Renowned GOP pollster and messaging guru Frank Luntz gave a little talk to the Republican Governors Association yesterday. Chris Moody attended the session, and apparently many the GOPers in attendance wanted advice on how to better talk about Occupy Wall Street.
The piece of advice from Luntz that’s getting a lot of attention today is the one counseling Republicans not to use the word “capitalism.” But I think these other two nuggets are also pretty interesting:
Don’t say that the government ‘taxes the rich.’ Instead, tell them that the government ‘takes from the rich.’
“If you talk about raising taxes on the rich,” the public responds favorably, Luntz cautioned. But “if you talk about government taking the money from hardworking Americans, the public says no. Taxing, the public will say yes.”
Republicans should forget about winning the battle over the ‘middle class.’ Call them ‘hardworking taxpayers.’
“[Democrats] cannot win if the fight is on hardworking taxpayers. We can say we defend the ‘middle class’ and the public will say, I’m not sure about that. But defending ‘hardworking taxpayers’ and Republicans have the advantage.”
This is a pretty striking concession. This longtime GOP pollster, adviser, and messaging expert is admitting that the Dem push for tax hikes on the rich has Republicans on the defensive, and that Republicans need to come up with a better way of obscuring what Dems are trying to achieve on the issue. He’s also admitting that the public isn’t inclined to believe Republicans represent the interests of the middle class.
But hey, Occupy Wall Street protesters defecate everywhere, so there’s no way the protests can be having any impact on the debate, right? And the Dem embrace of class warfare against Republicans must be alienating the middle of the country, right?
In all seriousness, it’s instructive to compare this to the way Congressional Republicans talk about these issues. I tend to think Luntz’s actual influence over Congressional Republicans is often overstated, because it benefits Luntz and Democrats alike for him to be perceived as an all powerful svengali who has scripted every word that comes out of GOPers’ mouths. But still, consider this overlap. Luntz suggests that Republicans refrain from describing the target of Dem tax hike proposals as “middle class,” because, he says, the public will be skeptical that Republicans are really defending “middle class” interests. He proposes instead that Republicans refer to them as “hardworking taxpayers,” deliberately blurring the class definition of those who would be impacted.
And many Congressional Republicans do in fact try to blur these class lines. They frequently refer to the target of high end tax hikes as “job creators” or “small business” people.
I don’t really think Congressional Republicans are taking their cues from Luntz. But it’s worth asking whether they have reached similar conclusions about messaging and the politics of taxing the rich that Luntz has here.
UPDATE: Post edited for clarity.