Last night, the Washtenaw County Republican Party hosted Ken Matiyow, former campaign manager and legislative staffer for Jack Brandenburg, a former lawmaker who served for 14 years in the Michigan legislature – the fullest term possible under Michigan term limits.
Brandenburg, a Republican, was first elected to the House in a district that hadn't been represented by a Republican since 1942.
Consisting mostly of Saint Clair Shores, the district consistently elected and re-elected left-wing Democrat Sander Levin to Congress, from 1983 until his retirement in 2018, when he was replaced by his son.
Republicans seldom compete in "Democrat strongholds," but Jack Brandenburg was determined, and Ken Matiyow discovered the winning formula.
The major issue that year, according to conventional wisdom, was the Single Business Tax. Knocking on doors, Matiyow was giving the usual pitch, until one day shortly after the NAACP had its convention in Detroit. All of the candidates for governor – Jennifer Granholm, David Bonior, and James Blanchard – attended the event, and each pledged support for "reparations": government quite literally robbing citizens of their money to give to black people, ostensibly to atone for slavery, which was abolished in 1865.
It was probably nothing more than the usual identity-politics pandering that dominates left-wing politics, but Matiyow found it interesting enough that he asked for, and received, Brandenburg's permission to experiment with the issue in his door-to-door work.
The response was stunning: The first day he began discussing the topic with voters, he placed 30 Brandenburg signs in people's yards.
The Brandenburg campaign found a winning issue, and created a campaign piece on the topic. Brandenburg became the first Republican to win the district in 60 years.
There are two lessons here. The obvious lesson is that political consultants are poor judges of winning issues. Consultants routinely advise politicians to avoid the issue of immigration, despite the fact the huge majority of the public opposes it.
Consider the 2014 referendum in Oregon on Measure 88. Oregon is, by all accounts, a left-wing state. Yet when voters were asked to approve the measure to grant driver licenses to illegal aliens, voters rejected the proposal by 2 to 1.
Rejecting giving driver licenses to illegal aliens was more popular in Oregon than legalizing marijuana, the incumbent governor, and the incumbent senator.
Last year, California voters said no to "affirmative action," another proposal to grant special privileges to particular minorities over everyone else, despite the forces supporting the proposal outspending the opposition 14 to 1.
The very issues that the "experts" tell Republican politicians to avoid seem to be the very same issues that actually resonate with voters.
But the more important lesson is to the power of knocking on doors.
But here we see it's also critical for identifying the best issues to campaign on.
When you go out and talk to 30 voters or so, you get valuable insight into what issues really motivate people. You can test an issue out on a small number of people, and see what works.
You'll also likely identify like-minded people worth connecting with and inviting to meetings.
It really is incredibly effective, and often becomes fun once you get over the initial apprehension about doing it.
But as Ken Matiyow noted, too many conservatives are just too chicken to do it.
"We talk a good game at our own events," he noted, "But then we freeze up at the notion of going out and actually advocating for our beliefs with strangers."
This is why conservatives are losing in the long run. We allow the radical left to present their morally obscene ideas as perfectly normal, and ours as "hateful."
Knocking on doors is the best, and possibly the only, way to change this paradigm.
Matiyow made this important the media: all the media combined only reach a few million voters, in a nation of 128 million of them. The huge majority of people aren't watching the media.
But if every passionate patriot reached out to just a couple hundred people every few years, we would be winning everywhere.
He noted the incredible political shift that just happened in Ontario, Canada.
For 15 years, the socialist Ontario Liberal Party was the most powerful political party in the province. Prior to 2018 the party won every election since the beginning of the 21st century and governed the province for the previous 15 years.
In 2018, conservative leader Doug Ford ran a Trump-style populist campaign. The socialists lost all but 7 seats in the legislature. It was the worst defeat for a party in provincial history.
40% of Canada's population lives in Ontario. This defeat was the equivalent of New York, California, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Minnesota turning from Democrat to Republican in one election.
It can be done. Socialism, which is the true platform of the Democrat Party, is unpopular on its face when voters understand what policies it actually advocates, and disastrous in its practice.
We can win everything back in 2022.
If – and only if – we find the resolve to get out and knock on doors.
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Great article! Something so simple, yet so powerful. It's time to start knocking on doors, which I will certainly do to get it all back in 2022.
Ken came and talked to our door-knocking action team (from our Freedom Alliance group) this past week. He is a great motivator! Our homework is to compose a short "elevator speech" about our favorite "red meat issue," as he calls it, for our next meeting. It'll be fun learning from each other. I think we'll need different elevator speeches for knocking on different doors, depending on who lives there - retirees, couples with young children or college kids, etc.