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As Republicans were starting the 113th Congress, I offered them some unsolicited advice from my years in marketing. Noting the overwhelmingly pro-Obama bias of the mainstream media, I recommended they use a little messaging jujitsu. They could use the president’s rhetoric against him and win over a frustrated electorate at the same time.
As a first step, I told the House leadership to redefine Obama’s “balanced approach” catchphrase to mean “balanced budget” in the public’s mind:
“Much like the President, we support a balanced approach to the budget. In fact, many of us have advocated a balanced budget for decades. Sadly, politicians of both parties have spent more than they’ve taken in for a long time, but we’re glad the White House wants to put an end to these irresponsible and unbalanced budgets. We have presented our balanced budget to President Obama and look forward to seeing his balanced budget so we can find a win/win for the American people. We hope that Senator Reid will agree to this balanced approach by passing this bipartisan budget as soon as possible.”
Just two months later, it appears that Republicans have taken my advice. As Rep. Paul Ryan puts the finishing touches on his budget plan, GOP officials are previewing their strategy:
"They've talked a lot about a balanced approach," Daniel Scarpinato, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, told bloggers during a conference call Monday aimed at outlining how House Republicans plan to promote the Ryan budget. "We're going to be throwing that back in their face, really talking about how their plan is an unbalanced approach because it never balances the budget."
Democrats have owned the phrase "balanced approach" in recent national debates. Obama uses the term constantly to hammer Republicans who want to narrow the budget gap through spending reductions alone without raising taxes… In the next several weeks, expect Republicans to start using Obama's "balanced approach" line to take Democrats to task for not offering a plan to balance the budget.
This is an all-out effort. Four of Monday's six news items on the NRCC website feature “balance” in the headline. And they aren’t the only ones using jujitsu; Sensei Boehner has entered the messaging dojo:
No word is used more often by the White House these days than “balance” when discussing budget matters. But while President Obama has his own definition of the word, to most Americans, a “balanced” budget is one that doesn’t add to the deficit. Today, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney made very clear that a balanced budget is something the American people should never expect to see from this president…
House Republicans know that Americans want Washington to balance its budget, just like they have to do every month. That’s why under the leadership of Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, House Republicans will advance a budget blueprint that balances within 10 years. This is in contrast to Senate Democrats (doing their first budget in four years) and their plan which, it has been reported, is “not expected to do anything to erase the nation’s deficits." With the president AWOL and unserious about eliminating the deficit and Senate Democrats unwilling to make the choices necessary, it’s clear that Republicans are the only ones in town with a plan to free our next generation from a growing mountain of debt.
After a disappointing January cave on tax rates, Republicans held firm on spending and won the sequestration battle. By continuing to improve their messaging, they can win many more fiscal battles in the court of public opinion and on Capitol Hill.
Follow Jon on Twitter at @ExJon.