What Australia’s Election Can Teach U.S. Conservatives

Australia’s new Prime Minister Tony Abbott

Elections last week in Australia gave the conservative parties (known as the Liberal-National coalition) a near-landslide victory over the leftist Labour Party headed by Paul Rudd. Like Democrats in the U.S., the Labour playbook was filled with “extremist” slurs and “war on women” kinds of tropes designed to drive up negative opinion of the conservative candidate.

So how did the conservative win? By refusing to be cowed by the relentlessly inaccurate caricatures of him by his opponents and the media. John O. Sullivan writes about this in today’s NRO, finding in Abbott’s victory a lesson for conservative candidates in the U.S.:

[T]hough he held some opinions that were unpopular or ‘controversial,’ he neither frightened people with them nor backed nervously away from them. His formula for dealing with such matters (I paraphrase) went like this: ‘Am I worried about divorce and family breakdown? Yes. Will I try to outlaw them? No.’ Voters approved of his authenticity and reasonableness even whey they disagreed with him.
[Abbott’s] strategists concluded that Labour and the media would be unable to make their charges of extremism stick unless Abbott gave them the ammunition. The watchword of the Liberal campaign should therefore be ‘steady.’ Abbott should present a strong reasoned case for his main policies and mount a reasoned but not angry critique of Labour’s failures. He could go negative on Labour policies — polls showed that his attacks on Labour’s carbon tax were popular — but not against Labour personalities. Above all, he should largely ignore the attacks leveled against him by the government and the media. Since these attacks reflected Labour’s defective analysis of who Abbott was and what he stood for, the voters would be less and less influenced by them. They knew Abbott — an opposition leader gets about — and he simply didn’t fit the caricature. Some of the more sneeringly snobbish attacks would probably drive traditional Labour voters into Abbott’s waiting arms.

Just like I’ve previously noted with respect to similar kinds of attacks being hurled against Ken Cuccinelli, the conservative should not back down and go into some sort of defensive crouch when vicious smears become the other side’s everyday weapon. Instead, demonstrate the opposite is true, and steadfastly and cheerfully present the positive case for common sense, mainstream conservative principles.

It works. I hope the Cuccinelli campaign is taking note.

Cross-posted to The Bull Elephant


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