What Happened in Ohio: We Must Fight Smarter If We Want to Win (Part 7)

By Matt A. Mayer

Now that I’ve spent Parts I-VI explaining what I think happened in Ohio on Election Day, it is time to get to the solutions we need to implement to make sure conservatives don’t lose again in 2014 or 2016. Obviously, my recommendations aren’t the magic bullet, but I firmly believe if we make these changes, we will stand a significantly better chance of winning in the future.

First, at the state level, let me start by saying what we don’t need. We don’t need more think tank reports or white papers that Ohioans ignore or throw in a “to read when I have nothing else to do” pile. As the founder of a new think tank (Opportunity Ohio), former head of another think tank, and Fellow with two other think tanks (The Heritage Foundation and the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs), I realize this statement seems contrary to the health of those think tanks. It isn’t. I started Opportunity Ohio four months ago to focus on educating Ohioans on the big issues, not to issue dry policy position papers.

The reality is that when “our side” controls the levers of power, which is the case in Ohio, the utility of a traditional think declines markedly. Sure, it can serve as a resource for the political establishment, but most politicians only want think tanks to affirm their policy choices as part of an echo chamber. The far more useful roles a traditional think tank can serve is to provide criticism when politicians from either party propose or adopt policies that don’t adhere to our conservative principles and to counter the bad ideas from liberal-progressive groups. With the reelection of President Obama and the continued control of the U.S. Senate by liberal-progressives, we will need The Heritage Foundation, the CATO Institute, and other center-right groups in Washington, D.C., more than ever.

In Ohio, we need something else. As one large conservative Ohio donor said, “We don’t need more [expletive] reports!” As much as it pains an idea guy to admit it, he is right. I am, however, also an action guy who has spent the last three plus years driving over 19,000 miles across Ohio educating more than fifteen thousand Ohioans. In just the last four months, I’ve given over 1,000 copies of my new book to Ohioans in all corners of the state, but those figures are just small fractions of the number of Ohioans we must reach to win.

What Ohio needs is a permanent Infrastructure focused on identifying and educating Ohioans on the key issues. This infrastructure includes both a 501(c)(3) component — an education tank like Opportunity Ohio – and a 501(c)(4) component like Ohio Rising that do the spade work across Ohio week after week, month after month, and year after year to identify and to educate millions of Ohioans. This activity is exactly what Obama for America Ohio did over the last few years very effectively.

As I discussed in Part VI, without this effort, all of the money invested in political ads during the last four months of a campaign will hit hardened soil. This combined (c)(3)/(c)(4) effort will soften the soil so those ads hit a receptive audience.

Importantly, this effort cannot be controlled by a political party, as then it becomes about a candidate. The lesson from the Kasich-DeWine fight discussed in Part II is that politicians will try to control political tools. This effort expressly is not and cannot be about candidates. It must be about advancing the freedom agenda in Ohio to make our state a leader among the states, which will benefit candidates who advocate that agenda.

This effort also will allow grassroots Ohioans to push for issues that the political establishment doesn’t have the will to pass. Imagine what a difference it could have made in last year’s government collective bargaining battle in Ohio. Because Ohio has a veto referendum tool for voters, controlling all levers of government only gets our side so far. The Left will continue to challenge laws enacted and place issues in front of voters. We must be ready.

The key is to begin this work as soon as possible so that it can be a force in 2014 and the determining factor in 2016. The foundation for this effort already is in place. We must now expand it dramatically. As more and more Ohioans are brought into the growing network, it will serve as distribution network for our freedom agenda.

We also must improve how we talk about conservative ideas and principles with more heart and less mind as described in Part V. We must drastically improve how we tell stories about real people that make our points. PowerPoint slide decks put people to sleep. Stories inspire and move people to act. How we communicate to this growing distribution network is as important as building the network itself. This important work in underway, so we need to continue to invest in it and use it.

In order to ensure that conservative ideas and information reaches Joe and Jane Ohio, we must substantially expand the alternative news outlet created at Media Trackers Ohio. Over the last six months, Media Trackers Ohio wrote hundreds of stories on the big events happening in Ohio. Media Trackers Ohio covers news from an unbiased angle. Equally as important, Media Trackers Ohio covers items Ohio’s mainstream media refuses to cover. As I highlighted in Part IV, how are Ohioans supposed to make informed decisions if they are presented only one side of the story and that side contains a liberal bias?

We need to stop complaining about the liberal media and build an alternative news source in Ohio that allows conservatives to go above, around, and below the self-professed gatekeepers in the mainstream Ohio media.

Finally, it won’t be enough to just identify and to educate Ohioans by providing them with unbiased news. We must make sure that conservatives prevail on Election Day. To do that, we must leverage a robust Ohio network using Ohio Rising and other electioneering components to advocate for candidates and issues and to execute a get-out-the-vote program that didn’t just arise in the last few months. As detailed in Parts I and III, we cannot afford to rely upon a candidate or a political party to build a GOTV effort in just the few months available between a primary election and a general election. That formula doesn’t work anymore. We must catch up to the other side and surpass its efforts.

This work must begin now and it must be done correctly.

Let me end this series by putting it in the larger context that I believe is why we fight and why, despite this most recent setback, we must redouble our efforts and fight even harder. With the growing fiscal problems in Washington, D.C., we are rapidly approaching that point along Alexander Tytler’s Cycle of Democracy from which no country in the history of the world has been able to turn back. As I noted in the Afterword of my first book, Homeland Security & Federalism: Protecting America from Outside the Beltway, Tytler’s observed:


A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.

The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations from the beginning of history has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence: from bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependence; from dependence back into bondage.

Either we enter America’s long decline to being a country lost among countries, or we pull back from the edge and reinvigorate the idea of America as an exceptional nation among nations. If any people can do what has not been done before, it is Americans. As I’ve said before, it is in our DNA to fight, to solve problems, and to light the way towards a better tomorrow.

The path to a better Ohio and a better America does not begin in Washington, D.C. – it ends there. We must renew America from the grassroots by re-embracing the power of federalism to find the best solutions to America’s toughest challenges. By leveraging our fifty laboratories of competition, we will fix our states and, by doing so, fix America.

It is time to get over the regrets of the last election and get to work advancing freedom.