Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have succeeded in engaging Americans. Increased engagement has been a major goal of the Republican Party, and whether or not you agree with Cruz or Paul's ideas, the way they have managed to engage the public is effective and should be replicated.
After the 2012 presidential election, the Republican Party emphasized the need for Republicans to be more engaging. The Republican National Committee’s Growth and Opportunity Project was showered with the word “engage.” This is appropriate, as engagement is the essence of politics.
Engaging means relating to a person and showing them you care, so they will have reason to listen to you. If nobody wants to hear what a politician says, he will undoubtedly lose his election. The saying “if they don't think you care, they don't care what you think” is at the heart of the importance of engagement.
In the realm of public opinion, engagement frequently matters more than effectiveness. Elected officials who have little substance frequently perform well electorally if they engage the public. Others do great work, but if their constituents are unaware of it, public opinion fails to sway in their favor. Consequently, they receive no electoral benefit from their work.
Engagement is like marketing and substance is like a product. You can market a bad product well, and you can market a good product poorly.
Senator Tom Coburn’s (R-Okla.) annual Waste Book exposes atrocious examples of government waste so that they can be cut from the budget. While it is an effective way to get rid of waste, it is less well known than Rand Paul and Ted Cruz' epic filibusters. Senator Coburn would benefit from actively highlighting his work to his constituents and explaining how it affects them.
Over the past year, Senators Paul and Cruz have intentionally spotlighted themselves in order to engage the public. Senator Paul garnered extensive national attention and immense support for his filibuster in March, which focused on the dangers of drone strikes.
Paul effectively engaged Americans and changed minds, which is the goal of politics – engaging in order to convince someone to support or oppose something.
Paul is unafraid to approach engagement differently, often tying it closely with legislation. Recently, Paul proposed a constitutional amendment to prevent Congress from making laws which only apply to congressmen, as such laws frequently provide them with benefits average Americans cannot have. This engages Americans by proving he believes special treatment for the elite is wrong, and that he wants to fix the problem.
Senator Cruz has similarly become a conservative icon because of the way in which he continuously engages the conservative base. Since his election, he has consistently remained in the headlines.
Cruz is set to headline the Iowa GOP’s Reagan Dinner on Friday, which is notable, as presidential hopefuls often frequent the swing state of Iowa prior to announcing their bids. Governor Terry Branstad (R-Iowa) explained that, while he is happy to have Cruz speak, positive results come from governors – not D.C. politicians. Branstad hinted that Cruz’s ability to engage does not necessarily mean he produces results.
Furthermore, while Cruz' model of engagement can benefit the Republican Party, his divisiveness cannot. Although polls have long shown Americans are skeptical about Obamacare, Senator Cruz did not use his anti-Obamacare filibuster in September to unify Americans against the law. Rather, he tailored his message to a narrow conservative base, the same one on which he has focused the majority of his efforts.
Senator Cruz’ message excludes those who have the potential to disagree with him, in contrast to Senator Paul’s, which includes those who have potential to agree with him. Cruz can afford to play to the GOP base since he represents a very Republican state and will not suffer electorally.
Senators Cruz and Paul offer a lesson in engagement. Putting yourself in the public eye offers ample opportunity to grow support for your ideas as well as the opportunity to divide. The way in which Cruz and Paul have engaged the public can serve as a model for the GOP, although the substance should be more like that of Senator Paul, as he unifies people outside the base.