Luntz Warns Divided GOP on Taxes

MARCH 21, 2011

UPDATED 8:15 p.m.


As nearly 2,000 Republicans from around the state met in Sacramento over the weekend for the California Republican Party Convention, the elephant in every room was the divide within the party. The convention was not without plenty of drama, including bungled public relations moments, opposing Republican factions fighting, outbursts from legislators, policy debates and even several attempts to silence media coverage.

Chaos erupted as hundreds of Republican Party convention attendees and delegates arrived at the Saturday luncheon to hear key-note speaker, conservative pollster and pundit Frank Luntz. Confused volunteers shuffled members of the media off to the side of the room, explaining that “proprietary” information would be covered and the media were not going to be allowed in.

After several members of the media challenged the decision, heated words were exchanged with incoming state party Chairman Tom Del Becarro. However, he seemed to smooth over the misunderstanding calmly, and agreed to let the media remain during Luntz’s speech. The media were told by Republican Party Communications Director Mark Standriff that Luntz would just revise his speech instead.

However, when Luntz began to speak, he said he decided to stick with the original plan and talk about how the GOP should use words.

Luntz announced that he didn’t want the California Republican Party to take the heat for the decision. And he told the media it was his idea to close the meeting to the press so he could have a frank discussion with the Republican attendees. However, he said he decided that nothing he was going to impart was a secret, “and the Republican Party has nothing to hide.”

The evening before, several journalists reported that they were removed from another meeting much the same way. While Luntz appeared willing to take one for the team, not many were buying the explanation.

After he told a few Jerry Brown and Hillary Clinton jokes to loosen the crowd up, Luntz moved on the subject of his speech, and the words he said that Republicans need to know.

  • * “Imagine.” Luntz said he believed in pulling forms of communication, not pushing, and added that rhetorical questions are important for communicating.
  • * “No excuses.” Luntz told Republicans, “We want someone to stand up and look us straight in the eyes. If you have to read a speech, you are failing.” And Luntz specifically told candidates to stop reading speeches. “Stop reading and start communicating to people.”

Audience Interaction

Instead of standing on the stage behind a podium, Luntz wore an ear microphone and walked around the room, talking directly to the crowd. He often made fun of his own appearance, and publicly embarrassed those who had not silenced the ringers on cell phones.  At one point in the speech, Luntz took the cell phone from one audience member after it began to ring loudly, and handed it to a 19-year-old young man. “I’ll pay you $20 to change his ring tone to ‘Play that funky music white boy’.”

Returning to the speech, Luntz said,

  • * “I get it.” He explained, “This means you are listening and will do something about it.” Luntz suggested to anyone giving a speech to ask the audience questions first, and let the questions dictate the direction of the speech.
  • * “The people of California have the right to know exactly how the money is spent.” Luntz said, “No more budget gimmicks, no more accounting tricks, and no more empty promises.” He told the audience to “hold them accountable.”
  • * “Enough is enough. Enough waste, fraud and abuse, and mismanagement,” said Luntz.
  • * And all of Luntz’s advice led up to, “If Republicans vote to raise taxes, hell hath no fury like a taxpayer scorned.” Luntz said that the electorate is skeptical of Republicans, and reminded the audience, “They did not vote Republican in 2010 — they voted anti-Democratic.”

Presidential Poll

Luntz did an informal presidential poll of the audience, tossing out names of candidates or potential presidential candidates. “Mitt Romney,” he started with, and received cheers and clapping. “Newt Gingrich” also received exuberant claps. “Sarah Palin” did not get much clapping from this audience.

But then Luntz asked the audience whether or not they would support New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as a presidential candidate. And even though Luntz said Christie is not running, the audience roared, demonstrating the support for sincere reform candidates.

When someone from the crowd yelled “Donald Trump,” Luntz shouted, “Get out! No really, I mean it. Get out!”

The issues necessary for Republicans to remain focused on are tax reform and ways of connecting with new voters, according to Luntz.

And then, as the luncheon wound down, Luntz asked the group to go forward not just as Republicans, but as Americans. “We need to come together or we will fail divided. Please come together.”

UPDATE: Mark Standriff sent me a clarification about Luntz’s speech: ” Frank actually did not give the same talk anyway–in fact, he actually published an article in HuffPo on “The 11 Words for 2011” three weeks ago and he punted to give that speech instead. We’ll bring him back to talk about his “Words That Work for California” sometime soon.”

I’ve heard Luntz’s talk about “The 11 Words for 2011,” and recognized some of it as he spoke Saturday, but did not know it was not part of his prepared speech. My favorite of the 11 “words” is, “You decide.” Luntz wrote, “The lesson of 2010 is that Americans want control of their lives back, and they don’t want Washington or Wall Street making their decisions for them. So add the phrase “you’re in control” and you’ve said exactly what Americans want to hear.”

I’d add one word: “Reform:” Californians want real reform, not rhetoric, and not the same old playbook.

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  1. John Seiler
    John Seiler 21 March, 2011, 10:54

    Now that was weird. Did the GOP expect that Luntz’s speech, if kept exclusive to them, would not be recorded on cell phones, then put up on the Internet?

    Or was the confusion just drama to get publicity? But then Luntz said, “We want someone to stand up and look us straight in the eyes.”

    Democrats don’t need to worry in California. Their opponents are as incompetent as ever.

    Reply this comment
  2. David from Oceanside
    David from Oceanside 21 March, 2011, 17:13

    John, you think its only CA democrats that do not have to worry? Who among Romney, Gingrich, Palin or Trump should they fear at the national level?

    Reply this comment
  3. John Seiler
    John Seiler 21 March, 2011, 17:20


    Dems shouldn’t fear any of those Republicans. Gingrich, Palin and Trump are clown candidates. Romney is serious, but a socialist.

    My favorite, of course, is Ron Paul. He could beat Obama. If Republicans gain even an ounce of sense, they’ll nominate him.

    Reply this comment
  4. David Greene
    David Greene 22 March, 2011, 08:58

    Romney a socialist? He is such a chameleon that he might pass through socialist as he is going from one shade to another, but really. socialist? Please continue to talk like that. Such a distorted perspective will continue to turn independents and thinkers away. If Reagan was still around he wouldn’t pass the right wing purity test. And if Romney is a socialist, I can’t even imagine what would be said about Eisenhower. This former Republican is dismayed at how far the GOP has slid from reality and reason.

    Reply this comment

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