On message

ON MESSAGE…. Despite the half-hearted talk about substance and rebranding, quite a few GOP leaders believe the way to get the party back on track is to focus on a better communications strategy. Consider this advice, for example.

With little power to stop the enlarged House Democratic majority procedurally, Republicans say their best strategy is to head for the microphones.

In November, after Republicans lost 21 seats, Conference Chairman Mike Pence went so far as to urge members to cut their legislative staff to make room for communications aides.

I realize that Pence isn’t exactly a policy wonk, despite his role as the #3 Republican in the chamber, but this advice only helps reinforce the notion that the minority party is fundamentally unserious about public policy. Legislative staffers tend to work on substantive issues, including constituent services. Pence encouraged his GOP colleagues to get rid of these aides in order to hire staffers to focus on media? C’mon.

One could argue that Pence is simply assuming that House Republicans won’t have a policy role to play — their bills won’t get hearings; their amendments won’t pass — so there’s no point in even hiring aides to tackle real legislative work. There may be some truth to that. But to urge lawmakers to fire staffers who work on issues to make room for communications aides is to effectively drop the pretense of having a credible role in government.

This isn’t to say communication aides are unimportant. Believe me, I’ve been a communications aide myself, and the work matters. But when representatives start prioritizing message over policy, it reflects misguided priorities.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.