Friday and Saturday, the Omni Dallas hosts Americans for Prosperity's "Defending the American Dream" conference. Featured speakers include Governor Rick Perry, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Jeb Hensarling and Indiana governor Mike Pence. We sent two of our reporters to get the full experience.
Political rhetoric on both sides has the potential to get out of hand and send speakers down the rabbit hole of sounding crazy. Throwing red meat is fantastic if you want to whip up the base, but if you're trying to gain some converts, not so much. At Americans for Prosperity's summit, the panelists and session-leaders seemed to take this to heart.
With social media and the Internet, "everyone's voice can be heard, but there's some people we wish whose voices couldn't be heard," said Erik Telford of the Franklin Center.
Probably the best example of sending a message of reasonableness was a session led by Beverly Hallberg, the founder and president of District Media Group, which trains clients how to interview on camera. Along with tips on how to combat dry mouth (rub your tongue back and forth behind your lower gum) and what not to wear ("I try to keep my clients from wearing the Republican uniform," which is a red tie, white shirt, blue suit and flag lapel pin) Hallberg stressed the importance of sounding reasonable and human during a TV interview.
Conservatives on TV should avoid giving the "board-report answer," meaning conservative jargon. "It doesn't work on the general public," she said. "People don't even know what free enterprise is."
They also should strive to make personal connections. "We ignore the emotion and we sound callous," she said. Conservatives try to make intellectual arguments and lose while "the other side is looking for the heart," she added.
On the importance of being reasonable, she said she wouldn't train her clients to be like, for instance, Ann Coulter. "She has a great model," she said, but she's only "entertaining the base," not winning over potential supporters.
"I work with the Tea Party," Hallberg said, "and I'll ask them these two questions: Why are you racist and why are you angry?" Immediately, they'll respond with, I'm not racist, she said. It's defensive, and it doesn't work. "You're not 'angry,'" she said. "You're 'concerned.'"
"We're always on the defensive," Hallberg said. "Be on the offensive."
One way to be on the offensive is to volunteer solutions, not just complaints. Tony Katz, a radio host in Indiana, said during one panel: "You got screwed by Obamacare? Me too! Now what do we do?"
"There's a fine line between authenticity and caricature," Katz, bordering on a caricature himself with a mullet haircut and a thick cigar in one hand, told the audience. "You'll know when you cross it because no one will ever follow you again."
During a question session, Katz shut down a member of Pro-Life Texas who suggested that "one of the best things we get as conservatives is the opposition." He was referring to a rally last year where one person on the other side started a "Hail Satan" chant.
Katz took the mic and said, "To paraphrase that question, it sounds like you're asking how to incite a friendly riot." His suggestion would be to not do that.
Embracing vocal opposition seemed to be a big no-no, something Guy Benson, a blogger for Townhall, addressed on a panel on how to use Facebook and Twitter effectively. "It's hard to do," he said, "but don't feed the trolls." He said that 97 percent of the time conservatives should ignore them. "If you're fighting a famous left-wing person, then it might be worth your time."
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