prisoners, is how Horowitz matches his skill as a word-smith with real campaign choices. Every Horowitz book is characterized by brilliant writing, and sharp word choices. Take No Prisoners is about how Republicans have dropped the ball on writing the national narrative, and how they can get it back by crafting words and tactics that counter the left’s mastery of the process.
Many in the GOP and conservative movement might not like the taste of Horowitz’s medicine. A party raised on the primacy of ideas and policies will feel uncomfortable with the smashmouth suggestions in Take No Prisoners. I’ve heard the complaints — ‘we don’t want to become them’ — a complaint more convenient when the threats to liberty were less advanced. It’s also a complaint that misses the mark as a matter of fact:
Behind Republican failures at the ballot box is an attitude that reflects an administrative rather than political approach to election campaigns. Republicans focus on policy proposals rather than electoral combat and the threat posed by their opponents. Administrative politicians are more comfortable with budgets and pie-charts than with the flesh and blood victims of their opponent’s policies and ideas. When Republicans do appeal to the victims of Democrat’s policies, those victims are frequently small business owners and other job creators – people who in the eyes of most Americans are rich.
At the root of this strategic mistake is the belief among many Republicans that the two parties still share the same goals, but have divergent ways to get there. News flash: Democrats like John F. Kennedy and Scoop Jackson no longer exist. The Democrats have been taken over by messianic progressives seeking to craft the world in their own image. “Republicans do not hope to change the world. They are too mindful of the human catastrophes that have been brought about by those who do,” the former Communist Horowitz writes because he knows it all too well.
As a result of this attitude, conservative’s emotions are not inflamed as progressives’ are when confronting those with whom they disagree. The conservative instinct is to search for common ground and to arrive at practical measures to address public problems. That is why they take a lot of time explaining to voters how their proposals might work. But by the time they reach them, many voters are not listening.
This may be the central dividing line between the establishment and the Tea Party — a division Horowitz notes is more a question of tactics than goals.
I regularly encounter this aversion to the fight, despite the fact I receive emails and expressions of thanks from lawyers across Holder’s Justice Department. Lawyers trapped inside DOJ are filled with gratitude that I (and a few others) aggressively shine a light on Holder’s misbehavior and radicalism. Some GOP alumni of the DOJ grumble that it hurts the institution or goes too far. But the good people still trapped inside a radicalized Justice Department, who see the disappearance of standards which governed the place for decades, are thankful. Even leaders of the Department of Justice during the age of Reagan are on the side of sunshine, not in the camp of those giving Eric Holder quarter. Horowitz didn’t name his book Take no Prisoners by accident.
Horowitz’s prescription: 1) Put the aggressors on defense. 2) Throw their victims in their faces. 3) Start the campaign now because they already have.
Horowitz dissects the left’s machine — not just the electoral tactics from the 2012 election and the inadequate GOP response, but the interplay between narrative, words, tactics, and ultimately questions involving race.
Race has become the central organizing energy behind the progressive domination of the Democrat party, and the defeat of the GOP. Race is the word that makes Republicans scatter in terror. Some Republicans have decided that the best approach to racial issues is to give the race agitators what they want.
This rewards evil. Organizing Americans on racial lines is evil. Hundreds of thousands of Americans lost their lives to eradicate polices that treated people differently because of skin color. Horowitz:
When all is said and done, this racial Teflon is the reason that Republicans lose elections. . . . If conservatives are unable to repel and neutralize these squalid Democratic attacks, they can’t hold Democrats accountable. They can’t hold Obama accountable, and by extension they can’t hold any progressive accountable. Because this is how they fight. . . Any form of counterstrategy to these Democratic offensives must take the form of an attack.
Horowitz is right.
Here’s an example. The NAACP is a morally bankrupt organization. They held the moral high ground a half century ago and helped end racial evil. But in 2014, they thrive on scaring and tricking minorities into being afraid. They herd minorities into solid electoral blocks by telling them Republicans seek to disenfranchise them by passing voter ID. They lie to minorities to scare them the same way white southerners stirred cultural fear of black men a century ago because they posed a predatory threat to southern women. That Voter ID disenfranchises blacks in 2014, and black men in 1914 were a predatory threat to white women, are both racially motivated lies designed to stoke fear and paranoia of the opposite race.
It’s time that the GOP go on offense against the racial lies the Democrats use to defeat them at the ballot box.
But will they? I’m not so sure. There are many who think the best way to respond to a lie is to flee because the lie is effective.
Horowitz describes this lack of GOP unity:
Internal dissention not only blunts Republican attacks, it hands Democrats convenient stick to beat them with. No one on the Right thinks this is an advantageous situation. . . . What Democrats have that Republicans lack is the power of a unifying idea. . . . That idea – the idea of changing the entire framework of the nation’s life, of ‘making a better world’ – is what unifies the Left and gives it power.
Horowitz concludes that politics has become religion to progressives, and when you oppose their politics, you stand in the way of their religious crusade. Until the Republicans understand that merely talking about pie charts and policy proposals cannot defeat messianic attacks, they will continue to lose Presidential elections.
After a GOP primary debate in South Carolina in February 2012, I was driving back to the hotel with PJ Media’s Roger Simon. Roger was inclined to go for Romney. I was partial to Newt Gingrich. Roger wanted a victory in November, and so did I. We just got there different ways. “I fear Romney doesn’t understand the left,” I told Roger. If you don’t understand the modern progressive left, you won’t defeat them, and that’s what Take No Prisoners is designed to do: Educate those who don’t understand the modern left, and provide a way to defeat them.
Romney’s dog would end up proving me right in 2012.
The Obama campaign aggressively went after Romney because he once put his dog in a car carrier designed for the purpose on the exterior of his station wagon. I saw bumper stickers, usually on cars driven by women, saying “Dogs for Obama.” Republicans laughed at the attack on how Romney treated his dog, not thinking it was serious.
Never mind the chutzpah of the Obama campaign attacking Romney for his treatment of his dog — all from a man who used to eat them. Had someone in the Romney campaign crafted a witty well worded response that alluded to Obama’s past, the whole matter would have boomeranged back on Obama. How many hundreds of thousands of voters, voters who didn’t pay attention to conservative media, would have said – “huh!? Obama ate a dog?”
Had someone in a 2008 campaign crafted a witty well worded response that alluded to Obama’s past other than the dog eating, we might never have been stuck with him.
Instead, the rational shrugged off the dog on the roof attack as silly. We’ve been laughing at the silliness of the left for 30 years, not thinking it was serious. In the meantime, the very unserious views we laughed at are now policy.
Saul Alinsky’s Rule Number Five understands this: “RULE 5: Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions.” When your opponent is ridiculing you, you are in very dangerous territory, and there is only one effective response. Fire must be used against fire.
Horowitz lays out an architecture in Take No Prisoners for conservatives to operate in the modern political battlespace. Among the key points are “in political warfare, the aggressor usually prevails. Position is defined by fear and hope. The weapons of politics are those that evoke fear and hope. Victory lies on the side of the people.”
The details are in the book. And if Republicans want to reverse a string of electoral losses in 2016, let’s hope Republicans read it.