Spitfire Strategies

Top 6 Reasons Communications Won the Day on Healthcare

Beth Kanter

By Beth Kanter
Chief Strategy Officer

We’ve basked in the glow of victory now for a couple of weeks, savoring the sweet win of repeal and replace’s resounding defeat (for now, at least). The congratulatory emails full of thanks and pats on the back flooded our in-boxes and dominated news headlines. Now we’re in that sweet spot of time when we can analyze what we did well so we can replicate it for the next time. Progressives have been fantastic at repeating the mistakes of the past (see our continued losses on gun safety) but now we have an opportunity to lean into victory. 

  1. Stories: Compelling, heartbreaking, real and in abundance, people poured out their hearts to explain in real terms the impact repeal and replace would have on their lives. These brave storytellers opened themselves up to reporters, on social media, in letters and phone calls to their elected officials. These stories were strategically collected and told in target states with swing Republican senators. They were picked up by mainstream media and then amplified through digital channels. Stories didn’t stand alone. They were directly tied to the specific elements of Sen. McConnell’s dangerous and woefully inadequate facsimile of healthcare.
  2. Villain: Speaking of Sen. McConnell, he played the perfect villain in this story. And we know that every happily ever after tale needs a villain. He used the cloak of darkness to craft the bills, refused to share details even with his own party and callously cast away millions of people who would end up sicker, poorer – or dead – because of his evil plans. If you don’t have a villain– and it needs to be someone who has power – people don’t feel like they have the ability or agency to impact change. 
  3. Messengers: We emphasized the importance of people telling their stories – they were powerful messengers. The messengers in this victory were a mix of those patients or parents as well as providers, healthcare experts and economists. Despite the different CVs, these messengers had a coordinated message. And that was because of…
  4. Coordination: Progressives are getting infinitely better working together, across issues, to make sure they are speaking with one voice. In the past, too often organizations remained in their own silos, not seeing the intersection or need to involve themselves in issues that didn’t explicitly reflect their mission. The luxury of staying in your lane is long past. If we are going to continue to win in the age of Trump, we need to be a band of brothers and sisters who are willing to stand up for the totality of the progressive agenda.
  5. Numbers: Healthcare is rife with data. We didn’t fall into the data trap and allow our messengers to spew out numbers like an accountant on Tax Day. We used them strategically. Especially the Congressional Budget Office whose numbers were like manna (except when you stopped to think about that the fact that every one of those numbers represented someone whose life would be horribly impacted by these bills). And that’s what we did – we used the CBO numbers and brought them to life with stories (see #1). 
  6. Local: One of the wonkiest, most insider-Beltway issue permeated the District’s borders and rightfully found its way into the cities and states where “real people” live. Because of local media coverage of the issue, the Washington Post posited that more people understood the severity of what was going on in Congress and got involved in the fight to protect their care. Groups on the ground took part in actions, protests, town hall meetings and staged creative events to draw attention to the issue and pressure senators to do the right thing for their constituents.

We scored an incredible, historic victory for health care – 49-51 to be exact! Our chances were slim, but with every new bill to repeal the ACA and Medicaid, progressives were ready to pounce – and we had the stories, messengers, and the numbers to back us up! This win, above all else, gives us reasons for optimism and hope at a time when our progressive values are under constant siege.

But the fight to take back Washington is far from over. From the federal budget to immigration, climate change, and LGBTQ rights, we’ve got our work cut out for us.
But first, can we take just one more victory lap? 

“This has been a tremendous eye opener. It shows us how to pull the aspects of communications skills, from the message, to the audience. It forced us to identify our strengths and our weaknesses in an effort to become more strategic in how we prepare our messages and communicate them.”

- Training Participant

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