America’s Great Divide: Frank Luntz Interview | FRONTLINE

Frank Luntz is a strategist and pollster who has worked on behalf of the Republican Party for nearly three decades. Luntz’s candid, full interview was conducted with FRONTLINE during the making of the two-part January 2020 documentary series “America’s Great Divide: From Obama to Trump.”

Watch Part One here: https://youtu.be/SnMBYMOTwEs And Part Two here: https://youtu.be/l5vyDPN19ww —————

This interview is being published as part of FRONTLINE’s Transparency Project, an effort to open up the source material behind our documentaries. Explore the transcript and interactive version of this interview, and others, on the FRONTLINE website: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/in…

 

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‘Trump Is What Happens When a Political Party Abandons Ideas’

As surprising as Trump’s young presidency has been, it’s also the natural outgrowth of 30 years of Republican pandering to the lowest common denominator in American politics.

Republicans took control of Congress in 1994 after nationalizing the election into broad themes and catchphrases. Newt Gingrich, the marshal of these efforts, even released a list of words Republican candidates should use to glorify themselves (common sense, prosperity, empower) and hammer their opponents (liberal, pathetic, traitors); soon, every Republican in Congress spoke the same language, using words carefully run through focus groups by Republican pollster Frank Luntz. Budgets for House committees were cut, bleeding away policy experts, and GOP committee chairs were selected based on loyalty to the party and how much money they could raise.

.. Gone were the days when members were incentivized to speak with nuance, or hone a policy expertise (especially as committee chairs could now serve for only six years).

.. President George W. Bush didn’t realize he was supposed to just be a passive bill-signing machine; he kept insisting that Republicans enact his priorities, which, often, were not very conservative—No Child Left Behind Act, steel tariffs, a tax cut with few supply-side elements. His worst transgression, for me, was the budget-busting Medicare Part D legislation, which massively expanded the welfare state and the national debt, yet was enthusiastically supported by a great many House conservatives, including Congressman Paul Ryan, who had claimed to hold office for the purpose of abolishing entitlement programs.

.. In the 14 years since then, I have watched from the sidelines as Republican policy analysis and research have virtually disappeared altogether, replaced with sound bites and talking points.

.. The Heritage Foundation morphed into Heritage Action for America, ceasing to do any real research and losing all its best policy experts as it transformed from an august center whose focus was the study and development of public policy into one devoted mainly to amplifying political campaign slogans.

.. Talk radio and Fox News, where no idea too complicated for a mind with a sixth-grade education is ever heard, became the tail wagging the conservative dog.

.. Reagan, who granted amnesty to undocumentedimmigrants in 1986

.. no workable concept that adhered to the many promises Republicans had made, like coverage for pre-existing conditions and the assurance that nobody would lose their coverage.

.. their intellectual infrastructure is badly damaged, in need of repair

.. what conservative intellectuals really need for a full-blown revival is a crushing Republican defeat—Goldwater plus Watergate rolled into one. A defeat so massive there can be no doubt about the message it sends that

.. Some conservative thinkers, such as the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin, speculate that Mitt Romney may emerge as the leader of a sane, modern, technocratic wing of an intellectually revitalized GOP

Deconstructing Frank Luntz’s Obstructionist Health Care Reform Memo

Luntz warns that “if the dynamic becomes ‘President Obama is on the side of reform and Republicans are against it,’ then the battle is lost and every word in this document is useless.’”

.. Luntz establishes a straw man argument against a non-existent health plan.

.. “Humanize your approach,” but argue that health care reform “will result in delayed and potentially even denied treatment, procedures and/or medications.” “Acknowledge the crisis” but ask your constituents “would you rather… ‘pay the costs you pay today for the quality of care you currently receive,’ OR ‘Pay less for your care, but potentially have to wait weeks for tests and months for treatments you need.”

.. “This plays into more favorable Republican territory by protecting individual care while downplays the need for a comprehensive national plan,” the memo states.

.. Readers are also instructed to conflate Obama’s fairly moderate hybrid approach to reform (i.e. building on the current private/public system of delivering health care) with “denial horror stories from Canada & Co.”

.. Republicans will provide “in a word, more: ‘more access to more treatments and more doctors…with less interference from insurance companies and Washington politicians and special interests.’”

.. pretending that the Republicans actually have some kind of health care solution (the memo instructs Republicans to focus on targeting waste, fraud and abuse).